Third Bush-Kerry Presidential Debate

As with the first three debates, my intention is to live blog tonight’s final debate between President Bush and Senator Kerry in Tempe, Arizona.

Presuming all goes as planned, I’ll do so as a running update to this post starting around 9 Eastern. In the meantime, feel free to link and TrackBack this post to create your own Debate Traffic Jam roundup. A link to your post will appear directly below the signature block. To join in, link and send a TrackBack to this post. If your blog doesn’t automatically generate one, use the Send TrackBack feature below. For more information, see this post.

Update (2116 – ?) Quasi-liveblogging via TiVo delay.

Will the world ever be safe? Kerry gives a nonanswer involving FDR and Ronald Reagan. Bush says Yes, so long as we follow his plan. We’ve held terrorists to account, had elections in Afghanistan, etc. Slams Kerry for his “nuisance” comment.

A question about the flu vaccine shortage?! WTF? How in the world is this a presidential issue?!

Bush, so far, is better than in debate 1 but not as sharp as in debate 2. Clearly, the podium format doesn’t work well for him. Kerry hasn’t been impressive but he seems more comfortable.

Kerry ducks the flu shot question entirely to go into a moronic stump speech bit about how people don’t have health insurance in America. What the hell does that have to do with a vaccine shortage? And, frankly, what does it have to do with presidential policy? What is it that Bush has done that has taken away people’s health insurance? Kerry, of coure, HAS A PLAN, to give everyone the same health insurance that Congress has. Bush says that “A plan is not a litany of complaints” and that it would cost some inordinate amount of money ($5 trillion?) to give everyone the same plan Congress has and that Kerry is offering an “empty promise.” on of

Kerry blames the deficit on Bush having gone away from “pay as you go,” ignoring the fact that we’re at war and are coming off a recession. He seems to think that rolling back the tax cuts on those earning over $200,000 will end the deficit, which is simply moronic. Bush responds with nonsensical recitation of stats of tax increases Kerry has voted for and some bizarre gotcha line about “PayGo” and Ted Kennedy. God, this is awful.

Schiefer wants to know what Bush would say to someone who lost his job to an illiterate 3rd World peasant. Bush proposes taxpayer funded training. He also thinks making the education system work would solve the problem. Kerry seems to think that jobs and education don’t have anything to do with one another. Kerry gets in a rather lame line about Tony Soprano. The art of gotcha quotes is apparently dead. Where are the “There you go again” and similar lines?

Schiefer notes that presidents don’t have a lot of control over the economy but asks another “blame Bush” question. Indeed, the questions have largely been Lehrer-like rather than Ifell-like in that sense.

Both men are doing better with the cutaways, mainly affecting expressions of bemusement.

“Woooh” isn’t quite “There you go again,” although it conveys the same sentiment. Bush’s syntax sucks again tonight. Maybe he’s allergic to lecterns.

Do you believe homosexuality is a choice? Interesting question, although, again, not really a presidential issue. Bush says he doesn’t know but that we should be tolerant anyway but still adhere to our fundamental principles. He then shifts to whether judges or the people should make these decisions, reasonably solid ground, I think. Kerry says “We’re all God’s children” and mentions Dick Cheney’s daughter. “It’s not a choice.”

Schiefer notes that some Catholic archbishops say it would be a sin to vote for Kerry or other candidates who support abortion. Kerry notes that he’s a strong Catholic and quotes some scripture. He distinguishes between living according to his faith and forcing his beliefs on others via legislation. Even on this softball, Bush seems on the defensive. He notes that Kerry was one of a handful to vote against banning partial birth abortion.

Schiefer wants to know who’s to blame for rising health care costs. Bush tries to be self deprecating with “Gosh, I hope it’s not the Administration.” Too forced and nervous. Bush then goes on to medical liability reform. He’s clearly a lot of stats and arguments but doesn’t seem to have internalized them, so everything comes across as forced and awkward. Kerry says it’s Bush’s fault because he’s blocked us from importing drugs from Canada.

