Glenn Kessler Gets The Facts Wrong On John Kerry And The Iraq War

Fact checkers at their best provide a very useful service. However, putting a label of Factchecker on the works of a columnist does not automatically make them a credible source. Glenn Kessler of The Washington Post loves to award Pinocchios for statements he considers false (or, as is often the case, disagrees with). His assessments are frequently not supported by the facts. At times even his own newspaper has printed evidence contradicting stands taken by Kessler.  He once again ignored most of the pertinent facts in claiming John Kerry was lying when saying he opposed the Iraq War.

The confusion on Kerry’s view on the war stemmed from the primary battle in which Howard Dean  sought to position himself as an opponent of the war and Kerry as a supporter, despite the two holding essentially the same view. Dean did this by turning the 2002 vote into a sole litmus test when the issue was actually far more complicated.

To understand Kerry’s view, it is first important to look at his statement at the time of the vote:

“My vote was cast in a way that made it very clear, Mr. President, I’m voting for you to do what you said you’re going to do, which is to go through the U.N. and do this through an international process. If you go unilaterally, without having exhausted these remedies, I’m not supporting you. And if you decide that this is just a matter of straight pre-emptive doctrine for regime-change purposes without regard to the imminence of the threat, I’m not going to support you.”

At the same time Bush was claiming that the vote was not necessarily a vote to go to war. Bush said this about the vote: “Approving this resolution does not mean that military action is imminent or unavoidable. The resolution will tell the United Nations, and all nations, that America speaks with one voice and is determined to make the demands of the civilized world mean some.”

Bush was probably not being honest here and Kerry should not have voted yes (as he later admitted) but this vote when interpreted in light of Kerry’s statements on the vote, is not evidence of support for the war. It is necessary to look at additional statements to clarify this. Kerry wrote this in an op-ed in The New York Times at the time of the vote:

For the sake of our country, the legitimacy of our cause and our ultimate success in Iraq, the administration must seek advice and approval from Congress, laying out the evidence and making the case. Then, in concert with our allies, it must seek full enforcement of the existing cease-fire agreement from the United Nations Security Council. We should at the same time offer a clear ultimatum to Iraq before the world: Accept rigorous inspections without negotiation or compromise. Some in the administration actually seem to fear that such an ultimatum might frighten Saddam Hussein into cooperating. If Saddam Hussein is unwilling to bend to the international community’s already existing order, then he will have invited enforcement, even if that enforcement is mostly at the hands of the United States, a right we retain even if the Security Council fails to act. But until we have properly laid the groundwork and proved to our fellow citizens and our allies that we really have no other choice, we are not yet at the moment of unilateral decision-making in going to war against Iraq.

Bush failed to meet the criteria Kerry clearly set at the time of the vote under which he would support going to war.

Salon later asked Kerry about the vote in an interview on May 28, 2004:

SALON: According to recent polls, more than 50 percent of the American public now believes that the war in Iraq has not been worth the cost. Do you agree with that assessment?

KERRY: I’ve always believed that the president went to war in a way that was mistaken, that he led us too rapidly into war, without sharing the cost, without sharing the risk, without building a true international coalition. He broke his promises about going as a last resort. I think that was a mistake. There was a right way to hold Saddam Hussein accountable and a wrong way. He chose the wrong way.

SALON: But you voted in October 2002 to give Bush the authority to use force in Iraq. Was that vote a mistake?

KERRY: No. My vote was the right vote. If I had been president, I would have wanted that authority to leverage the behavior that we needed. But I would have used it so differently than the way George Bush did.

SALON: Would there have been a war in Iraq if you had been president?

KERRY: I can’t tell you that. If Saddam Hussein hadn’t disarmed and all the world had decided that he was not living up to the standards, who knows? You can’t answer that hypothetical. But I can tell you this. I would never have rushed the process in a way that undoes the meaning of going to war “as a last resort.”

SALON: And that’s what you thought you were authorizing — war as a last resort?

KERRY: Absolutely. You know, we got a set of promises: We’re going to build an international coalition, we’re going to exhaust the remedies of the U.N., respect that process and go to war as a last resort. Well, we didn’t.

