Last thoughts before the debate
Two sets of expectations seem to be floating around in advance of tonight's debate. One sees Kerry as a skilled debater with actual ideas who will run circles around Bush, who is, after all, a dolt. The other version sees Bush as man who connects with the common people while being chronically underestimated by his opponents and who will beat Kerry, who is a boring intellectual stiff. I want the first but expect the second. Ideas and logic--substance--don't usually win election debates, likeability and comfort factor do. As much as I'd rather chew broken glass than listen to a whiny Bush voice or look at his frat boy mannerisms, other people seem to find him just charming.
Yet, there is one wild card in the deck that could work to our advantage. Bush's handlers have kept him carefully isolated for the last four years. He appears only before carefully screened friendly audiences who ask only pre-approved questions. On the rare occasions when he faces the press, it is the tamest press in living memory. In his day to day working routine he allows no contradictions and no opposition. The prime directive for this White House has been to protect the president from ever facing a situation where every element isn't known in advance and controlled. I'm not sure he still has the ability to perform like he did in the past. Of course, his staff has been working for weeks to get him back in shape. In about t wo hours we'll see how good of a job they did.