I'm a Democrat--became one last year--but I wasn't a Kerry supporter during the primaries. Tonight is the first night I can say that I'm confident and proud to be voting for the man.
During tonight's debate Kerry appeared presidential for the first time. You may think that's something that is only important to spin doctors and campaign managers. But that is not so. Because in order to govern a president has to project a presidential aura to the people, and these days that projection is done through television. So like it or not appearing presidential on TV matters.
He also strongly attacked the president on his homeland security record, a mirage that the president never talks about:
KERRY: ...95 percent of the containers that come into the ports, right here in Florida, are not inspected. Civilians get onto aircraft, and their luggage is X- rayed, but the cargo hold is not X-rayed. Does that make you feel safer in America?
BUSH: ....There's a lot of good people working hard. And by the way, we've also changed the culture of the FBI to have counterterrorism as its number one priority.....
KERRY: The president just said the FBI had changed its culture. We just read on the front pages of America's papers that there are over 100,000 hours of tapes, unlistened to. On one of those tapes may be the enemy being right the next time. And the test is not whether you're spending more money. The test is, are you doing everything possible to make America safe?
Kerry explained his position on Iraq to my satisfaction. His comment, which will be oft quoted was this: "Well, you know, when I talked about the $87 billion, I made a mistake in how I talk about the war. But the president made a mistake in invading Iraq. Which is worse? I believe that when you know something's going wrong, you make it right. That's what I learned in Vietnam. When I came back from that war I saw that it was wrong. Some people don't like the fact that I stood up to say no, but I did. And that's what I did with that vote." Case closed as far as I'm concerned and score for Kerry.
Of course Kerry's plan to extricate us from Iraq is half-baked, but Bush has no plan to extricate us from Iraq and has adopted a preemptive war policy that may very well lead us into other occupations, so I have no problem with Kerry there. I said at the time that we should not have gone into Iraq and that the dunderheads in the Administration had no post war plan and I was right. In many ways this election will be a referendum on that war. Mark my words, it's a quagmire and there was no compelling reason for it.
I also think Kerry was right on the money when he said:
"Saddam Hussein didn't attack us. Osama bin Laden attacked us. Al Qaida attacked us. And when we had Osama bin Laden cornered in the mountains of Tora Bora, 1,000 of his cohorts with him in those mountains. With the American military forces nearby and in the field, we didn't use the best trained troops in the world to go kill the world's number one criminal and terrorist.
They outsourced the job to Afghan warlords, who only a week earlier had been on the other side fighting against us, neither of whom trusted each other.
That's the enemy that attacked us. That's the enemy that was allowed to walk out of those mountains. That's the enemy that is now in 60 countries, with stronger recruits.
He also said Saddam Hussein would have been stronger. That is just factually incorrect. Two-thirds of the country was a no-fly zone when we started this war. We would have had sanctions. We would have had the U.N. inspectors. Saddam Hussein would have been continually weakening."
But nowhere was Kerry better than on the issue of nuclear proliferation, which Kerry said was the number one foreign policy issue the next president will face. I absolutely agree. George Bush's record on nuclear proliferation has been atrocious with Iran's and North Korea's programs spinning out of control on his watch.
"There's some 600-plus tons of unsecured material still in the former Soviet Union and Russia. At the rate that the president is currently securing it, it'll take 13 years to get it....
Right now the president is spending hundreds of millions of dollars to research bunker-busting nuclear weapons. The United States is pursuing a new set of nuclear weapons. It doesn't make sense.
You talk about mixed messages. We're telling other people, "You can't have nuclear weapons," but we're pursuing a new nuclear weapon that we might even contemplate using.
Not this president. I'm going to shut that program down, and we're going to make it clear to the world we're serious about containing nuclear proliferation.
And we're going to get the job of containing all of that nuclear material in Russia done in four years. And we're going to build the strongest international network to prevent nuclear proliferation.
This is the scale of what President Kennedy set out to do with the nuclear test ban treaty. It's our generation's equivalent. And I intend to get it done."
He also talked about bilateral negotiations with North Korea and working with the French, Germans, and British on sanctions on Iran a crucial step the Bush administration hasn't taken.
For his part the president, as he always does, cleaved to his talking points, finding ways of getting every answer back to one of them. When he had to defend a failing policy he said "It's hard" or "A lot of good people are working hard." He used some construction of that type 18 times! He also hit hard on the notion of bringing freedom to the people of the Middle East, mentioning freedom or democracy 13 times. On the flip-flop front used the phrase "mixed messages" or [his] "positions change" 10 times. But as the debate wore on, Bush appeared to tire, like a wind-up doll running out of spring tension. He battled his way back to the talking points, but it took longer and there were often awkward silences of 7 seconds or so while he stared ahead blankly trying, apparently, to think of a word. He'd glance down at what were presumable notes on the podium, and bam! he'd be right back into one of the talking points. The more I see of him the less comfortable I am with anything about him. What do people see in this guy?!?!