The Powerful and Responsive Buzz of BLOGS
The first Presidential debate has hardly finished and already the bloggers are swarming like hordes of lightning -- fact-checking lightning.
For all of you coming by to read what I have to say so that you can decide what you thought of the debate and the candidates, I'm pleased that you chose Blargh Blog to do your thinking for you. If you're reading this for some other reason, well, enjoy.
So what happened? Well, Kerry showed both resolve and resoluteness, although he resorted to fearmongering and took some philosophically dubious positions. Bush took a multifaceted approach to the problems of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, occasionally tending towards pacifist extremes and favoring the realm of the mental over the physical world. And both of them made plenty of false, questionable, or misleading statements, which will soon be torn apart and corrected by the buzzing storm of electron-like bloggers.
I'll go through some of the most heinous and amazing statements, starting from the top.
Kerry started off in the Schwarzenegger role, making a perhaps overly ambitious promise to single-handedly take down a multi-national terrorist organization: "I believe in being strong and resolute and determined. And I will hunt down and kill the terrorists, wherever they are." Kerry did not specify whether he would be using any weapons besides his bare hands.
Bush, implicitly pointing towards the primacy of mental states and the fundamental Kantian evil of deception, argued: "Saddam Hussein had no intention of disarming. ... The facts are that he was systematically deceiving the inspectors." Apparently, deceiving others into believing that you have WMDs is worse than actually having WMDs. And, with arms as with love, it is better to have arms and intend to disarm than to not have arms at all. Kerry did not directly question this claim, though he did help to clarify the logic of Bush's reiterated claim about Hussein by pointing out once, in passing, that it was not true that there were WMDs in Iraq.
Kerry tried to scare America over to his side: "The president -- 95 percent of the containers that come into the ports, right here in Florida, are not inspected. Civilians get onto aircraft, and their luggage is X-rayed, but the cargo hold is not X- rayed. Does that make you feel safer in America?" In his closing statements, however, he promised that his fearmongering was only temporary: "I believe America's best days are ahead of us because I believe that the future belongs to freedom, not to fear." Apparently, mongering fear in the present will somehow make it fade away in the future.
Bush would have none of this fearmongering. He took a touchy-feely turn instead, giving a big metaphorical hug to the Federal Bureau of Investigation: "... we've also changed the culture of the FBI ... We're communicating better." Cultural awareness and communication - that's what counts.
Bush staked out a hardline position on the role of our enemy in forming our policies, in response to this Kerry statement: "Osama bin Laden uses the invasion of Iraq in order to go out to people and say that America has declared war on Islam." Bush explained: "My opponent just said something amazing. He said Osama bin Laden uses the invasion of Iraq as an excuse to spread hatred for America. Osama bin Laden isn't going to determine how we defend ourselves. Osama bin Laden doesn't get to decide. The American people decide."
Later, Bush either backpedaled or took a more nuanced approach (I am not sure which), suggesting that, unlike bin Laden, Saddam Hussein and Kim Jong Il can help us form our policies, in this amazing indirect way. He justified the Iraq war by saying: "There was no doubt in my mind that Saddam Hussein was hoping that the world would turn a blind eye." Repeatedly, Bush noted the importance of acting counter to the desires of the North Korean dictator: "The minute we have bilateral talks, the six-party talks will unwind. That's exactly what Kim Jong Il wants." Perhaps, the difference between these claims and Kerry's is that in these cases the policies are based on the enemy leaders' mental states rather than their actions - for the realm of the mental does seem to be central to Bush.
Bush made a couple of strong pacifist points, as the success of Nader in getting on the ballots in some swing states appears to have forced Bush's hand in working to hang on to his supporters. First, he painted a beautiful picture of a world without all of these dangerous weapons: "And we have a duty to our country and to future generations of America to achieve a free Iraq, a free Afghanistan, and to rid the world of weapons of mass destruction." He did not mention whether there would be widespread hand-holding or children singing after all of the world's nukes have been dismantled.
In response to a question on the deaths of soldiers in Iraq, Bush nearly used the great rhetorical trick of beginning and ending your response with the same words. He began: "You know, every life is precious. Every life matters." He was ready to close with: "Every life is precious. That's what distinguishes us from the enemy. Everybody matters." In a rhetorically unfortunate move, however, Bush decided to squeeze in some more information on Iraq and Afghanistan in the moments that remained on the clock. But nonetheless, Bush expressed a heartwarming, and, may I say, very spiritual sentiment that every person on this Earth is precious and important, and that unlike those who are trying to kill us, we believe that even our enemies' lives our precious. I am not sure if this indicates a reversal of his support for the death penalty and his desire to kill the terrorists, or if it's another one of those mental states/actions distinctions that Bush seems to implicitly love.