This is essentially a less interesting reprise of the Town Hall debate from last week. Neither has any new talking points and neither is delivering them as well as they have before.

Kerry apparently is going to save health care by curing all the diseases. Intriguing.

Bush tries to get off a good line about “I’m not sure it’s credible to quote leading news organization……” but his timing is so godawful that it falls flat.

Bush says government health programs are awful and Kerry says he doesn’t support that, just having government pay for health programs. Kerry says Bush isn’t funding VA hospitals, which is odd since the legislature funds everything that government funds, not the executive.

Schiefer wants to know how we’ll fix Social Security since it’s running out of money. Bush says that everyone will get their checks but that we need a new strategy for young people. He cites the Moynihan Commission that he appointed to look into the issue.

Kerry apparently thinks undecided voters, a/k/a “friggin’ morons,” know what the CBO is.

He also seems to think that taking money away from the rich and balancing the budget has something to do with fixing Social Security. Most odd, unless he proposes to fund it out of general revenues into the foreseeable future.

Bush continues to step on his punch lines, talk too fast, and act nervous and defensive.

Interesting: An illegal aliens question. Bush ignores the fact that he’s granted blanket amnesty to millions of illegals and comes out with some nonsense about a guest worker card. He says we ought not to have amnesty–BUT HE GRANTED IT.

Kerry claims that the middle class is worse off than at any time since 1929? WTF? How idiotic is that?

Kerry then comes back to illegal aliens and says we should do a better job enforcing existing laws. Well, gee whiz. He also seems to think we have biometric data on these aliens and that they come through scanning stations when they come across. Idiocy.

Kerry’s going to raise the minimum wage to $7 and says it’s only fair since Bush wants to let rich people keep their own money. Rather a non sequitur. He also claims that women make 74 cents on the dollar for men doing the same job, simply untrue, and apparently thinks it’s Bush’s fault.

On substance, this is easily the worst of the four debates. Both guys have been spouting sheer idiocy and clumsily fitting in talking points even if only tangentially related to the topic. Kerry is doing a better job of delivery than Bush, though.

Would Bush like to overturn Roe v. Wade? A rather straightforward question that Bush, oddly, ducks by coming back to nonsense about not having a judicial litmus test. Kerry’s answer is even dumber, saying he would never appoint a judge who would overturn a constitutional right, whether the 1st Amendment, 5th Amendment, or Roe v. Wade. One of those is not like the other. (Hint: It’s the last one, which isn’t actually in the Constitution.) Kerry uses the balance of his time to spout nonsense about nothing in particular.

Schiefer feeds Kerry another one of his own talking points, that Stop Loss amounts to a “backdoor draft” as if it were a hardball question. Sheesh. Kerry flubs it, though, because he apparently thinks we organize support personnel into divisions. Why would we do that? He clearly doesn’t understand the military, Vietnam or no.

Bush says that Guard and Reserve personnel view their service as an honor, not a backdoor drat. He then shifts away from the question to the “global test” business and saying we won’t get permission from abroad to defend ourselves. Rather clever to turn this into foreign policy issues again, but he handles it rather poorly.

Why didn’t you encourage an extension on the assault weapon ban? Bush actually ducks what should be a slam dunk question for himself with a rather mealy-mouthed answer about legislative hurdles before going onto a “we should crack down on criminals, not guns” mantra. Kerry claims to have been a former “law enforcement officer,” when in fact he was merely an assistant DA. Still, he hits the magic buttons on this one much better than Bush.

Another softball question for Kerry on “have we ended the need for anti-discrimination measures” like affirmative action. Kerry claims to oppose quotes but to have somehow fixed it during the Clinton administration with “mend it don’t end it.” He notes that Bush has never met with the NAACP. Bush agrees that quotas are a bad idea, says he’s increased Pell Grants, and that programs to help the poor go to college are the answer to the problem.

