Aristotle’s school of philosophy was called peripatetic. He and his students would discuss philosophy while walking — the motion of walking, Aristotle noticed, stimulates the motion of mind. Even today people weighted down with problems often say, “I’m going to take a walk to clear my mind.”
As Friday’s walk-around debate showed, George Bush is a peripatetic president. Walking around stimulates in him more expansive thought. The words came more quickly, the concepts more clearly as his old confident swagger returned.
Kerry’s rigidity lends itself to a debate behind a lectern. But in a town hall setting his tendency toward stuffed-shirt posturing becomes obvious. Bush’s more active personality gets bottled up behind a lectern but bubbles up when he is on the move.
Bush replaced his scowl with a look of bemusement as Kerry recycled lines from the last debate. He replaced his unwillingness to appear at a debate with a good-humored engagement of one. He even looked like he was enjoying the debate, winking several times at members of the audience, as if to say: “You and I both know that Kerry is blowing smoke, but why get mad about it?”
Kerry was the whiny and defensive debater this time. He was competent enough in the debate but his stunted range of thought, emotion, and conviction always leaves his presentations with an air of drabness. Kerry, despite his practiced smiles and wooden nodding to audience members (who had the good sense to ask their questions unostentatiously for the most part), just wasn’t charming and came across as a senatorial stiff. His effective performance at the last debate probably represents the peak of his campaign and the descent has begun.
Kerry’s lawyerliness, while it makes him seem competent, works against clarity, whereas Bush’s access to common sense and honest emotion occasionally yields a crystallizing line, such as, “He is going to tax everyone here.”
Kerry wanted the debate to focus on Bush’s record. But Bush had the discipline in this debate to focus attention on Kerry’s Senate record. Bush returned to Kerry’s liberal votes time and again, thus reminding Americans that Kerry’s record is far more revealing about his aims for America than his rhetoric. Don’t listen to his rhetoric, look at his record. Kerry, proud to run as an unvarnished liberal in Massachusetts, wanted nothing to do with liberalism at Friday’s debate. “I broke with my party,” he said at one point, suddenly approving of certain Republican policies.
He remained defensive on the war, maintaining the Saddam-was-a-threat-and-wasn’t-a-threat posture. There was a revealing mumble near the end of the debate when Kerry quickly said that if he had been president Saddam Hussein “would not necessarily be in power.” Not necessarily? So Kerry is now back to saying that he might have invaded Iraq and overthrown Saddam? Kerry is still not comfortable with the Howard Dean-style position his post-August handlers urged him to take.
He was consistent to much of the empty sloganeering from the first debate, even returning to the hot-button word “global” when calling for a “true global coalition.” Kerry, the globalist to the core, fails to grasp that he is running for head of the United States, not the United Nations.
Kerry believes in “global tests” for foreign policy, which amounts to saying: we can only pursue what everyone agrees to. It is a lowest-common-denominator policy. He applied the same sort of lowest-common-denominator test to domestic social policy in Friday’s debate, telling a pro-life questioner that he has no choice but to favor abortion because it would be wrong to impose his private view of abortion on all Americans. Is he serious about this position? If so, then it means he could never take a moral position, as somebody, somewhere would disagree with him.
Even as he appallingly used his “Catholicism” and status as a former altar boy to win political points, he said that his religion has no relevance in American politics. Got that? Once elected, Kerry promises to stop talking about the Catholicism he used to get him elected. The bishops are too spineless to stop this charade, but surely lay Catholics won’t let Friday night’s outrage pass. Kerry dishonestly defined the pro-life position as an “article of faith” so that he could say that it is wrong to impose it on the faithless. Kerry knows perfectly well that opposition to abortion isn’t an article of faith, but a conclusion of reason accessible to anyone with a functioning mind. You don’t need to be Catholic to oppose abortion. You just need a conscience and Kerry lacks one. He only uses the rhetoric of freedom of conscience as a way of freeing himself from any responsibility of acting on his own conscience in the public square.
Pope John Paul II’s phrase “the culture of life” came up in the debate. Who invoked it? Not the Catholic, but the Protestant. Bush said he had trouble “deciphering” Kerry’s answer about Catholicism and abortion, and promised to defend a “culture of life.”