KERRY: And not only [did we] not go to war as a last resort, they didn’t even make the plans for winning the peace. They disregarded them. They disregarded [U.S. Army General Eric] Shinseki’s advice, disregarded Colin Powell’s advice, disregarded the State Department’s plan. The arrogance of this administration has cost Americans billions of dollars and too many lives.

Kerry spoke out against going to war many times in the months between the vote and the onset of the war. In a speech at Georgetown before the onset of the Iraq War:

“Mr. President, do not rush to war,” said Kerry, whose speech marked him as the most skeptical about war of the top-tier contenders for the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination.

While calling for the United Nations to intensify pressure on Iraq to disarm, Kerry urged Bush to give more time to the U.N. inspections process that the administration has increasingly condemned as inadequate.

“The United States should never go to war because it wants to; the United States should go to war because we have to,” Kerry said at Georgetown University. “And we don’t have to until we have exhausted the remedies available, built legitimacy and earned the consent of the American people, absent, of course, an imminent threat requiring urgent action.”

While his vote could create confusion as to his stand, Kerry’s statements leading up to the war showed clear opposition. When Bush did invade, Kerry protested calling for regime change at home, again showing clear opposition to the war. Kessler needs to look at all the facts before rushing to award Pinocchios. Granted this is more difficult here as many of the original sources are no longer easily available on line, but that does not justify Kessler making such inaccurate assessments. In ignoring Kerry’s many statements before the war, Glenn Kessler should be awarded five dunce caps.

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The Exaggerated Red Line in Syria

There are many important considerations regarding the use of chemical weapons in Syria but the media has (as usual) overly simplified matters by raising the “red line.” This is not a matter, as has been portrayed in some media accounts, of Obama having committed himself to military action if Syria used chemical weapons and crossed a red line. John Kerry stated that the decision to go to war was not over crossing Obama’s red line in testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (a place where he has been often, from testifying in 1971 as a member of Vietnam Veterans Against the War to his days on the committee, culminating with becoming chairman in 2009). Obama repeated this today.

Obama did not claim there was a red line which would automatically lead to war in 2012. In response to a question at press conference Obama said: “We have been very clear to the Assad regime, but also to other players on the ground, that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized.  That would change my calculus.  That would change my equation.” It makes sense that this would change his calculus and lead to the consideration of options he was not considering at the time, but he did not commit to going to war.

While I am skeptical of the remaining arguments for taking military action, it is good to see Obama clearly say that preserving his credibility over the red line is not a reason to go to war. Feeling obligated to take military action based upon a comment made at a press conference would certainly be foolish.

Obama is now saying that any red line is the world’s red line against the use of chemical weapons. I agree with his condemnation of their use. I do not agree that we are the world’s policeman or obligated to act when there are no bodies involved in international law which are willing to act. We certainly are not obligated to take military action when it is not clear how this would actually achieve positive ends.

It is debatable whether the term “red line” should have been used at all but it is difficult for a president whose every word is recorded to never say anything which might be questioned. This was far less a problem than George Bush speaking of the “axis of evil” during his State of the Union Address in 2002.

Obama is also receiving criticism for not rushing to make a decision regarding Syria, and possibly changing his mind. These, along with the decision to go to Congress, are positive attributes. In a situation where, regardless of where one stands with regards to the use of military force, there is no imminent threat to the United States, the Commander in Chief can and should take the time to consider all the options, and consequences of such actions. The reaction, and lack of support, from the international community, many members of Congress, and the American people are all valid considerations. Wouldn’t we have come out better if Lyndon Johnson had decided to reverse his decision and get out of Viet Nam? The war in Viet Nam certainly did show the consequences of engaging in a war after losing the support of the American people.

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John Kerry’s Major Achievement

Thomas Friedman acknowledges the difficulties in negotiating peace between Israel and the Palestinians but also praises John Kerry for getting them this close, and offers some hope that the negotiations could be successful:

Secretary of State John Kerry has pulled off a major achievement in getting Israelis and Palestinians to say yes to the United States. Can he now get them to say yes to each other?

I admire Kerry’s doggedness in getting Israelis and Palestinians back to the negotiating table for the first time in five years, in part by making clear that whoever said no to America’s urging that they resume talks would be called out publicly. I also like the fact that Kerry dared to fail. It is how you make history as a secretary of state. It can also be helpful to him going forward. Even a little success like this breeds more authority, and more authority can breed more success in other arenas.