Kerry then put forth a philosophical position that seems to run counter to such luminaries as Plato and Aristotle. "And that's one of the reasons why I believe I can get this job done, because I am determined for those soldiers and for those families, for those kids who put their lives on the line. That is noble. That's the most noble thing that anybody can do. And I want to make sure the outcome honors that nobility." Instead of considering the life of the statesman, the life of the philosopher, or perhaps the spiritual life as the most "noble" way of life, he chose this warlike definition of nobility. I would like to see him defend this thesis in a more interactive debate.
Kerry only sunk himself deeper into trouble my making a doubly-false statement - what I would call a "double lie" if I suspected that Kerry had more awareness of the truth. Kerry said "Secretary of State Colin Powell told this president the Pottery Barn rule: If you break it, you fix it." However, the rule that commonly goes by the name of the Pottery Barn rule is "If you break it, you own it." Further, the Pottery Barn does not actually have this rule. And no, Senator Kerry, you cannot get around this fact by claiming that you were only attributing a statement to the Secretary of State. When you say he "told this president the Pottery Barn rule" in front of a national audience you are staking yourself to the claim that this actually is the Pottery Barn rule.
Bush showed his idealistic colors again by describing how to win this war which is actually taking place in the domain of consciousness, not on so-called "physical" or "material" battlefields: "The way to make sure that we succeed is to send consistent, sound messages to the Iraqi people that when we give our word, we will keep our word, that we stand with you, that we believe you want to be free."
Kerry promised to mend his clumsy ways if he becomes President: "But I'll tell you this: As president, I'll never take my eye off that ball."
Kerry kept his strange-sounding philosophical ideas coming: "It's one thing to be certain, but you can be certain and be wrong." Although it sounds odd to me, I'll have to leave the question of whether Kerry is staking out a defensible epistemological position to Jon Kvanvig and the rest of the folks at Certain Doubts.
Kerry also appears to believe in redundantly securing loose nuclear material: "You have to put the money into it and the funding and the leadership."
Kerry's statement was in response to Lehrer's straightforward question: "If you are elected president, what will you take to that office thinking is the single most serious threat to the national security to the United States?" Bush seems to react to phrases like "single most serious" like pepper responds to soapy water: by slipping away in all directions. "Proliferation," Bush said, "is one of the centerpieces of a multi-prong strategy to make the country safer." One of the centerpieces of a multi-prong strategy. The man's focus is like a laser -- a laser through a pair of slits.
Bush then went onto even shakier ground, suggesting that perhaps the United States is not able to stand up for itself: "Again, I can't tell you how big a mistake I think that is, to have bilateral talks with North Korea. It's precisely what Kim Jong Il wants. It will cause the six-party talks to evaporate. It will mean that China no longer is involved in convincing, along with us, for Kim Jong Il to get rid of his weapons. It's a big mistake to do that. We must have China's leverage on Kim Jong Il, besides ourselves."
Kerry showed either some confusion about who had input on the decision to go to Iraq, or else some clumsy strategy of identifying with the American people that goes well beyond the royal 'We': "Now we have this incredible mess in Iraq -- $200 billion. It's not what the American people thought they were getting when they voted."
Kerry also seemed to be using some sort of technical definition of the verb "leave" when discussing Iraq. Kerry said: "I know that for many of you sitting at home, parents of kids in Iraq, you want to know who's the person who could be a commander in chief who could get your kids home and get the job done and win the peace." But with this talk of getting the kids home, apparently, "I'm not talking about leaving. I'm talking about winning." Apparently, leaving after winning is not really leaving at all. I may have to ask a linguist on this one. Neal?
I'll close this review of the debate by illustrating that the "legitimate" media is just as flawed as the "legitimate" political parties, as evidenced by an error of Lehrer's. Kerry said of Bush "I mean, this is the president who said There were weapons of mass destruction, said Mission accomplished, said we could fight the war on the cheap -- none of which were true." Lehrer then put words (well, a word) into Kerry's mouth and asked an incisively confused Bush to respond to them: "LEHRER: Well, but when he used the word truth again... BUSH: Pardon me? LEHRER: ... talking about the truth of the matter. He used the word truth again. Did that raise any hackles with you?"
From the comfort of my own pajamas, I hope that I have done my part in joining in the swarm of bloggers that are stinging this country's Liberal, Conservative, and Media elite into submission with the truth, while simultaneously producing volumes of sweet, gooey honey.