The first debate is over. John Kerry's good on style, but lousy on substance. George Bush is good on substance, but bad on style.
Here's what I took away from it: Kerry talks about a rush to war. 18 months is a rush? Then he talks about under-equipped soldiers. He does realize that was part of the $87 billion bill that he voted for, then voted against, right? He then talks about Iraq being a necessary war, but seems to want other people to do the fighting for him. Maybe he should remember that his friends in France and Germany refused to help in the beginning of this war? I wasn't impressed with his call to action in Darfur, either. He seemed to say we should help, but not really help. Kerry's biggest strength was calling for bilateral nuclear anti-proliferation talks with North Korea. It's good to see Kerry strong on something, but this isn't the right something on which he should be strong. He lost the whole Iraq argument by acting tepid on his record in the war. Kerry has to deal with being an anti-war candidate who turns around votes for war. Overall, he looked pretty weak.
Bush, on the other hand, repeated the Dems' "wrong war, wrong place, wrong time" too often. He got flustered, but then he's neither a former debate society darling nor has he had the chance to mug for C-SPAN's cameras for 20 years. He did drive home the idea that Kerry would make a commander-in-chief whose main strategy is summed up as "vacillate." He also showcased his ability to build alliances and international consensus where needed, in talking about the current coalition of the War on Islamofascism and the six-party talks on North Korea's nuclear weapons program. He brought up missile defense, too. I like the idea of strategic missile defense, but it's a backburner idea and not something to bring up as part of a debate. I think he mentioned it more to show an overall picture of national defense, but it doesn't have the gee-whiz factor it had on September 10, 2001. His biggest strength was showing resolve in the realization that we have lost lots of good soldiers and marines in the current war. He said he wouldn't back down, wouldn't leave until the job is done right. The problem is that he seemed to want to talk before his mind was done formulating the whole thought. I've got a similar problem with that, as my public speaking teacher could probably attest.
George Bush seems like the "regular guy" of the two, and that will resonate with the voters. I hope it resonates in his favor.
Overall, I'm going to give a slight victory to Bush. His speech wasn't polished, but the substance was there. Maybe he's got that gravitas again?