Before the debate, I thought it was clear that the focus would be on the President. He lost the other debate, and the narratve would be "Can Bush come back?" Therefore it mattered little what Kerry did here. As long as Bush didn't fall off his chair, club Kerry with the mike, or jump up and down on the floor while crying, he was going to be viewed as having done better, which with the media horserace machine is all he needed to do to "win".
Well, he didn't do any of that. I thought he was pretty angry and overly loud in the way that your embarrassing uncle is loud at a family function. But he was measurably better than in debate #1. The substance remained unchanged, however, and while I thought Kerry didn't hit as hard as he did last time, he got in enough jabs to create doubt over the direction we're headed.
Strangely enough, I thought Kerry was at his best on the social issues portion of the debate. His answers on Supreme Court appointments, stem cell research and abortion were excellent, and really heartfelt IMO. Even Insta-idiot was giving Kerry his props on that score. Bush's answers on this were ludicrous, particularly his invocation of the Dred Scott decision. Hey, way to go out on a limb there, buddy, and assert yourself as AGAINST slavery. Thanks for creating such a clear choice. "You're either against slavery, or you're with the terrorists!"
The timber question may be the one that takes on a life of its own. Kerry mentioned that Bush qualified for small business status by earning $84 as part of minority interest in a timber company. Bush feigned ignorance ("I didn't know I owned a timber company!"), and he may actually BE ignorant of it; it sounds like one of those "accounting tricks" that "rich people" use to "get out of paying their taxes" (not that the President thinks he can do ANYTHING about it). But he actually did do this. Here's the release:
BUSH VS. REALITY
KERRY: The President got $84 from a timber company that he owns that he's counted as a small business...
BUSH: I own a timber company? That's news to me.
REALITY: "President Bush himself would have qualified as a 'small business owner' under the Republican definition, based on his 2001 federal income tax returns. He reported $84 of business income from his part ownership of a timber-growing enterprise. However, 99.99 percent of Bush's total income came from other sources that year. (Bush also qualified as a "small business owner" in 2000 based on $314 of "business income," but not in 2002 and 2003 when he reported his timber income as "royalties" on a different tax schedule.)" (Factcheck.org; 9/23/04)
In no way do I think the President sat down and did his own taxes. The point is that, while fearmongering that Kerry's rollback of taxes on the wealthy will hurt small businesses, he left himself open to the point that the bush campaign skewers the facts to amp up the fear. I'm glad FactCheck.org is out there to present the record, since the media frequently puts these points down the memory hole.
Anyway, I thought Kerry won (thanks to a big edge on substance), but not by much, and that this won't move a whole lot of polls. Honestly, I can't imagine anyone still being undecided. I don't know how they get up in the morning.