Sunday, October 03, 2004

Post Debate Analysis

Americans from coast to coast are asking one question tonight: What does Jordan think of the Bush-Kerry debate Thursday night? Unlike those who offered instant polls and analysis, I decided to wait until the emotion had ebbed, until I was able to think about it a little, until I could objectively and dispassionately consider both candidates' presentations, and of course until the dust settled so that I wouldn't look too foolish if I was completely off base.

Having rear-ended a vehicle on my bike today, turning my rear tire into something out of MC Escher drawing, and rending my aging body bloodied and bruised (but unbroken), I seem to have a few extra minutes to write.

So, here goes:

1. Like most of America, I thought Kerry looked serious and Presidential, and the President looked like a frustrated, peevish kid, totally lacking in gravitas, knowledge and a sense of reality about what a mess he's made of the world. In other words, they were both true to character

The difference between what I thought and what the rest of the 62 million Americans who watched thought is that I wasn't a bit surprised. Living in Washington and being a total political junky, I watch these guys all the time -- on T.V. and sometimes in person. I thought Bush was totally consistent with the way I have seen him in press conferences and unscripted interviews that most Americans never see. And Kerry, from what I know and have seen, is an extremely intellegent and serious person, more than capable of leading this country.

2. On the other hand, it was painful to see Kerry try to deal with Iraq. To put it mildly, Iraq is a hopeless mess and it's only getting worse. We'll be lucky at this point (as I think the recent CIA intellegence analysis confirmed) to get out of there without turning it into a Taliban-like haven for radical Islam, spewing terrorism to the four corners of the earth. Kerry understands that it was a mistake from the beginning and that it's a disaster now. But he can't say it because: he's supported the war at the beginning, he's vulnerable to appearing like he's "flip-flopping again, and like everyone else, he doesn't know what the hell to do. Neither pulling out immediately nor staying in seem at this point like options that will make things any better. We broke it, we own it, and it's toxic waste, so we can't just toss it in the trash.

3. OK, lets go to a subject that we actually know something about. Kerry raised the issue of chemical plant safety which we have discussed here many times before:
The president also unfortunately gave in to the chemical industry, which didn't want to do some of the things necessary to strengthen our chemical plant exposure.
What he's talking about here, of course, is the unanimous passage last year of the Corzine bill (S. 157), by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee committee. Corzine's bill would have required chemical plants to do a hazard assessment and consider the introduction of inherently safer technologies. The bill was later killed by the Republicans at the urging of the American Chemistry Council.

Bush's response to Kerry's criticism, as well as Kerry's comments about cutting the COPS community policing program, the administration's failure to protect tunnels, bridges, ports and subways, as well as failure to inspect containers coming into ports and airplane cargos:
I don't think we want to get to how he's going to pay for all these promises. It's like a huge tax gap. Anyway, that's for another debate.
Yeah Dude, and like why is it "like a huge tax gap?" Three guesses.

And then he says:
My administration has tripled the amount of money we're spending on homeland security to $30 billion a year
Sounds impressive, unless you happen to know the real story, according to a recent Mother Jones article by Matthew Brzezinski
Like much about the homeland security effort, DHS's balance sheet looks healthier on paper than it is in reality. At $40 billion, the figure sounds impressive at press conferences and allows the president to say that he is spending big bucks not just in Baghdad, but at home as well. But that number is somewhat misleading. For one, about a third of the total doesn't go to DHS, but to other agencies such as the Pentagon. And most of the remaining $27 billion is not new money—as opposed to the $150-plus billion that has been spent toppling Saddam Hussein. Much of it simply lumps together the pre-existing budgets of the 22 federal agencies that make up the department. Between them, the Coast Guard, Customs, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and the Lawrence Livermore National Lab alone accounted for $19 billion in federal spending before 9/11. The Transportation Security Administration and its roughly $5 billion annual budget are new expenditures, but most of the other agencies have received only marginal increases since being folded into DHS. The truth of the matter is that homeland security is very much a shoestring operation—so much so that worried Democrats in Congress keep trying to throw more money at it.
To prove his seriousness about homeland security, Bush boasts that:
My administration worked with the Congress to create the Department of Homeland Security so we could better coordinate our borders and ports. We've got 1,000 extra border patrol on the southern border; want 1,000 on the northern border. We're modernizing our borders.
But according to Brezezinski,
Money woes got so bad at DHS this year that in March the department had to announce hiring freezes at its two largest frontline agencies—the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection, and the Citizenship and Immigration Service, as the INS is now known— due to a $1.2 billion budget shortfall. (The freeze apparently didn't apply to DHS's public affairs division, which at the time was advertising a $136,466-a-year position for the director of an Entertainment Liaison Office in Hollywood, whose principal responsibility is to make the department look good in the movies.)
4. I won't even stoop to comment on the rumor going around the Bush was wearing an earpiece during the debate through which he was getting instructions on how to answer the questions.

So, that was my totally unbiased view. You may doubt my objectivity, but apparently most Americans agree with me.

On to St. Louis (with a stopover at the VP debate.)