Commentary from Denmark on Bush & the Debates

There’s an interesting analysis of Friday evening’s second Bush-Kerry debate from Denmark’s Berlingske Tidende. You get a heavy dose of the message in the very title: Good – But Not Good Enough, Bush.

The newspaper’s US correspondent Paul Høi lays out the razors-edge situation that we all know the 2004 presidential election now finds itself in, citing a recent opinion poll from Time magazine that puts the candidates dead-even at 45% support each. But rather more interesting to Høi is not the numbers themselves, but the trend: last week, says Høi, President Bush was leading by six percent in the opinion polls, now he is dead-even; last week voters viewed him as the attractive/engaging candidate (the Danish adjective is sympatisk), now that’s John Kerry. Høi even drags Newton’s First Law into the discussion (“a body in motion will remain in motion, unless stopped by an external force”) to make the point that, whatever Bush’s performance in that second debate, he did not stop or even deflect the electoral momentum John Kerry had gained from the first.

So, Høi asks: Why is it so hard for President Bush to prevail in these debates?

Oh, a couple reasons. “Most experts agree,” Høi reports, “that we are witnessing a president who is being pulled under by events, and who is forced to re-invent his entire electoral campaign on a dime.” The original plan was to run as the commander-in-chief, as the “war president,” but the continuing stream of bad news from Iraq has put paid to that strategy, not to mention the recent defections of certain of his subordinates from the “party line”: Paul Bremer, for one, but even Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, who recently admitted that there was “no solid evidence” linking Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda.

Beyond that, the Bush campaign also suffers from considerations of style out of the debates so far. Høi quotes CNN commentator Aaron Brown to the effect that the average TV viewer, if s/he watched that first debate with the sound turned off, would have thought Kerry was the president from comparing posture and gestures between the two men. As for the second debate, with his antic, aggressive behavior in its first half, Bush drove away the female vote – or at least that’s what Høi quotes the editor of an (unnamed) Democratic-leaning magazine as asserting.


More fundamentally, though, Høi sees Bush as making use of the debates solely to appeal to (and so solidify the support of) his core constituency – the Christian right, for example. I’ve seen other commentary to the effect that that was also Vice President Cheney’s aim in his debate. In contrast, Høi sees Kerry as trying to reach out to convince a broader audience, quoting him that “political labels don’t mean anything” in the current political climate – whether that’s objectively true or not. Kerry is much like Tony Blair in that respect, in this Danish writer’s opinion – or, for that matter, like Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the current Danish premier, who apparently is a fairly accomplished “reacher-outer” himself.

The entire article is clearly based on the assumption that Bush has lost the momentum in this election for good, and so will be headed back to Crawford, TX (or wherever) next January – thus, for example, the crass address “Bush” (no title, no nothing) in the headline. Any Danish commentator would take that attitude if he possible could; heaven knows, Berlingske Tidende is definitely on the Danish political right, so you can only imagine what more radical papers like Information would write (and maybe we’ll take a look at that, if something good comes up there). But even the Danish language must surely have its equivalent explanation warning against counting chickens before they are hatched.

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