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Keeping Score

A round-by-round look at how Bush and Kerry did during the debate.

12:00 AM, Oct 1, 2004 • By JONATHAN V. LAST
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HOW DID Bush and Kerry do tonight? A mixed bag for both. Let's look at the scorecard.

Round 1: How will Kerry make America safer?

Kerry says he'll use alliances and won't upset Muslims around the world. Bush stumbles before giving the numbers of al Qaeda killed and captured.

Round to Kerry

Round 2: Will Kerry's election increase the chances of a terror attack?

Showing the certitude that makes thinking people cringe, Bush replies, "That's not going to happen" because he's going to win. "In Iraq, no doubt about it, it's tough. It's hard work," he says. Kerry calls Iraq a "colossal error in judgment."

Round to Bush

Round 3: What misjudgments has Bush made?

"Where do we start?" Kerry asks. Let the record note that he mentions Vietnam ("as someone who's been in combat") at 9:12 p.m. Unfortunately, he then spins off into talk about multiples of ten. It probably isn't numerology, but who can tell. Bush quotes Kerry's old stance on Saddam. Looking peevish, Bush says "That's part of a pre-September 10th mentality" and gestures to Kerry. It's a good line of attack, and one he should have pressed more. I mean, wasn't that the theme of the Republican convention?

Round to Bush

Round 4: What about going after Saddam and not bin Laden?

Bush says, sensibly, "We have to be able to do both." Kerry flops around about the "rush to war" and how Bush didn't fund body armor.

Round to Bush

Round 5: What would Kerry do differently on Homeland Security?

Kerry attacks Bush's funding of firehouses and the tax cuts, which is weak. But Bush flounders, muttering something like, "Pssshhht" and shrugging his shoulders. In his rebuttal, he nearly shouts that you better have a president who understands that you have to protect America.

Round to Kerry

Round 6: What criteria will you use for knowing when to bring the troops home from Iraq?

Bush says, "When our generals on the ground" tell us that Iraqis are ready to protect themselves "from these terrorists." Kerry says, "Help is on the way." ("I know what it's like to go out on" missions where you don't know what's around the corner--his second Vietnam reference.) During his rebuttal, Bush hits Kerry's $87 billion vote for the first, and, inexplicably, only time.

Round to Kerry

Round 7: Are Americans now dying for a mistake?

After saying he agrees with Bush, Kerry says Iraq is like FDR invading Mexico after Pearl Harbor. And again with the summits. And then Halliburton. Welcome to the portion of the program. An increasingly surly Bush responds, "That's just absurd. . . . What does he say to Tony Blair. . . . You can't expect to build alliances when you denigrate the contributions of those who are serving side-by-side with Americans in Iraq." Ouch.

Round to Bush

Round 8: What was Bush's miscalculation on post-war conditions in Iraq?

Bush says, basically, that he didn't count on the Baathists being cowards who wouldn't fight and also, Tommy Franks screwed up the plans by winning too quickly. Then for good measure: "I know we won't [win in Iraq] if we send mixed signals." Kerry makes news by saying that now he would not have gone into Iraq knowing what he knows (now). Or maybe this isn't news. To be honest, I've lost track.

Round to Kerry

Round 9: How has Bush lied about Iraq?

Kerry says that he's "never used the harshest word which you just have." Hmmm . . . can that be true? Someone should look into it, since this isn't the type of thing the RNC would send out a press release about. Bush's rebuttal is a non sequitur: Osama bin Laden doesn't get to decide how America defends itself. Huh? Bush seems personally offended at the suggestion that anyone else might get to do his job. And for the fourth time or so, says, "That's not how a commander in chief acts."

Kerry is going to win this round, but he makes one gigantic mistake: "I've had one position, one consistent position," on Iraq, he says. Oops, that should go in an ad.

Round to Kerry

Round 10: Has the war in Iraq been worth the cost in lives?

Bush's finest moment so far. He names a woman he met whose husband died in Iraq and talks about how they prayed together. "I thought her husband's sacrifice was noble and worthy. Because I understand the stakes of this war on terror," he says. "Every life is precious, that's what distinguishes us from the enemy," he says. If only he could have brought himself to name this "enemy" he keeps referencing.