Notwithstanding my personal disappointment with Kerry's various missed opportunities, which are best summarized by (again!) Noam Scheiber here and Josh Marshall instant reaction here -- basically less UN talk and "summits," more "I would've gotten bin Laden by now" -- he did win the expectations game and the presentation game. He looked commanding and presidential. By my own pre-debate yardstick for Kerry, he certainly was up to the task and then some. It was just that Bush was so clearly wobbling and dazed that he could've completely melted down with more shots of the "Where's bin Laden?" variety. Bush never had a response to Kerry's first Tora Bora jab. I kept thinking, man, if Clinton or Blair were in there, they would've seized the opening and just demolished Dubya. But as Brent notes in the comments below, Kerry did what he had to do. He was fine, and I suppose that summit and UN thing is really just Kerry being his own multi-lateralist self.
What's great is that Kerry's dominating the post-debate spin. Check out three of the latest AP political headlines:
"Kerry Seen as Debate Winner Around the World."
"Democrats Celebrate Kerry Win in Debate."
"Kerry Lures Persuadable Voters in Debate."
You can't ask for better headlines. And as the week wears on, the commentariat, being what they are, will continue to focus on Bush's bizarre chimp-y expressions (instead of delving into the contrast on North Korea, for example. Speaking of which, why does Bush want to bank our security on the whims of the Chinese? I don't get it.). I watched a bit of a debate re-run with split-screens, and Bush looked like a spazzing monkey. Capitalizing on Bush's "gaffes" the DNC has quickly produced a video of Dubya's most petulant and annoyed-lookings moments. Style over substance, 'twas ever so.
I remain frustrated that Kerry missed the opportunity to deal a knockdown blow, but it looks like he really helped himself. (Check out this excellent breakdown of last night's insta-poll internals on Kerry's gains.) Let's just hope he doesn't get overconfident for Round 2 -- the Town Hall format -- where Bush will likely perform much better.
Now the Democrats need to pound away at Bush's biggest mistake in this debate: his "who's gonna pay for it?" response to Kerry's list of ways to protect homeland security.