Real Genius
Thursday, October 14, 2004
 
The Morning After
Many people have been doing a terrific job of fact-checking the debate and I thought I'd look into something that I paid as much attention to during the debate, thanks to Somerby's posts about Bob Schieffer.

Here are my question-by-question remarks... Enjoy.
Senator, I want to set the stage for this discussion by asking the question that I think hangs over all of our politics today and is probably on the minds of many people watching this debate tonight. And that is will our children and grandchildren ever live in a world as safe and secure as the world in which we grew up?

Granted, it's an important issue. Why bring it up again when this issue has been repeatedly discussed in the previous debate? Why add homeland security/terrorism to the list of questions in a domestic debate, when every single poll shows that fighting terrorism is the only remaining issue where Bush isn't doing worse than Kerry? I think this question was clearly tilted towards the President.
New question, Mr. President, to you. We're talking about protecting ourselves from the unexpected, but the flu season is suddenly upon us, flu kills thousands of people every year, suddenly we find ourselves with a severe shortage of flu vaccine. How did that happen?

Yes, vaccine shortage is something that happened on this administration's watch and it shouldn't have, but because of the specific nature of the subject it was a softball to the President --shortage can be blamed on contaminated supplies of foreign provider and not directly on administration policies.
All right. Senator Kerry, a new question. Let's talk about economic security. You pledged during the last debate that you would not raise taxes on those making less than $200,000 a year. But the price of everything is going up and we all know it. Health care costs, as you all are talking about, is skyrocketing, the cost of the war. My question is how can you or any president, whoever is elected next time, keep that pledge without running this country deeper into debt and passing on more of the bills that we're running up to our children?

I think here Schieffer was blatantly trying to corner Kerry for his pledge. And I also believe the word skyrocketing was a carefully selected buzzword from the tort-reform-to-reduce-medical-malpractice-liability playbook. Oh, and by the way "Bob", healthcare costs are skyrocketing, not is.
Let's go to a new question, Mr. President. Two minutes. And let's continue on jobs. You know there are all kind of statistics out there, but I want to bring it down to an individual. Mr. President, what do you say to someone in this country who has lost his job to someone overseas who's being paid a fraction of what that job paid here in the United States?

This was a more-or-less fair question, I'll have to admit. However, he could've stated a clear case of the total number of jobs lost, referred perhaps again to Hoover, preempting Kerry --and possibly saving him from the troublesome task of reminding all the IQ-deficient members of Schieffer's brethren, repeatedly, that this President has lost near two million private sector jobs on his watch. And while we're at it, I'd like someone to tell me why noone's ever explaining the difference between private sector and government job losses and gains. Since this tax cut-happy recovery recipe was supposed to encourage investment/spending/hiring in private businesses, why should referring to the job losses therein be a poor way of explaining the situtation?
New question to you, Senator Kerry, two minutes, and it's still on jobs. You know, many experts say that a president really doesn't have much control over jobs. For example, if someone invents a machine that does the work of five people, that's progress. That's not the president's fault. So I ask you is it fair to blame the administration entirely for this loss of jobs?

Whatever should one say? I think I was in college, prepping for the panel-interview of a graduate scholarship when I last heard this stupid question. The answer lied then, as France had discovered at the time, and does now, in understanding the dynamics of labor.
Mr. President, let's get back to economic issues but let's shift to some other questions here. Both of you are opposed to gay marriage. But to understand how you have come to that conclusion I want to ask you a more basic question. Do you believe homosexuality is a choice?

Um... What's that I hear? "Wedge"? Yes, that's what I thought.
Senator Kerry a new question for you. The New York Times reports that some Catholic archbishops are telling their church members that it would be a sin to vote for a candidate like you because you support a woman's right to choose an abortion and unlimited stem cell research. What is your reaction to that?

Meant to burn Kerry, again. So wonderful that stem-cell research, that is such a sweet issue that the Senator could hit Bush with, came dissolved in a direct attack and could not be used as a point by Kerry.
Mr. President, let's have a new question. It goes to you and let's get back to economic issues. Health insurance costs have risen over 36 percent over the last four years, according to The Washington Post. We're paying more, we're getting less. I would like to ask you who bears responsibility for this? Is it the government, is it the insurance companies, is it the lawyers, is it the doctors, is it the administration?

Again, setting him up to talk about lawsuits...
Let me direct the next question to you, Senator Kerry. And again let's stay on health care. You have, as you have proposed and as the president has commented on tonight, proposed a massive plan to extend health care coverage to children. You're also talking about the government picking up a big part of the catastrophic bills that people get at the hospital. And you have said that you can pay for this by rolling back the president's tax cut on the upper 2 percent. You heard the president say earlier tonight that it's going to cost a whole lot more money than that. I'd just ask you where are you going to get the money?

The underlying assumption in the interrogative sentence is that what Bush said was true, and leads the listeners to believe, a priori, that Kerry's characterization of his tax rollback was wrong, Bush's is right, and puts Kerry on the defensive.
Mr. President, the next question is to you. We all know that Social Security's running out of money and it has to be fixed. You have proposed to fix it by letting people put some of the money collected to pay benefits into private savings accounts. But the critics are saying that's going to mean finding a trillion dollars over the next 10 years to continue paying benefits as those accounts are being set up. So where do you get the money? Are you going to have to increase the deficit by that much over 10 years?