That said, the prospects for an Israeli-Palestinian deal remain slim. Indeed, if these negotiations were a play, it would be called: “When the Necessary Met the Impossible.”

So why should we even bother? I’ve always thought that the most important rule of journalism is: Never try to be smarter than the story. There is every reason to doubt that these talks will succeed, but when you look under the hood of this story you find there were some powerful forces propelling both sides to say yes to Kerry — and at least consider saying yes to each other, so it’s worth letting this play out a little….

A peace agreement would be fantastic in terms of conditions in the region, and might play a part in domestic politics. If Kerry pulls this off, he will receive tremendous favorable coverage, and probably win the Nobel Peace Prize and be Time‘s Man of the Year. He then would be in a position that no politician has been in since Richard Nixon–losing a general election and then becoming a credible candidate years later. With the demographic changes making it harder for Republicans to win states outside of the deep south and the smaller western states, winning the Democratic nomination may be more difficult than winning the general election.  Hillary Clinton might not look like such a sure thing if Kerry succeeds in brokering a peace agreement. Not only would his record as Secretary of State be far greater than Clinton’s, there is no comparison when comparing their achievements in the Senate.

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Kerry Brings About Resumption Of Mideast Peace Talks

Yesterday, Secretary of State John Kerry announced the resumption of peace talks between Israel and Palestinians. It is too early to say whether the talks will be successful, but it is a hopeful sign that the two parties are engaging in direct negotiations for the first time since 2008 and an attempt in 2010 which quickly fell apart.

Getting this far is a promising sign from John Kerry in just his first year as Secretary of State. Imagine how much better the world might be if things had turned out differently and he had won in 2004, completing his second term as president last year (with perhaps a Barack Obama with four additional years of Washington experience starting his first term this January). A few more voting booths in Democratic urban areas of Ohio might have made all the difference–something to keep in mind as Republicans increasingly turn to voter suppression as an election tactic.

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Yes, Propaganda Does Make A Difference

Howard Krutz calls on Obama and Gore to stop whining about the right wing media:

Now it’s true that Fox or Limbaugh can boost or batter any lawmaker, and that they can help drive a controversy into the broader mainstream media. But we’re talking here about the president of the United States. He has an army, a navy and a bunch of nuclear weapons, not to mention an ability to command the airwaves at a moment’s notice. And he’s complaining about a cable channel and a radio talk-show host?

Sure, ultimately Obama is more powerful when it comes to going to war than Fox is, and Obama was able to win reelection because less than half the country believe the misinformation coming out of Fox and talk radio. That doesn’t alter the fact that having a propaganda network disguised as news does cause a substantial number of people to believe many things which are not true.

How many people vote for Republicans based upon blatantly untrue arguments such as that Republicans support small government or fiscal responsibility? How much more difficulty is it to bring about economic recovery when so many voters are misled by Republican Voodoo Economics? How much harder is it to deal with problems such as Climate Change and health care reform when so many people are fooled by right wing misinformation?

Would we have gone to war in Iraq if not for untrue Republican  propaganda claiming that Saddam threatened us with WMD and was involved in 9/11?  How many votes are affected by falsehoods such as that Barack Obama is a Muslim or a socialist? While Obama did win. would Kerry have won if not for the false claims of the Swift Boat Liars?

How many people are voting for Republicans, against their interests and the interests of the country, based upon fear and hatred instilled by right wing propaganda? Yes, this is not the same as having an army, navy, and nuclear weapons. but that doesn’t mean that the right wing noise machine is not a terrible weapon for evil.

Kurtz argues that “MSNBC can be counted on to defend the Democrats almost around the clock.” First this isn’t entirely true as MSNBC does have conservatives on the network, and MSNBC’s liberals have been known to criticize Obama, not being essentially a part of the party apparatus as Fox is. Beyond this, while MSNBC does frequently correct the misinformation presented by Fox or Rush Limbaugh, this does not reduce the damage caused by the right wing propagandists. Not many fans of Rush Limbaugh turn on MSNBC and change their views once exposed to the facts.

