Kerry Challenges Bush to Monthly Debates
Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry, visiting the site of one of the most famous political debates in U.S. history, planned to challenge President Bush on Saturday to a “real discussion about America’s future” in a monthly series of debates.
Kerry, already engaged in a running exchange of negative ads with Bush eight months before the November election, planned to deliver the challenge at the site of the historic Abraham Lincoln-Stephen Douglas debates in Quincy, Illinois.
That series of 1858 senatorial debates between Douglas and Lincoln, who lost the Senate election but won the presidency two years later, is legendary in U.S. political history for elevating crucial issues like slavery and states’ rights to the front of the U.S. political agenda.
“Surely, if the attack ads can start now at least we can agree to start a real discussion about America’s future,” Kerry said in remarks prepared for delivery in Quincy, Illinois, later on Saturday.
This is a good ploy on Kerry’s part, since it appears to be serious despite its absurdity. No incumbent president would possibly agree to such a thing before the conventions, given that they have an actual job to do, while Kerry is essentially being paid $158,000 a year for campaigning.
Presidents make appearances, which become quite blurred with campaigning, all the time. While time consuming, it’s a regular part of the job and doesn’t take that much preparation once there’s a standard stump speech in place. By contrast, getting ready for a big-time debate takes days. It’s not even comparable to the mini-debates that go on during primary season, which have multiple candidates and a tiny audience. Doing more that two or three of them is just too much of a drain.
From a strategic standpoint, it doesn’t make much sense for an incumbent president to debate more than that, anyway. Going head-to-head with one’s general election opponent conveys a sense of equality that diminishes a president’s stature advantage. Further, an election featuring an incumbent president is almost always a referendum on his performance. Waiting until after the conventions–the traditional starting point for the “official” general election campaign–gives a president’s team the ability to gauge the political climate and make a calculation as to how many debates to agree to, their timing, and the format.
And, of course, only us political junkies are paying much attention right now, anyway. Going through all the work of prepping for a debate in the spring–months before the election–just doesn’t make sense right now. Indeed, all we can do at this point is make educated guesses as to what the major issues will be.