Live-blogging the debate:

0:01 “A few” things is all you want to change about the PATRIOT ACT? Gonna be a long night…

0:03 Bush doesn’t see how you can lead this country if you change your mind…I think a lot of Americans are coming to realize you can’t lead the country so well if you never change your mind…

0:05 Touting that 75% of Al Qaeda leadership captured figure was probably more effective before Condi admitted we don’t know how many Al Qaeda leaders there are. That must be some amazing math…

0:06 “I wasn’t happy when we found out there wasn’t weapons there.” I understand, electorally, why that would be the case, but on some moral level, shouldn’t that be a relief?

0:09 No, he didn’t say “we must pass a global test before we use force” – he said we must pass one after we use force. Not much to tout from that first debate for you, is there?

0:10 Kerry appealing to what voters see about Iraq on TV is much more effective, somehow, than Bush appealing to what he sees about Iraq on TV…

0:13 Bush saying he’s more optimistic than Kerry about Iraq: Effective rhetoric. Bush saying Kerry’s copying his plan: Not so effective rhetoric.

0:15 “I’ve made some decisions that have caused people not to understand the great values of our country.” What? Whose fault would that be? I mean, is that just because the great values of our country are really hard to understand?

0:17 True, people love America who don’t like America’s decisions. That’s why so many of them are hoping Kerry wins. But doesn’t acknowledging the difference between criticism and America-hating remove one of your justifications for ignoring the criticism?

0:18 Calling Bush on broken promises from 2000: Key. Keep at it. And combining that with the firing dissenters angle is a key move too.

0:19 “The military’s job is to win the war. The President’s job is to win the peace.” Amen. Stick it to him for claiming criticizing the policy demoralizes the troops.

0:21 “…Iraq, where there wasn’t a threat,” is probably a poor turn of phrase after repeating that you agreed there was a threat.

0:22 Nuclear proliferation in Russia – hammer on this one. And commititng to halt any kind of development of any kind of weapon during a Presidential campaign is, to Kerry’s credit, a more courageous move than some Democratic Presidential nominees have made.

0:23 So now being a partner to the world, according to Bush, means renouncing nuclear aspirations. Someone should tell that to, I dunno, maybe President Bush…

0:26 “We need to be lighter and quicker and more facile.” More facile? Well, Bush is doing all he can for that goal…

0:27 OK, Kerry, we get that you’ve got a lot of military support…

0:28 Reagan’s foreign policy? Come on.

0:28 George Bush sure does love Poland. Which is heartwarming, especially now that they’ve said they’re backing out.

0:29 Anne is really excited to be at this debate. And not to have been attacked by terrorists.

0:30 “What was it, 1993 or so?” Way to make the Democratic Party’s job harder.

0:31 Slam him on saying tax cuts for the rich are more important than security for everyone. Clobber him. Please. Yes. Keep going.

0:32 “We’re doing everything we can to defend the homeland.” Really?

0:32 “If Iraq were to fail it would be a haven for terrorists.” As supposed to now, when it’s a, well, a…

0:34 “…the tax cut for the middle class.” First-class chutzpah. Did you just say you’re only concerned about working Americans being targeted by terrorists?

0:36 If Bush is for generic drugs, does that mean he’ll be reforming his AIDS policy?

0:37 “The President just didn’t level with you right here again.” Yes. “…into the pockets of the drug companies, right out of your pockets.” Yes.

0:38 Somehow, one President who managed to erode Medicare isn’t an impressive comparison to one Senator who didn’t completely positively transform the Medicare system.

0:41 Is there really polling out there that says that the only Doctors women are concerned about are OB/GYNs? Cause these two sure make it sound like it.

0:42 Did you just call him Senator Kennedy? Much like confusing Saddam and Osama – is this a screw-up or a subliminal message? Or maybe my reception just isn’t so good.

0:43 If “defensive medicine” means being extra careful to stay within regulations, maybe there are worse things Doctors could do.

0:44 Compassionate conservatives: Neither compassionate nor conservative. Disucss.