Kurtz has a strange rational for why the right wing media exists:

What liberals sometimes forget is that the conservative media took root because many Americans felt the fourth estate was too left-wing. ABC, NBC, CBS, NPR, The New York Times and The Washington Post all strive for fairness, in my view, but there is little question that they have a social and cultural outlook that leans to the left. Collectively, they have far more weight than Fox, talk radio and The Wall Street Journal editorial page.

Much of the media (although no longer The Washington Post and broadcast networks) do lean towards the left socially and culturally, meaning they are more likely to  support the values of American liberty and Democracy while opposing the authoritarian mindset of the right. As Kurtz admits, they strive for fairness. How does this provide justification for the right wing in responding with media outlets which intentionally promote falsehoods disguised as news? It is difficult to measure which has more weight, but, as I pointed out above, their comparative influences does not diminish the harm done by the propaganda outlets of the right.

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Looking Ahead to 2016

Here’s the plan for all my friends from the 2004 campaign. It is admittedly a long shot. As Secretary of State, John Kerry brings about peace in the middle east, brokers a world-wide agreement on reducing carbon emissions (especially looking impressive when he gets China to go along), and convinces Great Britain to give us their secret as to why they have so many cool TV shows which we have to pirate here.

People question why we didn’t elect John Kerry in 2004, realizing that pictures of him wind surfing were not a good reason for him to go down to defeat. Kerry gets the 2016 Democratic nomination, nobody believes anything from the Swift Boat Liars, and John Kerry gets elected president. As an added benefit, American TV finally gets Torchwood right.

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John Kerry Reportedly To Be Chosen As Secretary of State

The Chicago Sun-Times reports that Barack Obama has chosen John Kerry to be Secretary of State. This comes as no surprise after Susan Rice withdrew her name form consideration. There is also speculation that Obama had planned to choose Kerry but was forced into defending Rice following the dishonest smear campaign launched against her by Republicans such as John McCain.

Kerry was the best choice four years ago if not for the importance of getting Hillary Clinton out of the Senate. Politically getting Hillary into the administration, as opposed to being a source of potential opposition in the Senate, was extremely important. It was also necessary that Obama’s health care reform not be tainted by HillaryCare–otherwise Obama would not have obtained the support of organizations such as the AMA. Despite the attacks from the right, the plan which passed was essentially the conservative response to Hillary Clinton’s plan.

As an added, and major benefit, having Hillary Clinton in the administration set up the situation where Bill Clinton became a significant source in Obama’s reelection campaign.  Bill Clinton’s fantastic convention speech and subsequent  campaigning in battleground states was a tremendous help to Obama. Now Obama has become free to choose the person who is most qualified for the position, and most likely his preferred choice since 2008.

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Republican Fantasy Land: How Conservatives See Obama And Their Liberal Opponents

The last three posts were on the detachment of Republicans from reality. (Here, here, and here). In the first of these posts I noted how conservative assessments of the election showed how they were out of touch with reality–just as with most of what comes out of the right wing noise machine:

Conservative fantasy met reality on election night. Similarly we have seen conservative fantasy to justify war in Iraq, with some conservatives still believing Saddam was behind the 9/11 attack and had WMD. We see conservative fantasy economic theories, which do not work in the real world. We see conservative denial of science, including on evolution and climate change. Conservatives have their own alternative history, such as denying the fact that the Founding Fathers established the United States with a secular government characterized by separation of church and state, recognizing that this is essential to guarantee religious freedom.To prevent contamination from liberal (i.e. reality based) ideas, conservatives have their own descriptions of liberal beliefs, which are not held by any liberals in the actual world.

National Review demonstrates this with an article by  Charles C. W. Cooke which contains a description of Obama’s beliefs which are totally out of touch with reality:

A president of the United States just ran a reelection campaign based on the promise of government largess, exploitation of class division, the demonization of success, the glorification of identity politics, and the presumption that women are a helpless interest group; and he did so while steadfastly refusing to acknowledge the looming — potentially fatal — crisis that the country faces. And it worked.

Worse, as David Harsanyi has observed, “the president’s central case rests on the idea that individuals should view government as society’s moral center, the engine of prosperity and the arbiter of fairness.” This stunted and tawdry vision of American life was best summed up in his campaign’s contemptible Life of Julia cartoon, which portrayed the American Dream as being impossible without heavy cradle-to-grave government, and in which the civic society that Tocqueville correctly saw as the hallmark of the republic was wholly ignored — if not disdained outright. “Government is the only thing we all belong to,” declared a video at the opening of the Democratic National Convention. In another age, this contention would have been met with incredulity and confusion; in ours, it was cheered.

