A tightening presidential race
The first two presidential and vice presidential debates have clearly tightened the race for the White House.
No one can be certain how accurately the polls are predicting what the turnout will be, but if you assume they are, Sen. John Kerry the Democratic candidate has gone from a double-digit deficit to something close to a dead heat as a result of the first debates.
In all likelihood, Kerrys summer fall was prompted by a group of Vietnam Swift boat veterans, assisted by allies of President George W. Bush, who scored heavily in their dubious attacks on Kerry. They questioned Kerrys heroism in action and cast aspersions on his efforts to end the war after returning from his tour of duty.
On his own end, Kerry seemed unable to get his message out.
In the first debate, Kerry showed he is presidential, in his grasp of complex issues and his ability to switch gears and shift between subjects. On the other hand, Bush showed his anger, hewed to simple themes and repeated himself frequently.
Above all, it was a relief to see Kerry at last punch a hole in the Bush administrations persistent message of fear. Kerry argued, correctly, that Bush has failed to devote adequate resources to the hunt for Osama bin Laden, and that Al Qaeda, not Iraq, has always been the main terrorism threat.
Kerry also adeptly turned the discussion to Korea and Iran and the proliferation of nuclear weapons and the failure to secure loose Soviet nuclear material that may find its way into the wrong hands on the black market. In one hour, Kerry refuted the Bush/Cheney drumbeat of fear that launched the Iraq war in the first place, and which is keeping it going with no end in sight while at the same time opening our eyes to the real dangers that are out there.
Facing a top debater like Kerry, Bushs prefabricated, one-note platform looked horribly weak. It remains to be seen if Bush tries to come out of his box in the next two debates or if he sticks with his formula. But one thing is certain, the race is on.
Also, a newly released documentary on Kerrys Vietnam days and his activism with Vietnam veterans to help end the war, puts the lie to many of the false allegations hurled by the Swift boat group.
The film, Going Upriver: The Long War of John Kerry, clearly depicts the danger Kerry faced commanding a Swift boat on Vietnams rivers in Viet Cong areas. The boats were loud and were sitting targets. Fatality rates were incredibly high. At least two individual acts of heroism by Kerry are detailed by his former crewmates.
The Kerry portrayed after he returns from Vietnam is an inspiring figure, not some sort of traitor, as the Swift veterans paint him. Though his critics have blasted him for throwing away his medals, the film explains this wasnt an easy act for many veterans essentially saying they fought for nothing. But Kerry and the others felt it was a necessary gesture to help end to an unwinnable, unjust war.
In Tuesdays vice presidential debate, a vigorous John Edwards held his own against Dick Cheney. Were glad to see its a competition once more and look forward to hearing from Kerry and Bush as the race shifts to Fridays town hall debate and Wednesdays debate on domestic policy. And its good, at last, to see the race starting to focus more on issues, instead of negative, spurious attacks.