0:45 “We have a deficit.” How in touch of you. But wait – it’s all Bill Clinton and Osama 0bin Laden’s fault.

0:46 Bush citing today’s economic report? I come from the school of thought that calls that chutzpah (also the one that says if you want to increase demand by giving people money, it has to be the folks who are low-income enough to change consumption habits based on the extra money).

0:48 Kerry channels Robert Reich’s argument that real patriotism requires sacrifice. Or rather, he dances around it. So close…

0:50 Kerry calls Bush on the broken promise of $5 million jobs. And Enron. Nice.

0:51 Kerry’s long stare at the camera to promise never to raise taxes on folks making $199,000 a year, even if necessary to get healthcare for those making a hell of a lot less, is anything but comforting to me. And, I suspect, to a bunch of the low-income folks I registered this summer to vote.

0:54 Has Bush read the jobs report he’s citing?

0:55 Funny thing is, actually he did, by statistical fluke, get named the most liberal Senator because he missed so many votes.

0:56 Bush is actually citing the “Clear Skies Act” as if it helped, you know, clear skies. And now the “Healthy Forests Bill”! He should be slammed for this in, say, 30 seconds.

0:58 Instead, Kerry’s touting how many Republican/Clintonian things he voted for. Oy. Now he’s slamming him though. Somewhat.

0:59 “The halls of Europe”? Wonder what those look like.

1:01 “How can the US be competitive in manufacturing and maintain our standard of living?” “A reviewed, muscular, transnational labor movement.” Sorry – just fantasizing.

1:04 If anyone doubted that Bush’s plan is for the US to compete with third world dictatorships for deregulation and exploitation of labor, well, why did you ever doubt that?

1:05 I’d say “That’s news to me” is one of those expressions Bush should be careful about using, joke or not – it’s a little close to home.

1:06 I really, really wish that we had a Democratic candidate who could do more to comfort the man who’s worried about his rights being watered down than the incumbent is doing right now.

1:09 Well, this is a somewhat better answer on the PATRIOT ACT than we got from Kerry at the beginning. And good call on not letting terrorists re-write the constitution. But when you mention Dick Durbin, my main thought is, “Shouldn’t he (or, say, Barack Obama) be running for President?”

1:11 “Parapeligic” shouldn’t be such a hard word for Kerry to say. But framing the research as a sign of respect for life is a good, George-Lakoff-approved move.

1:13 “Science is important, but so is ethics.” Since when is that the choice?

1:16 If by “allowing personal opinion to enter into constitutional process,” you mean allowing the constitution to enter into the constitutional process, then yes?

1:17 Dred Scott? Newdow is our generation’s Dred Scott? Screw you. And sorry to break it to you, Mr. President, but the mid-nineteenth century constitution wasn’t exactly ideal when it comes to equal rights for African-Americans. Nice to hear Bush doesn’t actually think property rights always have to trump human liberty though.

1:20 Good that Kerry’s tying abortion to class and to international family planning. Don’t particularly need him or his wife counseling me out of abortion.

1:21 If by “reduce the number of abortions in America,” you mean reduce access to safe and legal abortion, then yeah.

1:23 When Kerry explains the problem with Bush’s argument, and Bush responds by saying it’s actually simple and not responding to the criticism, I wouldn’t say straight-shooter is the term that comes to mind.

1:24 Is Bush’s biggest mistake an appointment he made?

1:25 So now, contra Cheney, there may have been little military mistakes made – they’re just not that important.

1:26 And it was apparently a mistake to appoint people principled enough to call him out on his mistakes.

1:27 Ah, the $87 billion. How we’ve missed hearing about it.

1:28 “He wants you kids to pay for it. I wanted us to pay for it.” True that.

1:29 Please don’t screw this up, John.

1:31 Well, no memorable sound bytes in that one for us or for them. And “respected at home and stronger in the world” still makes me groan. But optimism is recommendable.

