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Perfect Strangers

Ravi Gupta

The first presidential debate took place last Thursday between the perfect strangers, Bush and Kerry. Debates are necessary to advance the campaigns of candidates and to give the citizens a chance to see which candidate is smarter, wittier, and better-looking, and who can feign compassion the best. We got all that last Thursday and a little more. In the end, though, the debate simply reinforced the notion that the two candidates are big on rhetoric yet short on plans.

In the beginning it didn’t look very good for Kerry. First he showed up late on stage and then throughout the debate rarely looked at the camera, although it’s understandable that he couldn’t turn away from the embrace that is Jim Lehrer’s eyes. There were instances when Kerry the bobblehead kept nodding whenever Bush said anything as if he was agreeing, or maybe he was just rocking out to some hidden headphones. But the debate was surely Dubya’s brightest moment and the English language’s darkest day. It was almost mischievous that Kerry made such a point of nuclear proliferation; he knew Bush would fall into the “nuculear” trap. But I digress, since both candidates made some very good points. For example, both implied that they would never waver, hunting down and kill terrorists, fighting for freedom, securing the homeland, and not giving any concrete plans. There were a few differences in how they would handle North Korea. Kerry would prefer bilateral talks and Bush would prefer a six-party talk -- talk is talk.

As the debate progressed you could tell that Bush was running out of slogans. So he decided to emote and emote he did. I felt bad for him -- being a president is hard work, no really, it’s hard work; George needs a hug. As Bush declared, you “have to be right 100 percent of the time” (give or take a war). It’s important to stay on the same stubborn path and not listen to “these people” (our allies).

But during the middle of the debate, a huge burden was taken off my soul. Bush repeatedly declared, “I know Osama Bin Laden attacked the U.S., I know that.” Thank god! I thought I was the only one... oh, what a relief. Bush also proved his mastery of Machiavellian strategy by once again chastising Kerry for criticizing Allawi and alas, undercutting one of our very important allies! Good call, Dubya -- we don’t want our allies to get pissed at us. But in the end I have to empathize with Bush. It is hard work to transform a country where you go from getting your hands cut off to getting blown up on the streets by a mortar shell. Staying on course is a nice plan, but not when the road is foggy.

Most polls indicate that Kerry won the debate. There wasn’t a clear winner and deciding the victor generally came down to one’s personal beliefs, but I’d have to agree that Kerry won. He seemed more confident, better prepared, and had a better hair stylist. He also had a few good lines like when he accused Bush of “outsourcing [the hunt for bin Laden] to Afghan warlords” or when he criticized Bush for making a “colossal error in judgment.” Now as far as plans are concerned, Kerry didn’t reveal anything groundbreaking for Iraq. He said he would call a summit of allies and that that would fix everything. I guess Kerry just plans to throw a bitchin’ party and make the world forget its troubles. But the best part of the debate was neither seen nor heard; it was knowing that Ralph Nader was standing outside the debate arena, quietly clutching the petition signatures of Republicans, all the while sporting a stiff upper lip of which any Englishman would be proud.

The two will once again spout rhetoric at each other this Friday, and here are a few words of advice to the candidates. Kerry needs to sound more warm and fuzzy. Bush is a seasoned veteran of sounding like the common man. So what if he didn’t know where Pakistan was in 2000? Neither did most of America according to some surveys. Bush is the common man with the common mind and that’s what people like. Note to Kerry -- don’t sound too smart. And note to Bush -- Karl Rove isn’t going to run in and tackle Kerry; say something substantial. My advice to the readers would be to do your civil duty and watch the upcoming debates, especially if you missed the last one (so you’ll know what the hell I’m talking about in the future). But if you think debates are too boring then make a (drinking) game out of it. See how many times Kerry says “Vietnam” and how many times Bush makes up a word. And go easy on the word “values” because that’s going to be thrown around like Colin Powell’s integrity.

Speaking of integrity, Dick Cheney and John Edwards will have their vice presidential debate tonight. You can paint whatever allusion you want with these two opposites -- David versus Goliath comes to mind. What could be better than seeing the young take on the old; the energetic, handsome, optimistic, compassionate rural superstar Edwards will have his chance at the fat, sneering, shady, blunt, mean old Mr. Scrooge. Finally some real differences between the candidates. We’re bound to get some entertainment out of this and that’s what counts.

Debates can make or break a candidate. They made Kennedy, Reagan, and Clinton and destroyed Nixon, Carter, and Mondale (actually running against Reagan was what initially destroyed Mondale). Bush and Kerry are running neck and neck; the debates are pivotal to their success; Karl Rove smells blood. So enjoy the debates, which are everyone’s to watch and criticize. Because come election day, if you don’t live in Washington, Oregon, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, or the Midwest then your opinion doesn’t really matter.

But how could I not mention the climax of the entire debate... the fact that Teresa Heinz Kerry and Laura Bush both wore the same dress! Uh oh! At the same time, though, how fitting. The way the candidates presented themselves seemed to reek of the desperation of pointing out differences; however, there were only a few. You can see what their slogans are -- Kerry wants allies, Bush is fine the way he is. But that’s not a big difference or anything striking so it’s more of the same old politics.

Oh wait, I “forgot Poland.”

Ravi Gupta is a member of the Class of 2008.