The Nossiter Net
The net that shall enmesh them all
Edited, Written, and Published by J.C. Nossiter
The Morning Mendacity
Tuesday, October 5th, 2004
The Nossiter Net is cast  to snare some of  the riper rascalities of the day.  Comments?  editor@nossiter.net
The conventional wisdom, backed by the polls, declared Mr. Kerry the victor in the first Presidential debate.  The truth is that who won or lost is irrelevant.  Mr. Kerry, a thoughtful, decent, and eminently qualified man, will make a fine President.  Knowledgeable voters knew that already.  Neither his character nor his ability to do the job is an issue, despite the best efforts of the Republican myth-making machine.  But the 2004 election is not about Bush vs. Kerry.   For most voters, 2004 is a referendum on the competence of President Bush and the consequences of his administration’s policies.  For a significant minority of the electorate, the election is a test of their religious faith.  The debate has made this crucial division clearer than ever.

The President, in a tone of whining petulance more suited to a spoiled three year old than the leader of the free world, complained about how tough his job is, and how much hard work it requires. Senator Kerry forgot to remind him that he has spent 40% of his time in office on vacation.  Considering the damage Mr. Bush has done in the 60% of his term that he has been on the job, perhaps we should all be grateful for his appetite for leisure.

When Senator Kerry pointed out that it was Osama Bin Ladin who attacked us, not Saddam Hussein, the President was reduced to spluttering “I knew that!”  But a plaintive wail is not an answer to a question of hard fact.  Time and again Mr. Bush fell back on his standard defense, that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was a “threat” to our security.  Senator Kerry forgot to remind him that Saddam Hussein fought Iran for eight years.  Even with our help, Mr. Hussein accomplished little in that contest beyond slaughtering the thousands of young Iranians offered up as canon fodder by their pious leaders.  Some threat.  Maybe Mr. Edwards can raise the point in his debate with Mr. Cheney tonight.

As for the genuine threat of North Korea, Mr. Bush, to the extent that he has a coherent policy, seemed intent on outsourcing our diplomatic efforts to China.  If that works as well as the outsourcing of Osama Bin Ladin’s capture to the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan, we all have cause for concern.

But it’s as irrelevant to seek rationality in Mr. Bush’s foreign policy as it is to judge the winner or loser of this first debate. The evening’s most important moment came during Mr. Bush’s closing statement.  Wearing a smile surely intended to be beatific (although to some it might have suggested indigestion) Mr. Bush assumed the sing-song cadences of the televangelist and said “We've climbed the mighty mountain. I see the valley below, and it's a valley of peace.”*

That was the President’s real message, broadcast loud and clear to the four million evangelical Christians estimated to have stayed home in the 2000 election.  I am one of you, Mr. Bush was telling them, in the biblical code they share.  In his fine book about the Bush family,
American Dynasty, Kevin Phillips describes how for such voters, substantive policy questions are of no consequence.  It’s where you stand on the phony non-issues of the day, abortion, gay rights, stem cell research, and so on, that counts.  Also, of course, on how pious you are, or at least feign to be.  Such voters, Phillips estimates, constitute between a quarter and a third of the electorate.  Mr. Bush got his message through to them, even though he bungled the rest of his performance.  Thereby may hang the true tale of this first Presidential debate.

*http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/politics/debatereferee/debate_0930.htmlt.

©J.C. Nossiter 2004
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