1:33 Nothing so memorable from Bush’s closing either. Fitting, maybe, for a debate which had fewer “moments” than the two before or, likely, than the last one next week. My immediate reaction is that Bush failed to halt Kerry’s momentum going in. Bush was certainly much, much better than the last time – meaning he wasn’t a train wreck. But Kerry did more to respond to his opponent’s arguments, and to the audience’s questions, than Bush, and did so more effectively. Still, he missed a good share of opportunities – or dropped them half-way. And my last question before signing off would have to be: Right now, walking off the stage, is this the first time in the campaign that Bush is walking into a crowd he couldn’t vet first?

As I see it, what Kerry needs to do tonight is call George Bush more strongly than ever on his out-of-touch mentality and non-starter agenda on the economy, healthcare, housing, homeland security, and foreign policy (really shouldn’t be hard to do given the mountains of evidence and the damning lived experience of Americans, so he better not screw it up), and connect personally with the voters in the room and thus vicariously with the ones on TV (doesn’t seem to be his strong suit, but I’m rooting for him).

Good news is, Bush can’t just make hopeful, earnest promises this time around. Unless, that is, he manages to convince America that he’s been born again again since the last debate, and so his record from his first term, like the way he spent the early part of his life, is off-limits. I honestly think a partial acknowledgement of some mistakes, domestically or abroad, would humanize Bush and pull some of his 2000 supporters back onto the reservation. But his strategists, based on the two debates so far, seem to think that would bring down the whole house of cards. So his marching orders seem to be denying all errors and pinning all problems on terrorism or Clinton. Which offers some great opportunities to John Kerry to take him down – if he knows how to use them.

Some quick thoughts on the debate, before hearing many talking heads:

I thought John Kerry did a very, very strong job. He managed to appear erudite but not snotty and resolute but not haughty. He even smiled and laughed a little. He managed to repeatedly hammer home a few points (more of which I agree with than not) without sounding repetitive: The war on terror shouldn’t be fought and won’t be won alone. Hussein was a threat based faced by the President with the support of Congress and the international community, and Bush misused the former and squandered the latter. Iraq wasn’t central to the War on Terror until Bush made it a training ground for terrorists. Being resolute isn’t enough if you aren’t right. Screwing up the war is worse than screwing up the words. Bush has been crimminally negligent in shoring up Homeland Security and fighting nuclear proliferation. Of course, I would have liked to see Kerry taking a stronger, more progressive stance on Iraq going back years now, I’d like to see him fighting harder for an immigration policy which doesn’t treat immigrants as terrorists, I’d like to hear more about fighting terrorism by fighting poverty, about AIDS as a threat to international security – the list goes on. But this was a much stronger case for Kerry as commander-in-chief than we got at the Convention, and I think a good chunk of the genuinely undecided will agree.

The best I could say for Bush is he certainly managed to project a sense of sincerity. Arguing that your opponent is a flip-flopper packs a lot less punch in real time in a debate than in retrospect in a newspaper article. And he didn’t find many particularly creative ways to say so. While Bush argued hard (and seemingly unnecessarily) for the chance to rebut several of Kerry’s rebuttals, much of the time it was to dodge the actual question. We heard the word liberty a lot from Bush, but we didn’t get much of a case for his presidency and we got less of a plan for it. And the outrageous moments were hard to count: Bush repeatedly implying that criticizing military policy during war disqualifies you to set it; Bush arguing that protecting America as well as Kerry wants to would be too expensive; Bush confusing Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden (isn’t that why they rehearse); every cut away of Bush smirking or looking petulant.

I have to say, I was honestly impressed with Kerry’s performance on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart. He laughed at the jokes without seeming forced and figured out how to play along with them and make one or two of his own, he talked about policy in a clear, concise, persuasive manner, and he managed to come off as relatively likable. His line about the attacks on his service was spot-on:

I’ve been through worse.

In a few words, it rebuts and disregards the attacks at once by minimizing them relative to the threats to real threats he faced down which said attacks are impugning. Equally clever was his assertion that

President Bush has won every debate he’s been in

Not only does he show that two can play at the expectations game and deprive Bush of the advantage of obscenely low standards he milked against Gore, he appears gracious towards the President while chipping away at one of his advantages: the perception that Bush is an unpackaged, unhandled straight-talker. Rather, Kerry rightly suggested, Bush has a shiny, studied presentation – but no record to run on.

