THE American presidential election campaign is a blood sport
THE American presidential election campaign is a blood sport. Right now, President George Bush is bleeding while his challenger Senator John Kerry hovers like a WWF wrestler ready to deliver a body-slam to finish the job. Or so it appears after last weekâ€™s first of three televised presidential debates in front of an estimated 65 million viewers that pitted the rugged Vietnam veteran Kerry against the incumbent.
By all accounts, and that often means according to the talking heads on TV, Kerry was by far the better man that evening. He was poised, collected, and responded succinctly to the issues without appearing to blink. On the Iraq war, he ripped Bush for taking Americans to an unnecessary war without the support of traditional European allies. The president was a reckless cowboy that did not think through what to do once Saddam Hussein was overthrown, said the challenger. Consequently, the administration was now making Iraq policies on the fly even as Americans continue to fall in the desert.
Elsewhere, Kerry said he would talk to North Korea's strongman Kim Jong-il in order to reduce the threat of nuclear proliferation. While Bush engaged in a foolhardy war in Iraq, North Korea had developed a couple of nuclear bombs or more, said the Senator.
Bush, as widely reported in the media, looked like he would rather be fishing or riding around in his pick-up truck in Crawford, Texas. By turn, he grimaced, made long faces, grunted, hummed and hawed like a ten-year-old suffering from mumps. Kerry would hold summits to decide whether to go to war, Bush accused his opponent.
Terrorists like Osama bin Laden have no use for summits, he sneered. Kerry would ask for permission from foreign countries before defending America, he repeated. Kerry was a jelly-fish who could not make up his mind about anything, he said. â€œWhen our country is in danger, it is not the presidentâ€™s job to take an international poll. The presidentâ€™s job is to defend America,â€ Bush said.
But with every attack from the president, the challenger danced around like a young pugilist, waiting for the moment to deliver the deadly body blows. And on this Thursday, without the teleprompter which is a necessity for presidential speeches, the man from Texas appeared lost. He stumbled over his words, shrugged regrettably and sighed heavily.
It was a tough job, he said, and John Kerry could not possibly do it. Yet, as the minutes turned into an hour-and-a-half, George Bush failed to say exactly why Kerry was not up to the job of being president. Instead, standing there with his now infamous smirk on the face, Bush appeared to invite the audience to wonder why he was elected US president in the first place. In the end, Kerry came out looking and smelling like roses while Bush looked, well, walloped.
The pollsters wasted no time coming with the numbers. First off the block was Newsweek which barely four weeks ago had President Bush ahead of Kerry by 11 points. Now it pegged the challenger ahead of the incumbent at 47% to 45%. As well, the Newsweek poll found Kerryâ€™s favourability rating rising to 52% while Bushâ€™s was in free-fall to 49%.
Sure, a single debate has never elected a candidate to the White House.
However, the Bush campaign took an uppercut that staggered the candidateâ€™s momentum.
Meanwhile, the Kerry campaign has found Bushâ€™s soft underbelly-it's the Iraq war. Smartly sensing this is where Bush is most vulnerable, Kerry is playing up his attack, making it ever sharper, hoping to weaken the president.
But there is no moment of rest as the two candidates must stagger into the ring for Round Two slated for this Friday at Washington University in St Louis, Missouri.
There is going to be more blood on the floor. Expect little mercy from a cornered Bush who will come swinging like a drunken champion. It will be all Kerry can do just to hang in there. But if he can hang tough in this second round, he may be able to deliver the body-slam necessary to silence Bush in November.
But donâ€™t count Bush out. As a bumper sticker spotted on a car puts it: â€œDonâ€™t Blame Me I Didnâ€™t Vote For His Father Either.â€
Will John Kerry manage Bush?