My Reaction to the 2004 Bush/Kerry Debates (3/3)

Third Debate

Once again, we get a reminder of 9/11, terrorism, and concerns of safety looming over this election with the very first question “will our children ever know a world as safe as the one we grew up in?” It’s a total bullshit “feels above reals” question. This election is especially groan inducing in how discussion of almost all other relevant topics are put on hold for this kind of pandering.

It wasn’t popular to say at the time and still isn’t now, but I remember even as a kid how every anniversary in school, they’d suspend classes and force us to talk about our memories of 9/11 and how scared we were and how terrorists are evil. I always found it uncomfortable and somewhat emotionally manipulative. Not that the attack isn’t a tragedy or wasn’t important to remember, but it always felt like a yearly exercise in fomenting anger and fear rather than processing what happened in order to learn from it. Nobody wanted to hear how we planted the seeds for international resentment and subsequent retaliation by toppling democratic governments overseas for friendly dictatorships as well as arming radical groups abroad to screw with the Soviets. But, like it or not, we did and we ought to have acknowledged that reality so as not to repeat the mistake in the future. Instead, the 9/11 posturing my peers and I were subjected to growing up seemingly accomplished one thing: you couldn’t speak out against the PATRIOT Act, Bush himself or the Iraq War without being accused of condoning terrorism. All our grief and anxiety was directed outwards at the evil “others” rather than sparing a moment for self-reflection. I’m not saying the terrorists aren’t the bad guys…but maybe we’re not always the shining white heroes of the world in everything we do either. Maybe we’re a shade of gray who let the terrorists scare us into turning a few shades darker. Unfortunately, that kind of nuance is not allowed in political discourse, especially when there’s a genuine tragedy to exploit.

Anyway, I learned by watching this debate that Bush literally proposed a constitutional amendment to define marriage as between one man and one woman. Holy shit, as if I couldn’t loathe this man any more. Kerry’s response, bringing up Dick Cheney’s lesbian daughter, is probably the most iconic moment of this debate cycle, though it’s not well remembered by the public.

Aside from 9/11 and Iraq, it’s frustrating how this debate brings up a lot of the same questions from last time, like gay marriage, importing Canadian drugs and abortions, which we got a clear answer on before and which nothing new is gleamed by asking again. It’s no secret that the two parties are more similar than they let on, and in modern times the only things that really separate them are social wedge issues like…abortion and gay marriage. I think this is the first debate cycle where that becomes undeniably obvious even to most casual voters, considering the repetition of these same questions when so many other big issues go ignored in this debate. It’s not even like this debate asks more specific follow-up inquiries based on the candidates’ answers from last time. Literally they just have them trot out the same exact talking points once again. What was even the point of this debate?

One new topic that gets brought up though, and is especially interesting considering where we are today, is immigration reform. It’s Bush that takes the softer stance on it, and Kerry who takes the more hard line one. I find it fascinating how the parties have flipped on this issue but it makes sense. The wealthiest 1%, the Republican supporters, want a permanent underclass of desperate workers. And for Kerry, this is an easy chance for him a chance to appear tougher on security than Bush. It speaks to how pronounced the more openly bigoted subset of the Republicans have become since, that we have Trump today, and how overly PC/SJW the Democrats have become where you can’t even say “illegal immigrant” you have to say “undocumented immigrant.” It seems among some people, even wanting to enforce current immigration law is racist. If you don’t support a completely open border where anyone and their brother can come through as they please, it’s because you hate brown people and support Donald Trump. Nevermind the legitimate security concerns, or the fact that having a welfare state and open borders is a recipe for disaster. It may sound like I’m using a strawman argument here, but I have literally been called a racist by people in real life for holding a position as soft as that while a Democratic candidate of old is going further to the right than me on the issue.

Another example of Bush’s sleaziness and empty platitudes is when asked about raising the minimum wage, he immediately pivots to education. “Well, what’s really gonna help the workers is education. The No Child Left Behind Act is really a jobs act, when you think about it!” said with that same bullshitting sneer. The fact that the moderator didn’t press him for a real answer is inexcusable. To be fair, Kerry also used his time for one question to add onto his answer from the previous topic as well. But it’s moments like these which just strengthen my resolve that the debate formats have to change. Enough with the stupid 60-120 second time limits to answer detailed questions. It should be 5 minutes at the very least. And rather than humiliate the candidates over non-issues like asking someone in a town hall what grade they teach, as was done to Gore the previous cycle, the moderator’s sole duties should be asking the questions and making sure the candidates actually provide a clear answer, not just pivot or give empty platitudes.

The final question is about how the women in the candidates’ lives have influenced them. I see this as similar to the question about who they consider heroes from the 1988 debate cycle, but worse. Like that earlier inquiry, the purpose here is to determine what kind of person these politicians are, rather than their stand on the issues. But this particular question just leads to a lot of stupid “my wife’s a nag, she tells me to stand up straight” bullshit answers, and going on and on about how they love their wives, as if they’d say anything else. Seriously, like, what were you expecting? Seems like a waste of a question to me. It’s a softball which lets them appeal to our emotions. “Hey, Kerry loves his mom—just like me! He’s got my vote!” Ugh. Maybe asking them to name one woman they admire who isn’t their wife or family and give a reason why would’ve been better? Ah, who am I kidding, I can see it now: “well, women police officers, and female doctors and good plumbers and…”

Conclusion

That’s 2004. When reading this, did you feel like every other paragraph I wrote pertained to 9/11? Were you hoping to get more insight into the candidates’ other policies and values? Did you feel like the point had been made and I was beating a dead horse? Well, now you know how I felt watching these.

Look, I truly do not wish to appear insensitive to the tragic event or those who lost their loved ones. I am not trying to downplay the significance of the attack. I just feel like there could and should have been room to talk about every other relevant political issue in the world too. Climate change, pervasive lack of health insurance, income inequality, crumbling infrastructure, the destructive war on drugs….these grave problems and many more, did not cease to exist because of 9/11 and they deserved more attention than they received this year. That’s all I’m saying. In any case, the singular focus on terrorism definitely makes this cycle a chore to sit through, especially when the general public is finally more cynical about the surveillance, torture and war crimes perpetuated as a result. These debates, Kerry’s candidacy and the Bush administration certainly have not aged well.

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