Any Obama voters see the man they voted for as being remotely like the faux-Obama described above?

It is rather ironic that he  cherry picks a rather trivial line from a video at the Democratic Convention while the entire Republican National Convention was themed around an attack of an alleged view held by Barack Obama which they made up selectively editing a statement to give it an entirely different meaning. That’s the way it goes. They lack the honesty to even discuss actual liberal values so they make up something totally bizarre, showing no relationship to actual liberal beliefs.

The full article by Cooke is similarly inane, such as with attacking health care reform with a total lack of understanding of the failures of our system which made reform so urgent, along with a total lack of understanding of the plan which passed. To conservatives, Obama has launched a government take-over of a successful system, even though this is neither a government take-over nor a system which could have survived much longer.

The failure of Republicans to respond to actual Democratic views reminds me of this comment from Bill Maher from August:

You know, Republicans have created this completely fictional president. His name is Barack X and he’s an Islamo-socialist revolutionary who’s coming for your guns, raising your taxes, slashing the military, apologizing to other countries, and taking his cues from Europe or worse yet, Saul Alinsky. And this is how politics has changed; you used to have to run against an actual candidate, but now you just recreate him inside the bubble and run against your new fictional candidate.

That’s how Bush won in 2004, by running against John Kerry, a French war criminal. And speaking of Bush, I know conservatives are saying oh Bill, come on Democrats did the same thing to him. No. Say what you will about the left’s hatred of Bush, at least we were hating on the real guy. We didn’t invent a boogeyman who tanked the economy, took us to war on false pretenses, and tortured prisoners. That was the actual guy.

But run down the list of complaints about fantasy Obama. He wants to raise your taxes, even though he’s lowered them. Confiscate your guns, even though he’s never mentioned it, and read terrorists their rights, yeah, like he did Tuesday in Somalia. And look what Gingrich said about him this month. (Video of Gingrich claiming Obama is against work). Yes, Obama is anti-work. You remember the bill he championed, The Grab A Corona And Call In Sick Act.

You see, the difference is the Republicans hatred of Obama is based on a paranoid feeling about what he might do. What’s he’s thinking. What he secretly wants to change. Anger with Bush was based on what he actually did. What Bush was thinking didn’t matter, because he wasn’t.

Just as Romney lost partly due to being out of touch with reality as it quoted the ideas of the right wing noise machine, future Republican candidates who read articles such as this will be at a severe disadvantage in failing to understand the actual ideas of those they run against.

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Where We Stand In The Final Weekend Of Campaign 2012

The polls are looking favorable for Obama going into the final weekend before the election.

From the battleground states:

Colorado: Obama 46%, Romney 46% (Reuters/Ipsos)

Colorado: Obama 50%, Romney 46% (Public Policy Polling)

Colorado: Obama 47%, Romney 45% (Denver Post/SurveyUSA)

Florida: Obama 48%, Romney 46% (Reuters/Ipsos)

Iowa: Obama 49%, Romney 45% (Gravis)

Michigan: Obama 52%, Romney 47% (Rasmussen)

Michigan: Obama 52%, Romney 46% (Public Policy Polling)

Nevada: Obama 50%, Romney 44% (Mellman)

New Hampshire: Obama 50%, Romney 44% (New England College)

New Hampshire: Obama 50%, Romney 49% (Gravis)

Ohio: Obama 50%, Romney 47% (CNN/ORC)

Ohio: Obama 49%, Romney 49% (Rasmussen)

Ohio: Obama 47%, Romney 45% (Reuters/Ipsos)

Ohio: Obama 50%, Romney 46% (We Ask America)

Virginia: Obama 48%, Romney 45% (Reuters/Ipsos)

Virginia: Obama 49%, Romney 48% (We Ask America)

Wisconsin: Obama 52%, Romney 45% (We Ask America)

Daily Tracking Polls:

ABC News/Washington Post: Obama 49%, Romney 48%

Public Policy Polling: Obama 49%, Romney 48%

Purple Strategies: Obama 47%, Romney 46%

Rasmussen: Obama 48%, Romney 48%

Reuters/Ipsos: Obama 46%, Romney 46%

Rasmussen typically has a two point Republican bias. Still, just showing a tie has Dick Morris backing off on his predictions which I discussed earlier this week.

