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8.10.04

Want Some Wood?

My biggest disappointment with the debate was the environment question. Bush said about what I would expect him to say -- he played up his one real accomplishment (off-road diesel standards) and his other supposed accomplishments (like Healthy Forests). He presented himself as an environmentalist and avoided criticizing environmental "extremists." Saying he was a "good steward of the land" was audaciously blunt.

Kerry's response should have been a slam dunk. But what does he do? After shoehorning in a prefabricated Red Sox joke, he spends the first half of his time making some strange point about labels. I think both campaigns are a bit confused that the issue of the Democrat being a liberal extremist hasn't been significant in this race. Bush threw out the "most liberal Senator" bit, but it was disconnected from his overall message. Kerry's "labels don't mean anything" line would be good in most campaigns, where the candidates are trying to paint each other as being too radical, but this race has been more about competence than ideology. Bush is a liar, not a right-winger. Kerry is a flip-flopper, not a left-winger.

When he finally got around to discussing the environment, Kerry was uncharacteristically inarticulate (similar to how he was really groping for words on stem cells, which should have been another slam dunk issue). He totally botched the explanation of how "Clear Skies" is Orwellian. There were some good points under what he said -- the contrast between Clear Skies and leaving the Clean Air Act alone, the resignations at the EPA, and Bush's poor record on climate change. If he hadn't veered off into the "labels" discussion, he could have effectively made an issue of the way Bush's environmental policies seem to turn into gifts for corporations. But he couldn't put his points together in a way that was forceful and comprehensible to voters unfamiliar with the issues.

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