If Kerry could find a way to walk on and wave without looking quite so awkward, or someone could tell him not to start re-buttoning your jacket until the cameras are off, it’d be even better.

The Chicago Sun-Times is reporting that former Republican Presidential candidate Alan Keyes will receive the Republican nod to face Barack Obama in Illinois’ Senate election. I’d say Barthwell, despite her harassment of gay employees, would have managed to pull more votes for the GOP given her actually being from Illinois and her not being on record as a right-wing fringe polemicist (not that I have a problem with fringes, or polemicists…), but this race was Obama’s either way. Seeing as Keyes has largely been out of the public eye the past four years, I figured I’d put together a few choice quotes (culled from Bruce Miller’s Take Them At Their Words) from the man who would be R-IL.

On Clinton’s impeachment:

And what was fascinating, I spent part of the time in my talks addressing the vote that had taken place on Friday, and making the point that in truth the Senate did not exonerate Bill Clinton, ’cause we all know he’s guilty. They perjured themselves. (February 16, 1999)

On Democrats:

…a party without a heart or principle or respect for law or anything else, which, because of the lack of a sense of principle, now I think poses a deep threat to our future as a free people…a party that has adopted the kind of “ends justifies the means” approach that characterized the communist parties in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union – and such a party is potentially an instrument of deep repression…it has surrendered to that total abdication of moral concern which then says that so long as you succeed at doing what we want done, we don’t care how you do it. And in a nation that’s supposed to be based on Constitutionalism and the rule of law, that is a party that is a danger, indeed… (February 16, 1999)

On September 11 and abortion:

If we pray down destruction on the head of Osama bin Laden for that violation of innocent life, we have to be aware that we pray down destruction as well on a nation that is willing to enshrine in principle a right to administer the selfsame blow to those innocent lives of our offspring that ought to be more sacred in our obligation to God than any others. (July 17, 2002)

At a rally supporting Judge Roy Moore’s refusal to take down the ten commandments from his court:

The greatest danger we have faced, the greatest danger we face today lies not in the guns of any enemy. It lies not in the strength of any foreign power. The greatest danger that we face today is those who wish to tell us, in the name of freedom, that we must turn our backs on God! (April 12, 2003)

Looks like the Republicans are actually preparing to field a candidate who believes that the Democrats are about as dangerous as Stalinists, abortion-supporters are worse than Osama bin Laden, and civil libertarians are the greatest threat to our national security. The Sun-Times quotes one member of the panel which is said to have made the offer looking forward to Keyes and Obama “doing Lincoln-Douglas debates.” I’m sure Obama is psyched to debate, given that he was challenging Ryan for more debates even as he way way ahead of him in the polls, and it would certainly be entertaining to watch. I’m not sure it’s a pairing that merits the description “Lincoln-Douglas.” I am confident saying Keyes will find no more success running for Senate in Illinois than he did back in Maryland.

Perhaps the most interest feature of the Times’ write-up of today’s debate is the short shrift given to half the candidates, who in the earlier draft were mentioned only as “other candidates” until the last paragraph which noted that Kucinich “has no chance” and that Sharpton “complained” about being ignored. The longer version up now is slightly, although not significantly better on this count. Kucinich and Sharpton at least made it into the photo – given that Sharpton was sitting right between Kerry and Edwards, it would have been hard to find any other way to take it.

The Times’ write-up of tonight’s debate suggests that Kerry and Edwards, both of whom oppose both gay marriage and a constitutional ammendment to ban it, chose to stake out less than bold stances on the issue:

“What’s happening here is this president is talking about, first, amending the United States Constitution for a problem that does not exist,” Mr. Edwards said. “The law today does not require one state to recognize the marriage of another state.”

Mr. Kerry, of Massachusetts, attacked Mr. Bush for raising the issue in the first place.

“He’s trying to polarize the nation,” Mr. Kerry said. “He’s trying to divide America. You know, this is a president who always tries to create a cultural war and seek the lowest common denominator of American politics, because he can’t come to America and talk about jobs.”

