This time, listen to the words

Ask "who won" the first presidential debate and people will give the undefined question a meaning. Most likely, it will be something relatively trivial like "Who was the better performer or actor?" rather than the weightier "Who was right?"

 

How else to explain that, while polls tended to score Kerry the winner "overall," they often found for Bush when questions are more clearly and narrowly formulated: Who agreed with you more? Who was more believable? Who is tough enough for the job?

 

Going into his second debate, President Bush should feel assured that whatever unconscious meaning most people assign to the "who won" question, it ought not be this: Which man's words were more eloquent? Because by that measure, the President wins hands down. To anyone who thinks otherwise, a suggestion: don't just listen; read the transcripts. Compare the words, not just the deliveries.

 

Here's a fair sampling of the President's statements in debate one:

 

"A free Iraq will be an ally in the war on terror, and that's essential. A free Iraq will set a powerful example in the part of the world that is desperate for freedom."

 

"I think you can be realistic and optimistic at the same time."

 

"My attitude is, you take preemptive action in order to protect the American people, that you act in order to make this country secure."

 

"Osama bin Laden isn't going to determine how we defend ourselves. Osama bin Laden doesn't get to decide. The American people decide."

 

This is eloquent language —— forceful, direct and, most important, coherent.

 

Contrast Kerry's: "Saddam Hussein didn't attack us. Osama bin Laden attacked us."

 

And in nearly the same breath: "I've had one position, one consistent position —— that Saddam Hussein was a threat .... He needed to be disarmed."

 

With apparent conviction, Kerry proclaimed: "Iraq was not even close to the center of the war on terror before the President invaded it."

 

But with equal certitude, his evil twin countered: "And from the beginning, I did vote to give the authority [to invade Iraq], because I thought Saddam Hussein was a threat, and I did accept that intelligence." And: "He needed to be disarmed."

 

I looked in several dictionaries for definitions of "eloquent." Nowhere did I find: "incoherent but in a sonorous baritone." 

 

But that's the Kedwards trademark: 

 

In the vice—presidential debate, John Edwards responded to Dick Cheney's assertion that Saddam had harbored terrorists. There are terrorists in sixty countries, Edwards challenged. "Are you going to invade them all?"

 

Try to square that with Kerry's empty bellicose promise:  "I will hunt down and kill the terrorists, wherever they are."

 

You can't, of course. It's nonsense, and nonsense is not eloquence. Plainness is. By that standard, Bush is —— yes —— quite articulate, while Kerry resembles a police suspect double—talking after his prints were found at a crime scene. ("But officer, I wasn't there before I was there.")

 

So don't buy into the meme that, even if Bush's ideas are right, he's still, bless his heart, inarticulate, while Kerry and his puppet, for all their faults, are better spoken. If you do, you're paying way too much attention to stage manner and vocal tone, and not enough to what's actually said. 

 

During the second debate, listen more closely. The sum of what you will hear is this: Bush is a commander in chief. Kerry just plays one on TV.

 

Steven Zak is an attorney and writer

Ask "who won" the first presidential debate and people will give the undefined question a meaning. Most likely, it will be something relatively trivial like "Who was the better performer or actor?" rather than the weightier "Who was right?"

 

How else to explain that, while polls tended to score Kerry the winner "overall," they often found for Bush when questions are more clearly and narrowly formulated: Who agreed with you more? Who was more believable? Who is tough enough for the job?

 

Going into his second debate, President Bush should feel assured that whatever unconscious meaning most people assign to the "who won" question, it ought not be this: Which man's words were more eloquent? Because by that measure, the President wins hands down. To anyone who thinks otherwise, a suggestion: don't just listen; read the transcripts. Compare the words, not just the deliveries.

 

Here's a fair sampling of the President's statements in debate one:

 

"A free Iraq will be an ally in the war on terror, and that's essential. A free Iraq will set a powerful example in the part of the world that is desperate for freedom."

 

"I think you can be realistic and optimistic at the same time."

 

"My attitude is, you take preemptive action in order to protect the American people, that you act in order to make this country secure."

 

"Osama bin Laden isn't going to determine how we defend ourselves. Osama bin Laden doesn't get to decide. The American people decide."

 

This is eloquent language —— forceful, direct and, most important, coherent.

 

Contrast Kerry's: "Saddam Hussein didn't attack us. Osama bin Laden attacked us."

 

And in nearly the same breath: "I've had one position, one consistent position —— that Saddam Hussein was a threat .... He needed to be disarmed."

 

With apparent conviction, Kerry proclaimed: "Iraq was not even close to the center of the war on terror before the President invaded it."

 

But with equal certitude, his evil twin countered: "And from the beginning, I did vote to give the authority [to invade Iraq], because I thought Saddam Hussein was a threat, and I did accept that intelligence." And: "He needed to be disarmed."

 

I looked in several dictionaries for definitions of "eloquent." Nowhere did I find: "incoherent but in a sonorous baritone." 

 

But that's the Kedwards trademark: 

 

In the vice—presidential debate, John Edwards responded to Dick Cheney's assertion that Saddam had harbored terrorists. There are terrorists in sixty countries, Edwards challenged. "Are you going to invade them all?"

 

Try to square that with Kerry's empty bellicose promise:  "I will hunt down and kill the terrorists, wherever they are."

 

You can't, of course. It's nonsense, and nonsense is not eloquence. Plainness is. By that standard, Bush is —— yes —— quite articulate, while Kerry resembles a police suspect double—talking after his prints were found at a crime scene. ("But officer, I wasn't there before I was there.")

 

So don't buy into the meme that, even if Bush's ideas are right, he's still, bless his heart, inarticulate, while Kerry and his puppet, for all their faults, are better spoken. If you do, you're paying way too much attention to stage manner and vocal tone, and not enough to what's actually said. 

 

During the second debate, listen more closely. The sum of what you will hear is this: Bush is a commander in chief. Kerry just plays one on TV.

 

Steven Zak is an attorney and writer