Honestly, I thought Kerry dropped the ball. He meandered, and he kept talking only about international alliances and UN resolutions. That's not what you do. You talk about Osama bin Laden, which Kerry did, but not effectively. You talk about Bush's fantasy world. You connect his inability to accept facts to poor judgment, and you pound away relentlessly on both bad judgment and misleading comments. He was tossed a softball by Lehrer ("What would you say about truth and this president"), and he squibbed an infield single, if that.
[Pause for a quick glimpse of the reaction on the blogosphere.]
Sure, Bush looked defensive, and he said the same thing over and over again. But Bush's campaign is savvy. He has one game plan: make the charge that criticizing the Iraq war is a "mixed message" that makes America less safe. Over and over and over and over, stopping only to smirk. I'm not sure he has a "multi-pronged" strategy on the War on Terror, but he sure has one in this campaign: his ads, his surrogates, and Bush himself all repeat endlessly the same message. It sure works.
I should add that substantively Bush is full of shit. but we already knew that. Kerry needed to stay on message and be disciplined. Instead he unleashed Kerryisms by the spoonful.
Still, Kerry had the benefit of low expectations. And if his only goal is to show that he can be presidential, he at least looked more presidential than Bush. S0 call it a minor advantage for Kerry on the debate, but a squandered opportunity. Bush's performance may not look good now, but it helps him in the larger picture.
Kerry needs to rebut this "mixed message" meme. Tomorrow. He should've done it today, and it really isn't that hard. "When I was in Vietnam, my crew resented leaders who didn't tell us the truth. We were there. We know what it's like. And we didn't want the mixed messages of statements from my commanders that weren't true." My god, it just isn't that hard!