Bush gets a softball as to the role his faith plays in his policy decisions. Not surprisingly, this is the question that Bush seems most comfortable with this evening. It’s the first time tonight that he talks as if he’s saying what he believes rather than spouting memorized lines. Kerry, not surprisingly, uses it as an opportunity to pander to minority groups and then to get off on a bizarre tangent about helping the poor.

Kerry gets a polarization question. He says Bush did a great job after 911 in healing the country but that he hasn’t done much to unite us since then. Apparently, the secret to everything is making John McCain happy. Bush says the bitter partisanship is “my greatest disappointment,” although he notes he was able to work with Democrats, including Ted Kennedy, to get things through early in his term. Bush notes that the country was pretty divided in 2000, too, and that John McCain is supporting him, not Kerry. Both excellent points.

What’s the most important thing you’ve learned from the strong women in your lives? Bush gets off a good self-deprecating line about “Stand up straight and don’t scowl.” Kerry says all three of them “married up.” Whether he realized it at the moment or it was planned, he obviously realized what we were all thinking–“Some would say me more than others.” Not a particularly substantive question, but neither had a Mike Dukakis moment here–both seemed reasonably human in their answer.

Again, I’m not sure whether either man won this one on substance. Indeed, I would say both had their worst debate on that score. Stylewise, Kerry has been pretty even in all three debates. Nothing spectacular but enough to come across as reasonable and decent. Bush was awful the first debate, quite good in the second debate, and mediocre tonight. If the debates are going to be the decisive factor in this election, I fear we’re going to have a new president come January. Kerry did we he needed to do in all three of them, Bush in at best two of them.

Thankfully, Bush came into the debates with a significant lead and there’s still nearly three weeks of campaigning ahead.

Post-debate chat.

Brit Hume seems to think the President did quite well, controlling his expressions and marshalling the facts quite well.

Fred Barnes thought it was “rather clearly Bush’s best debate” and that Kerry was on the defensive all night. He clearly saw a different debate than I did, as Bush was the one I thought was on the defensive.

Mort Kondracke thought Kerry’s mention of Cheney’s lesbian daughter was underhanded and “dirty pool.” While I’m squeamish of this one, I think it’s legitimate in that she’s a grown woman and a public figure who’s made no secrecy of her sexuality.

Bill Kristol thinks “Bush knocked Kerry out tonight” and it was a “slaughter.” Again, I didn’t see it.

Chris Wallace, who saw the debate from inside the hall, thought there were “two debates.” He felt that Kerry was on the defensive early but that Kerry seemed more comfortable later while Bush was ducking questions. Apparently, in the first debate, Kerry and his family seemed smug afterwards and Bush and family wanted to get out whereas the opposite was true tonight. He seemed to think this an indication that Kerry felt he lost tonight and Bush thought he won. Hmmm.

Jim Angle says the Bush campaign staff thinks they won the debate and had his best performance of the three debates. They thought Bush was able to “hang Kerry’s record around his neck and make him wear it.” Apparently, Kerry’s mention of Cheney’s daughter got a groan in the press room and in a focus group. Hmmm. Mary Beth Cahill defends the mention of Mary Cheney, thinking it within bounds and hardly a secret. She uses the term “fair game” which Bill Kristol finds outrageous. Kondracke agrees.

They also debate Kerry’s claim to have written 56 bills that passed whereas Bush claims only 5. As it turns out, Kerry sponsored or co-sponsored 56 bills that passed in the Senate but only 5 of those were actually signed. Given that presidential signature is a Constitutional prerequisite for a bill becoming a law (see Schoolhouse Rock if you have any questions) this is a rather lame claim on Kerry’s part.

Rudy Giuliani skipped the Yankees game to attend the debate and spin on behalf of the president. He definitely should get a cabinet post if Bush wins a second term–that’s dedication.

Well, I’m done for the night. I’ll be interested to see if the Fox crew’s reactions or mine were more in line with the national reaction. I’m hoping the former.

