I admit it. The debates made me nervous, and I'm glad they're over. Yes, it was obvious while watching the first one that Kerry was doing well, but that didn't mean he couldn't screw up at any moment by hesitating at an uncertain question or loosing his cool. Of course, my worrying was for naught as he won that debate and arguably won the other two as well.
Watching footage the morning after, however, brings up a phenomenon I have yet to wrap my head around: Dubya's purported charm. I've seen it written about countless times and, frankly, I can't see it. I can objectively recognize and respect the charm possessed by Presidents such as Reagan and Clinton, regardless of political party. But Dubya's style of speaking has always, always been off-putting.
In the debates, his efforts to look relaxed and casual were so forced to the point of being grotesque. His face gets quite a workout as he sneers and grins and winks and looks for all the world like he's having some sort of attack. Do the party faithful truly look at this and see something that could be called normal? Do they see him smirk through every charge Kerry levels at him and see him as Presidential? There was so much hoopla about Gore's sighing during the 2000 debates, yet this could be considered subtle compared to Dubya's performance this year and yet his supporters continue to say he looks just dandy.
For me, the most satisfying moment of these debates came last night. When Kerry spoke of Bush's dismissal of Bin Laden as unimportant back in March of 2002, Bush responded that he never said that. Kerry was absolutely correct, of course, and this moment is being played up by Democrats as a major mistake by Bush in the debate. My attention, however, is on what he said after his denial. He said "It's kind of one of those exaggerations".
The printed word does not do the quote justice. He says this last word, well, in an exaggerated way. It's clearly meant to be a big joke as he smiles and puts so much emphasis on it. But this was a presidential debate, not one of his crowd-controlled stump speeches. There was no response to his quip. Rather, it produced a silence you could almost hear crickets in.
It's an ugly sight to see a joke fall so flat, and it was emblematic of his debate performances in general. There will be those that continue to see him through rose-colored glasses, but there will be others who start to see the real him and shamefully turn their head in revulsion. Glory be.