Romney could still win, but would have to out-perform the polls by over two percent to have a chance. The Denver Post has nine electoral college predictions–showing different combinations of states which lead to an Obama victory.

Supporters of each party are looking for ways in which their party could out-perform the polls (with Obama merely needing to match the polls at this point). Both parties have argued that early voting is helping them. The problem for the Republicans is that much of their early voting is occurring in southern states which will go Republican regardless of when people vote. The real question is not who is getting the most early votes, but whether Democrats will increase their total turnout with early voting. Polls of all registered voters typically show the Democrats doing five points better than polls of likely voters. If the Democrats can narrow this gap they can boost the numbers above.

Back in 2004 liberal blogs were counting on the Incumbent Rule to give Kerry the victory. The basic idea is that if the incumbent is running at under 50 percent, the majority of undecided voters will break for the challenger (already knowing the incumbent), giving a challenger who is close behind the victory. That didn’t work for Kerry, and it doesn’t look like this will work for Romney.

Other factors might also alter the results compared to the polls. The Libertarian Party, along with the Constitution Party in Virginia, might take a small number of votes away from Romney. I don’t see the Green Party as being a threat to Obama this year as Nader was to Al Gore in 2000. The Constitution Party’s candidate, Virgil Goode, is from Virginia and has the potential of taking enough votes from Romney to give Obama the state in a close race, while Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson might be a spoiler in some western battle ground states.

There is speculation that the polls might be under-counting Latino votes, possibly enabling Obama to do several points better in some states, as Harry Reid did when running for reelection two years ago.

Under counting cell phone users might also play a part. Polls using robocalls are legally not allowed to call cell phone, underestimating younger voters who are more likely to vote Democratic (assuming they do show up to vote). Polls not using cell phones do try to adjust their numbers but at least one Democratic pollster believes that Obama is actually  doing much better than the polls show.

These factors favor Obama, and there is one more trend which helps Obama. He had the far better week, denying Romney the chance to regain the momentum he held after the first debate.  Besides just dominating the news, he benefits from comments from Chris Christie, the endorsement from Michael Bloomberg, and the report of an increase in jobs created. There is very little time left for something to happen to change the trajectory of the race.

 

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Initial Thoughts On The First Debate

Obama appears to have gone into the debate  looking to protect his lead and take no chances. As a result he came off too wonkish. He responded to some Romney lies but allowed many  others to go unchallenged. Romney better understood how these “debates” work in ignoring the actual questions and ignoring the facts. The debates are not about actually answering questions or about giving the most scholarly answer. Romney will be awarded the win by the pundits, but it is doubtful anything he said will really convince many people to vote for him. John Kerry beat George Bush far more decisively than Romney won tonight but still lost the election.

On taxes, Mitt Romney decided to shake the Etch-A-Sketch and ignore everything he has supported to date. While Romney has told many lies, he was at the most dishonest on health care. Obama did a fair job of responding to Romney’s lies about a board which will be making health care decisions but Obama failed to respond to Romney’s distortions about Medicare cuts.

Romney was the far better bullshitter while Obama was the one up on stage who was able to give serious answers. Unfortunately the television debate format is not a good place for such professorial explanations. I am tempted to say that this was the most boring debate I have watched but realistically if there were boring ones in the past I wouldn’t recall them for comparison. I was waiting for them to debate which state has the trees which are the right height or whether planes should have windows. I am now worried that Romney plans to tie Big  Bird to the top of his car.

Obama generally had the wrong strategy for this debate, but at times did effectively challenge Romney, such as in asking for specifics of which deductions Romney would cut. My bet is that Obama will take on Romney more forcibly in the next two debates.

The post-debate coverage is often more important in influencing opinion than the actual debate.  Romney won the debate on style but as the fact checkers are looking at the debate Romney is losing points. Further discussion of topics such as Romney’s tax plan, the actual facts about Medicare, and health-care reform could wind up benefit ting Obama more than Romney.

Update: Or, as wound up happening, the media could concentrate on simplistic stories about who won (based upon style) and ignore the issues.

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