The first Major Parties Mass Debate is under way in Florida. The stunned mullet versus the coiffured totem pole.
The theme is foreign policy and homeland security. From my perspective, Kerry is walking all over Bush, as he should. I couldn't help noticing Bush confusing Saddam with Bin Laden and then correcting himself. Bush is trying to get by with homespun folksy sound grabs. Kerry is not the most charismatic man, and certainly not the Reagan-Bush style of communicator. But he's a far more intelligent man than the current president.
Bush has defended his decision not to allow the US to join the International Criminal Court, saying "I will not let a foreign court decide if Americans should be prosecuted". Why ever not, Dubya?
Of course, one of the issues that rankles about these debates (of which this is the first of three) is that only two presidential candidates are taking part. All of the others have been excluded. Earlier today there was a debate at a venue across the road from Mass Debate 1 between David Cobb of the Green Party and Michael Badnarik of the Libertarian Party. Ralph Nader was invited to join Cobb and Badnarik but declined to do so.
A live webcast of the Cobb-Badnarik debate failed to materialise, with suggestions of a DOS attack on the Free Market News servers. Discussion on the Badnarik supporters' blog, and hopefully a transcript later.
Michael Peroutka of the Constitution Party was also invited to the "Peoples Debate" but declined, claiming prior engagements in Utah. Peroutka is also highly critical of the closed nature of the Bush-Kerry debate. He's a curiosity, the most conservative of the seven presidential candidates I've referred to here. But unlike both GWB and JFK, he would bring the troops home from Iraq straight away - the same time, in fact, as he would deport all illegal immigrants...
Here is the live commentary from the New York Times' Katherine Q.Seelye (not sure how long it will be up).
Mass Debate 1 is just wrapping up as I write this paragraph. Jim Lehrer from PBS was moderator and sole questioner. Mass Debate 2, on Friday week, will be more of a "Town Hall"-type event, while Mass Debate 3 will focus on domestic policy and be more of a "twin news conference" like this one.
Links to more analysis later this afternoon I hope. I think Kerry won MD1. He drove home a lot of significant issues, including the non-capture of Osama Bin Laden, the unaccounted nuclear weaponry in Russia, the lack of an exit strategy from Iraq. But he won't pull the troops out straight away.
Can I just repeat what Mark Latham said about GW Bush on 5 February 2003: that he is the "most incompetent and dangerous president in living memory". He oozed incompetence today.