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Friday, Oct 8, 2004, 6:31 pm

Bush, you ignorant slut

By Jessica Clark

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While a friend of mine asserts that Bush is not a chimp--complaining that such comparisons slur our primate friends--you have to admit there was a certain chest-thumping vibe to tonight's debate.

Less a town hall than a boxing-ring-in-waiting, this conflict in the round featured pacing, foot tapping, glaring, emphatic thumb-pointing, and one impatient interruption from Bush that displayed the same lack of patience that the president has shown for diplomacy, learning, or "hard work."

At one point, when Kerry suggested that Bush's monmaniacal obsession with Iraq might have allowed Iran to build nuclear capabilities, Bush declared "that answer almost made me want to scowl." The quip fell flat with the audience, as Bush's palpable impatience with being challenged made a scowl his next logical expression.

Kerry inadvertantly hit the prez below the belt when he asserted that the "most important weapon" in going after the terrorists " is intelligence." D'oh!

Bush struck back by claiming that Kerry was given an award (by that bastion of objectivity, the National Journal) for being the most liberal senator. Oh, Christ, the "L-word"--shades of 1989. But, of course, this must be fact-checked. Progressive Punch, a site which rates congresspeople according to the slant of their decisions, doesn't even place Kerry in the top-20 most progressive members of Senate. He comes in at 24, a score that places him 21 members lower than Edward Kennedy, and only 30 members above Zell Miller.

True to his place on that list, Kerry missed a few opportunities to take a swipe at Bush that more dedicated progressives would have spotted. When Bush brought up the global test, Kerry failed to note that Bush is not known for acing his exams. When Bush boasted that Afghanistan was moving from "tyranny to elections," Kerry skipped the chance to observe America's move from elections to tyranny. When Bush characterized some of his own international policy decisions as "unpopular," Kerry really should have pointed out that Bush wouldn't know how to interpret a popular vote, anyhow [and what was that crack about wanting members of the Supreme Court to vote for him? That guy's got zero shame]. And when Bush said he was worried about American workers putting in overtime, Kerry should have jumped to note that administration policies have sought to all but abolish overtime pay.

Still, despite Bush's repeated assertions that the best defense is to be on the offense, he seemed defensive on many fronts: the environment, prescription drug policies, weapons of mass destruction program related activities, the deficit. He offered one of the weakest boasts in recent memory--"this recession was one of the shortest in our history" (for this we should be glad?), and spoke unconvincingly of "an energy plan" (what was that plan again, Mr. President?). Bush also failed miserably when asked to identify three mistakes he had made--a straightforward question that he tried to sidestep with fancy footwork, but ended up tripping all over.

I'm no great fan of Kerry--and his answers on pro-choice issues had me screaming at the screen--but in my opinion, he won this round. He wore Bush down with facts and figures, with his litany of Republicans who now endorse him and scorn the president, with choice one-liners like "It's the military's job to win the war, and the president's job is to keep the peace," and "We need to never let the terrorists change the Constitution." His retort to yet another tired flip-flopping charge--that he didn't vote for more money for the troops because he "didn't want to give a slush fund to Halliburton"--approached the fiery rhetoric I think he'll need in the final debate to win the fence-sitters' attention.

"It's never quite as simple as the president wants you to believe," said Kerry late in the debate. And of course it isn't--how could it possibly be? But, for a knockout in the final fight next week, Kerry needs to lay off the stats and hone in on a few simple facts: Bush lies to the country, he's incompetent and belligerent about it, his administration's made the world more dangerous, and he doesn't give a crap about the electorate.

Let's hope our challenger comes out swinging.

Jessica Clark is a writer, editor and researcher, with more than 15 years of experience spanning commercial, educational, independent and public media production. Currently she is the Research Director for American University’s Center for Social Media. She also writes a monthly column for PBS’ MediaShift on new directions in public media. She is the author, with Tracy Van Slyke, of Beyond the Echo Chamber: Reshaping Politics Through Networked Progressive Media (2010, New Press).

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