This question... I don't know what to say. Is it reasonable to think that he wanted to allow an advertisement of the social security privatization plan? Or does it make more sense to consider the opposite, i.e. the plan more-or-less suggests that 1+1=4 (Hello, Dr. Krugman!), so he was trying to get him to talk positively and hopefully and promisingly about another impossible? I think in the next question to Kerry lies our answer...
Let me just stay on Social Security with a new question for Senator Kerry because, Senator Kerry, you have just said you will not cut benefits. Alan Greenspan, the chairman of the Federal Reserve, says there's no way that Social Security can pay retirees what we have promised them unless we recalibrate. What he's suggesting: We're going to have to cut benefits or we're going to have to raise retirement age. We may have to take some other reform. But if you've just said you've promised no changes, does that mean you're just going leave this as a problem, another problem for our children to resolve?

I'm both sick of Schieffer's repeated attempts to corner Kerry, and pleased that every time he tried, 44 managed to rise to the occasion and explain himself brilliantly. First of all, Alan Greenspan didn't just say "Social Security", he said "Social Security and Medicare", a trick that they very often use to increase the magnitude of the object to create a false sense of direness. Second of all, everything Kerry said is true! Noone seems to remember how desperately Dr. Death was talking up the tax cuts to Congress. And noone seems willing to make the clear point that the deficit-hawk Greenspan, who was very careful in guiding the Democrats to fiscal responsibility during the Clinton years turned into such an obedient troop once C-Plus Augustus and company made it into the office.
Let's go to a new question. Mr. President, I got more e-mail this week on this question than any other question, and it is about immigration. I'm told that at least 8,000 people cross our borders illegally every day. Some people believe this is a security issue, as you know; some believe it's an economic issue; some see it as a human rights issue. How do you see it, and what do we need to do about it?

Hmmm.... Might be a good one. Finally!
Next question to you, Senator Kerry. The gap between rich and poor is growing wider. More people are dropping into poverty. Yet the minimum wage has been stuck at, what, $5.15 an hour now for about seven years. Is it time to raise it?

Another good one for Kerry, are we finally being fair?
Mr. President I want to go back to something Senator Kerry said earlier tonight and ask a follow-up of my own. He said, and this will be a new question to you, he said that you had never said whether you would like to overturn Roe v. Wade. So I'd ask you directly would you like to?

And yes, believe it or not, I also think this was a good one for Kerry (given the electorate's general opinion on the issue). And I loved Kerry's quiet arrogant moment with Schieffer (of the kind that only experts of that arrogance can recognize)... (I didn't ask you what the question is, idiot, I just asked you how long the answer's going to be.)
All right, let's go to another question, and it is to Senator Kerry. You have two minutes, sir. Senator, the last debate President Bush said he did not favor a draft. You agreed with him. But our National Guard and Reserve forces are being severely strained because many of them are being held beyond their enlistments. Some of them say that it's a back-door draft. Is there any relief that could be offered to these brave Americans and their families? If you became president, Senator Kerry, what would you do about this situation, holding National Guard and Reservists for these extended periods of time and these repeated call-ups that they're now facing?

Could've been a ditch, Kerry still pulled out nicely.
Mr. President, new question, two minutes. You said that if Congress would vote to extend the ban on assault weapons that you'd sign the legislation. But you did nothing to encourage the Congress to extend it. Why not?

Yes, another one sort-of trying to corner the President.
Let's go to a new question for you, Senator Kerry, two minutes. Affirmative action: Do you see a need for affirmative action programs or have we moved far enough along that we no longer need to use race and gender as a factor in school admissions and federal and state contracts and so on?

Kerry did well, it was an okay question, but I'm surprised he didn't bring up the administration's filing of an amicus brief for the U of Michigan case.
Mr. President, let's go to a new question. You were asked before the invasion or after the invasion of Iraq if you had checked with your dad. And I believe, I don't remember the quote exactly, but I believe you said you had checked with a higher authority. I would like to ask you what part does your faith play on your policy decisions?

Wedge again. Nothing to say. Luckily, Kerry pulled it off rather eloquently.
Senator Kerry, after 9/11 - and this is a new question for you - it seemed to me that the country came together as I've never seen it come together since World War II. But some of that seems to have melted away. I think it's fair to say we've become pretty polarized, perhaps because of the political season. But if you were elected president - or whoever is elected president - will you set a priority in trying to bring the nation back together or what would be your attitude on that?

Time to stick the "uniter not a divider" slogan in, and twist the blade... Good question.
We've come gentlemen, to our last question. And it occurred to me as I came to this debate tonight that the three of us share something. All three of us are surrounded by very strong women. We're all married to strong women. Each of us have two daughters that make us very proud. I'd like to ask each of you what is the most important thing you've learned from these strong women?

Now, given the facts there are two possibilies: Either Bob Schieffer is aware the answers (and facts) are so obviously tilted against Bush that he's throwing Kerry hardballs in order for the Senator to rise better and brighter after the answer, or he's simply protecting his close friend, and fellow Texan, against a Northeast liberal, just like he said on Larry King Live. I choose to believe the simplest explanation.

Coming up: A tiny little mathematical analysis of the debate.

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