Political debates are often likened to tennis matches, but Tammy Bruce says they are more akin to golf. The objective is to advance your own game, not to outperform your opponent. Tonight in St. Louis President Bush will be playing on a different course with its own unique hazards but, as any dedicated golfer can tell you, a new day brings the opportunity for a do-over.
To succeed in the debate, President Bush must be himself and John Kerry must be who he wants us to think he is. Bush is a practitioner of the Golden Rule, which means that he could share the stage with a lying sociopath but we won’t hear that from his lips. The trademark Bush compassion is probably an advantage in the town hall format. My impression of Kerry is of a vain man with a hollow biography, a legend in his own mind with a compulsion to spread his robust self-opinion. If that legend is challenged, I expect that Senator Do-You-Know-Who-I-Am will be tempted to rebut every single charge.
Meanwhile Bush has a task that is simple though far from easy, one perfected by Ronald Reagan but well within Bush’s grasp. With humor, confidence and good will, he has to define the Bush doctrine in clear contrast to the Kerry plan while calling Kerry to account for his record of always being on the wrong side of history. Bush needs to block out distractions like bias and spin, which can never completely obscure undeniable truths. Yesterday’s horrifying attacks in Baghdad, Egypt and France are timely reminders that the war on terror is more than a campaign issue to be manipulated by the cynical.
If Bush focuses on his game while drawing Kerry into sand traps of his own making, he may take a mulligan that changes the course of this election.