FILED UNDER: 2004 Election, Afghanistan War, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Anjin-San says:

    I am tired of having a president who is not all that bright. Kerry clearly has more brains in his fingernail then Bush has in his entire body…

  2. Rodney Dill says:

    I am tired of presidential wannabes who are not all that bright. Bush clearly has more brains in his fingernail then Kerry has in his entire body…

  3. I honestly did not see Bush as being on the defensive. I did think that his best debate was the 2nd one, however.

  4. I think the Mary Cheney reference was just sleazy.

    Hell, even Jon Stewart reamed Edwards for this, and Kerry wasn’t even debating Cheney…

  5. Anjin-San says:

    Rodney… bright people come up with their own material, the slow follow the slow 🙂

  6. dw says:

    If Bush had done in the last half of tonight’s debate in all three debates, the words “Kerry” and “momentum” wouldn’t be in the same sentence.

    No one has mention anywhere why Kerry used “faith without works is dead” from James 2. “Faith without works” is a Catholic shibboleth for the idea of right action — service to the poor and sick, social justice, and by long extension liberation theology. In effect, Kerry was reminding Catholics of the congruence between Christian theology and Democratic values (except on abortion and homosexuality).

    Of course, in a country that barely goes to church and doesn’t even read the Bible anymore, it’s going to sail over the head of a majority of people.

  7. Anjin-San says:

    The debate was pretty lame on both ends. Two men terrified of making a mistake.

    Kerry looks more presedential and is a much better speaker. Listening to Bush speak in a non-scripted enviorment is painful.

    Probably a narrow win for Kerry. The sitting president is 0-3.


  8. Steve says:

    I’m still trying to figure out why three debates in a pressure cooker environment means a damn thing about who would be the best president.

  9. ken says:

    What were Bushes most obvious lies? (There were probably many Bush lies tonight but what do yo think were his most glaring.)

    One was when Bush claimed never to have said that he was no longer worried about Osama Bin Laden. Actually his statements after Osama got away clearly indicated Bush wasn’t concerning with getting him any more.

  10. Teri says:

    I’m surprised that no one else noticed that Kerry promised to end racism by the end of his term. Within his answer to the affirmative action question, he said “We still have a distance to travel [to end racism] and as President I’ll travel it.”

    Right up there with making the dead walk again.

  11. JakeV says:


    The debates are certainly not ideal, but they’re probably as close as we can get to an unscripted and substantive political discussion, and I think they give a better sense of the personalities and abilities of the two candidates than committee-written, endlessly-repeated stump speeches do.

  12. Anjin-San says:

    Claim: Bush said he never said he wasn’t worried about Osama bin Laden.

    CNN Fact Check: Bush said at a March 13, 2002, press conference that he was “truly not that concerned about” bin Laden. His comment was part of a response to this question from CNN’s Kelly Wallace: “Don’t you believe that the threat that bin Laden posed won’t truly be eliminated until he is found either dead or alive?”

    Bush’s response: “Well, as I say, we haven’t heard much from him. … And, again, I don’t know where he is. I — I’ll repeat what I said. I truly am not that concerned about him.”

  13. JakeV says:

    Snap polls (not unscientific online ones) suggest a clear win for Kerry. How odd that Fox’s analysts didn’t see it that way.

  14. themarkman says:

    Immediate debate aftermath thoughts immediately updated here.

  15. Rodney Dill says:


    I wasn’t trying to come up with my own material, if that is what you were implying, I was only using the reversal to point out a non-substantive comment that added nothing to discussion of the debate.


  16. LJD says:

    If you beat the rug, all of the bugs go scurrying across the floor…(For those not so bright: Kerry=rug, his supporters=bugs)

    Scurry, litty bugs, scurry. Then wait and see who the President is after November 2nd.

  17. TheDarkHorse says:


    You conveniently left off what he said next.

    Bush: “He should be concerned about himself!”

    (Re: Bush about Osama.)