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Bush looked a lot better this time around, at least in terms of seeming alert, energetic, and confident. On the downside, Bush's constant winking at the audience, assertive nods to wrap up comments, and overall body language made me laugh out loud at times.

Kerry is obviously getting better at this stuff. He's still not a scintillating speaker, but he looked relaxed and confident.

As for content, here's the transcript.

I'll leave it to to point out where both candidates flubbed their facts. (Turns out Bush does technically "own" a timber company, since he earned profits from part ownership in Lone Star Trust, an oil company that has part ownership in a timber company. Also, Kerry wildly overstated job losses under Bush.)

The first half hour was mostly concerned with Iraq, and as I've noted here repeatedly, Kerry's position is just so completely incoherent there's no way he can recover on this subject. He repeated the denigration of the coalition. He talked about bringing in more allies, which just isn't going to happen (and I don't know who is buying this).

Both candidates were pretty bad about not answering the question asked (especially when Gibson point blank asked them how they were going to cut the deficit in half...they both avoided that like the plague).

But, for example, on a question about Iran's nuclear threat, Kerry said:

And what's interesting is, it's a threat that has grown while the president has been preoccupied with Iraq, where there wasn't a threat.

If he'd let the inspectors do their job and go on, we wouldn't have 10 times the numbers of forces in Iraq that we have in Afghanistan chasing Osama bin Laden.

Meanwhile, while Iran is moving toward nuclear weapons, some 37 tons of what they called yellow cake, the stuff they use to make enriched uranium, while they're doing that, North Korea has moved from one bomb maybe, maybe, to four to seven bombs.

So in a question about Iran, Kerry says we should have more troops in Afghanistan. Huh? How would that have had any impact on Iran? He talks about how Iran and North Korea have expanded their programs, but doesn't say at all what he would have done to stop it. He is a frickin' Senator, you know. Is he pathologically incapable of proposing legislative action on these subjects? If he had an idea about how to deal with either of these threats, why hasn't he brought them up in Congress in the past 20 years?

On domestic issues, I think Bush fared worse. He was asked about domestic spending, and why he hasn't vetoed any bills. Here's the's a great one:

O'BRIEN: Mr. President, you have enjoyed a Republican majority in the House and Senate for most of your presidency. In that time, you've not vetoed a single spending bill. Excluding $120 billion spent in Iran and — I'm sorry, Iraq and Afghanistan, there has been $700 billion spent and not paid for by taxes.

Please explain how the spending you have approved and not paid for is better for the American people than the spending proposed by your opponent.

Bush's answer? We're at war. Okay, that's true. But part of his answer was this:

Bush: And you're right, I haven't vetoed any spending bills, because we work together.

Non-homeland, non-defense discretionary spending was raising at 15 percent a year when I got into office. And today it's less than 1 percent, because we're working together to try to bring this deficit under control.

Well, zippitty-do-dah. Three non-homeland (security), non-defense bills that passed under Bush are No Child Left Behind, a huge-ass farm subsidy bill, and free drugs for old people. These are not traditionally conservative programs. Bush has spent fast and hard, and not just on security. That's blatantly irresponsible.

Problem is, Kerry's not a viable alternative to this kind of spending. If anything, he'd spend more, while still promising a tax cut on the middle class. He talks about raising taxes on the rich, but by every estimate I've heard, that just ain't gonna be enough money.

Bush sounded silly talking about the potential of the danger of drugs from Canada. He said "Clinton did the same thing". So have we not determined whether or not Canadian drugs are safe yet? How long does that take? I tend to think this issue is a red herring. If we started importing cheap drugs from Canada, they wouldn't be nearly as cheap for nearly as long. Drug companies would start hiking the prices. Still, Bush's response was lame.

But overall, I thought he did better than Kerry, surprisingly on issues like the environment. To many, many questions, Kerry was nebulous and vague. He said "I have a plan" to do whatever many times without pointing out specifics. Bush mentioned specific initiatives to reduce diesel emissions, increase wetlands, burn coal more cleanly, and spur innovation on hydrogen cell technology.

Kerry started out with:

KERRY: Boy, to listen to that -- the president, I don't think, is living in a world of reality with respect to the environment.

Now, if you're a Red Sox fan, that's OK. But if you're a president, it's not.

Huh? He then, of all things, started talking about welfare reform. Again...huh? The rest of his time was spent saying that Bush was wrong on the environment, but didn't provide any concrete information to that effect.

Here's Kerry's response about becoming energy-independent:

Kerry: We've got to create the products of the future. That's why I have a plan for energy independence within 10 years.

And we're going to put our laboratories and our colleges and our universities to work. And we're going to get the great entrepreneurial spirit of this country, and we're going to free ourselves from this dependency on Mideast oil.

Um...okay. I know you've only got a minute and a half, but Bush was able to rattle off a number of specific iniatives. How about one from Kerry?

I think this was an overall weakness in Kerry's performance. I didn't come away from the debate with any clearer picture of what his presidency might look like.

I'd say this was a pretty close one, but overall I'd give the edge to Bush.

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