Needless to say, being told that your rights needn’t be excised from the constitution because they don’t yet pose much of a threat of being realized anyway is, one suspects, less than comforting to millions of gay couples in this country. And while there is of course truth in the oft-repeated argument that the Republicans exploit social issues to distract people from their economic interests, you don’t win people over to your side by telling them that your stance on the issue isn’t something they should be concerned about. Kerry deserves credit for voting against the Defense of Marriage Act, and it was good to see Edwards try to position himself to Kerry’s left on the issue by offering greater certainty that he would vote against it today, but there remains a serious lack of moral leadership on this issue.

Kerry was right on target, on the other hand, on the death penalty, saying pretty much exactly (with the exception of his support for executing convicted terrorists) what every Democratic candidate should when asked why he wouldn’t want to see perpetrators of heinous murderers killed:

“My instinct is to want to strangle that person with my own hands,” he said. “I understand the instincts, I really do.” He added: “I prosecuted people. I know what the feeling of the families is and everybody else.

“But we have 111 people who have been now released from death row ? death row, let alone the rest of the prison system ? because of DNA evidence that showed they didn’t commit the crime of which they were convicted.”

Edwards, unfortunately, took this one as a chance to move to Kerry’s right.

Then there’s this troubling continuation of Kerry’s muddled record on trade:

On trade, Mr. Kerry was asked to square his support for inexpensive clothes and goods from overseas for consumers with his support for labor unions seeking better wages and job protections.

“Some jobs we can’t compete with,” he said. “I understand that. But most jobs we can.” Mr. Edwards seized the issue, as he sought to draw a sharp a contrast by noting different votes the two men have cast on trade pacts over the years.

Kerry did get something else right though:

Mr. Kerry was then asked to name a quality of Mr. Edwards’s that he wished he had himself, but appeared not to entirely grasp the question. “I think he’s a great communicator,” Mr. Kerry said. “He’s a charming guy.”

Looking at the transcipt, Sharpton effectively called Edwards on his support for the PATRIOT ACT:

I don’t see how anyone that supports civil rights could support the Patriot Act. You talk about a difference of direction, Senator Edwards, the Patriot Act…The Patriot Act that you supported is J. Edgar Hoover’s dream. It’s John Ashcroft’s dream. We have police misconduct problems in California, Ohio, Georgia, New York, right now…And your legislation helps police get more power. So I think that we’ve got to really be honest if we’re talking about change. Change how, and for who? That’s why I am in this race.

And he provided the needed historical perspective on gay marriage:

I think is not an issue any more of just marriage. This is an issue of human rights. And I think it is dangerous to give states the right to deal with human rights questions.

And Kucinich (who, incidentally, captured 30% of the vote for second place in Hawaii) tried, with limited success, to focus the debate on the policy differences between the four candidates rather than the personal differences between two of them:

I think the American people tonight will be well- served if we can describe, for example, why we all aren’t for a universal, single-payer, not-for-profit health care system. I think the American people will be well-served if we can describe why, for example, Senator Kerry and Senator Edwards are not for canceling NAFTA and the WTO, as I would do, because that is how you save the manufacturing jobs. And I think they’d be well-served if they would be able to see the connection, as I will just explain, between the cost of the war in Iraq and cuts in health care, education, job creation, veterans’ benefits, housing programs. See, this debate ought to be about substantive differences which we do have.

And I have the greatest respect for Senator Edwards and Senator Kerry, but we have substantive differences along these lines that I think it would help to explicate here tonight.

He hit this one just right:

Well, I’m glad to point out something that all those people who don’t have health insurance and all those people who have seen their premiums go up 50 percent in the last three years already understand. And that is that Washington right now is controlled by the insurance interests and by the pharmaceutical companies. And our party, our Democratic Party four years ago, John and John, I went to our Democratic platform committee with a proposal for universal single-payer health care. And it was quickly shot down because it offended some of the contributors to our party.

I just want to state something: We must be ready to take up this challenge of bringing health care to all the American people. And that’s what I’m asking everyone here to make a commitment to. Single payer…