For the third time in as many weeks, the American people had the chance to see the two contenders in the presidential race square off on national television. For the third time, they had the chance to compare the two side-by-side. And, for the third time, they got to see Sen. Kerry soundly defeat President Bush.
Bush didn't get trounced in the third debate the way he did in the first. But he also didn't come close to leveling the field the way he did in the second. He stood up straight, he didn't scowl, he didn't speak (too much) out of turn - in short, he fixed the errors his advisers told him to. But he didn't speak with force or conviction. He continued to stumble over his answers. And, most importantly, he continued to avoid answering critical questions.
If someone had heard only Bush's answers during the debate, he or she might have wondered why the moderator, Bob Schieffer, only asked questions about education. He didn't, of course, but that didn't stop Bush from restricting his answers to the topic. Bush's response to a question about an enormous loss of jobs in the last four years? Education. Outsourcing? Education. Illegal immigration? Education. Raising the minimum wage? Education. Racism and affirmative action? Education.
It's not that education isn't a viable answer to some of our nation's problems. The issue is that no one believes - not even President Bush - that it's the answer to all of them. It was patently clear that the president refused to actually answer most questions because he didn't have answers. The president also brushed aside questions on abortion and gay marriage. At one point in the debate, Bush professed that he intended to make social policy decisions based "on principle." Though everyone knows the principles he appeals to when addressing abortion and gay marriage, he declined to articulate them, even when bluntly prompted to do so. The message, if there was one, was that the president intends to make decisions based on his religious principles, but he never spelled out specifically what those principles are.
Though the president changed the impish appearance he had for the first debate, he demonstrated that there is such a thing as being over-confident. Slamming his fists, raising his voice and addressing the moderator and his opponent with a condescending sneer, Bush didn't look like he was in control of the debate. In fact, he looked like he was out of control. He outright laughed when asked about the rising cost of health care, and the fact that he dismissed out-of-hand a growing concern for millions of Americans was more important than the answer itself. Kerry was, as usual, impassioned without being unreasonable, forceful without being condescending, and calm without being sedating. He made mistakes, but they were small in comparison to those of the president.
If any questions remained about the fitness of these two men for the office of president, they should have been largely answered by last night's debate. Kerry is the stronger candidate, the more reasonable man, and, ironically, the more presidential of the two.
- Staff editorilas are the opinion of the Arizona Daily Wildcat opinions board. Its members include Susan Bonicillo, Nate Buchik, Evan Caravelli, Brett Fera, Caitlin Hall and Andrea Kelly