About George W. Bush, Americans seem to have made up
their minds, and enough seem prepared to replace him that this election will
be about John Kerry. And the forum where the nation takes the measure of Kerry
will be the presidential debates.
These debates have often proved decisive. In 1960, JFK won by appearing
confident, charismatic and the equal of two-term Vice President Richard Nixon
in knowledge and communications skills.
In 1964 and 1972, presidents Johnson and Nixon, sitting atop mountainous
leads, declined to give Goldwater or McGovern a forum. There were no debates
then, nor in 1968, when neither Humphrey nor Nixon wished to share a podium
with fiery populist George Wallace, who could siphon off millions of votes
from either of them.
In 1976, Ford lost his debate with Carter and the election when he declared
Poland free. But no candidate benefited more from debates than Reagan. The
eruption of his Irish temper, when a debate moderator ordered his microphone
cut off – "Mr. Breen, I paid for this microphone!" ignited an explosion of
cheering in that hall in Nashua, N.H., and vaulted Reagan to a two-to-one
victory over George H.W. Bush, who had upset Reagan in the Iowa caucuses.
In the fall, Reagan's flippant "There you go again" to Carter's whining about
what Reagan would do to Social Security convinced the nation to go with The
Gipper. Against Mondale, Reagan removed the one issue Fritz had – Reagan's age
and mental acuity – by his wisecrack, when pressed about it, that I have made
up my mind that "I will not exploit my opponent's youth and inexperience."
In 1988, Michael Dukakis' subdued response when asked if he might support the
death penalty if his wife Kitty were raped and murdered raised questions about
whether he was too cold and bloodless to be president.
In 1992, Ross Perot was at 7 percent when let into the debates. From them, he
vaulted to 19 percent of the vote, cementing defeat for President Bush, whose
impatient glance at his watch during a debate seemed to suggest he was peeved
that he had to be there.
In 1996, Dole lacked the charisma or charm of Clinton. Again, the presence of
Perot meant Dole never got a one-on-one face-off. In 2000, Al Gore showed
himself well-versed in policy but also a tiresome bore. For all his failings
as a scholar and debater, George W. Bush seemed a likable fellow with a touch
of Reagan in him.
Given the closeness of this year's election, the debates may well be decisive.
Which brings me to the point.
While the nation will be given 4.5 hours of debate to measure Kerry against
the president as both man and leader, they will not be offered a choice of
destinies for America. For on the great issues, Bush and Kerry offer us – in
times that cry out for a new direction for this nation – the same old, same
Both are interventionists. While Bush launched the war that is turning into a
disaster, Kerry voted to give him a blank check to go to war. The president is
open to sending more troops. So is Kerry. No voice in those debates will be
heard to assert that it was a historic blunder to invade Iraq and that an
early end to the U.S. occupation would serve the national interest.
Bush has approved the Sharon Plan for Israel's annexation of much of the West
Bank. Kerry agrees. On amnesty for illegal aliens, they also agree. On the
trade treaties that have cost America one in six manufacturing jobs since
January 2001, Bush and Kerry both supported them all. Bush proposed both the
Patriot Act and the vast expansion of federal power over education known as
the No Child Left Behind Act. John Kerry voted for both.
While the president and Kerry disagree on taxes and Supreme Court justices,
both support the United Nations, foreign aid, NATO expansion, NAFTA, GATT, the
WTO, open-borders and free trade. Both are for bigger government.
Yet, on many of the issues above, a majority of Americans dissent. But these
tens of millions will be like black Americans attending Major League Baseball
games before Jackie Robinson. They will not see or hear one of their own make
their case for what is best for our country, or represent the causes in which
In 2000, the co-chairs of the Commission on Presidential Debates were former
chairmen of the Republican and Democratic parties. Their assignments: Keep
third parties out of the debates. Keep the presidency in the hands of our
ruling national party, the Republicrats. This year again, they will do their
duty – and, this year, again, the American people will be swindled. Our
democracy is flawed, if not an outright fraud.
© 2004 Creators
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