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PSC 311:& PSC 305: Presidential Debates

Some portions compiled from email or web, others original notes.
Page compiled by Jeremy Lewis, revised 18 Nov. 08.


Political Environment of Debates:
Presidential debates have been televised since 1960, before TV became universal in American homes; TV has become expected.
"Television is to politics as bumper stickers are to philosophy" -- Richard Nixon.
Environment is unnatural, candidates are not equally suited to it.
Format is serial press conference, unable to address each other, stilted format.
Venue, media:
League of Women Voters has convened -- but recently campaigns have negotiated venue and format.
Covered as a news event by networks with pool cameras and producer.
Lighting, podiums, length of responses and reaction shots all contractually agreed..
Formats:
Walk around town hall meetings preferred by viewers, less stilted.
Viewers dislike questions from panel of journalists -- too formalized, unreal.
Sit down "PBS" interviews lack tension, duller for viewers, if better for content.
Media:
First 20 minutes of first debate may reach 80 M viewers in a good year, subsequently 30 M.
Taller, relaxed, "presidential looking", confident  candidate has advantage on TV.
Warm voice (Reagan) has advantage on radio.
Radio is a better medium for sophisticated debaters (e.g. 1960)
Press (especially TV) usually play up the boxing metaphors of conflict even after tame debates.
Press more concerned than is electorate with winners & losers.
Audience:
High: 1980, first debate, at 80 million.
Low: 1996, second debate, 36 million.
Vice Presidential debates:
usually mirror content of Presidential debates
but character and reactions sometimes become news.
VP candidates often tasked with attacking opposition ticket's record.
Impact:
Image is 7/8 of message derived by viewers, content only 1/8.
Verbal gaffes repeated by press may affect campaign.
Otherwise, debates merely encourage supporters to GOTV.
Few voters switch following debates.


Jim Lehrer, Debating our Destiny: 40 Years of Presidential Debates (PBS, 2000)
by Jeremy Lewis, 2002, edited 2008.
[First 60 minutes – Stock Policy Speeches; then 20 minutes – Gaffes and Flubs that tend to dominate media coverage.]
Possible Debate Effect -
Voting?
Civic Community?
Candidates?
1960, Kennedy (D) v Nixon (R)
Disingenuous discussion of missile and bomber gaps in favor of USSR, which actually worked in US's favor.
JFK tanned and relaxed, Nixon better debater on radio but appeared sick, febrile, stubbled.
Viewers of TV reported JFK won debate.
1976, Carter (D) v Ford (R)
Ford's gaffe on E. Europe overshadowed the substantive debate, challenger appeared on equal terms, if stiff.
Carter had already had Playboy interview published
1976 VP – Dole v Mondale
VP Dole's jibe at Democrat wars seemed odd -- most feel WW2 was justified.
also jabbed at bunny vote, pardon
1980, Reagan (R) v Carter (D)
(JEC) RWR v Anderson– 2 way debate
Then Carter joined for debate
Reagan's "There you go again" put down of Carter, based probably on stolen briefing book.
Carter sounded naive, ‘Asking Amy’ about nuclear disarmament.
However, dismal state of economy allowed Reagan to simply ask if you were better off than four years ago.  This overshadowed anything else in the election.
1984, Mondale (D) v Reagan (R)
Mondale on deficit – First Debate.  "There you go again" backfired; Mondale had a comeback.
Mondale returned the favor, reminding public of the put downs.
RWR - Meandered – he claims he was over-trained, on defensive first debate, semed tired & old; came back in second.
Second Debate – RWR did better on foreign policy and defense.
Reagan (at 73) 'Will not make age an issue ... not going to exploit ... my opponent's youth and inexperience.'
1984 Vice Presidential: Ferraro (D) v Bush (R) -- first female VP candidate
Bush – Did one (1) presidential debate and five (5) vice-presidential debates.
Felt contrived and artificial. Worried about his language.
Ferraro – Only three times in HR, so political risk.
She felt she was standing in for American women – major responsibility.
Tried to establish serious on foreign policy. "Don’t patronize me".
1988, Dukakis (D) v Bush (R, 41).
Dukakis seemed to have won first debate, Bush under prepared.  Dukakis – Felt did better on first than second debate.
Dukakis successful governor, but short -- and ill.
Second debate: gave technocratic response to Bernie Shaw's death penalty question about action if his wife were raped.  Seemed bloodless. [Fed fears that he was soft on crime.]
Bush was more joking, relaxed.
1988 VP Bentsen (D) v Quayle (R)
Quayle – Prepared excessively, wooden – but used liberal word.
VP: Bentsen put down Quayle as "You're no John Kennedy" [-- a hit because press had already picked up on this characteristic and Quayle was seen as empty headed.]
1992, Clinton (D) v Bush (R, 41) and Perot (Reform party)
Bush - Again reluctant, especially with Perot.
Polls showed Perot will received.
Clinton - Surprised. Thought he had done well.
Included successful town meeting format as well as formal debate.
Clinton warmly interacted, emphasis on domestic policy.
Bush uncomfortable, caught looking at watch during Town Hall discussion.
Bush less articulate in domestic policy than in foreign policy.
First three way debates with Perot, full of peppery catch phrases, but only two subjects: deficit and NAFTA.
Difficulty of working in triangular debate.
1992 VP Gore, Quayle and Stockdale
VP Quayle v Gore debate included Perot's Adm. Stockdale, tortured POW.
Gore – Praised Stockdale and put down Quayle.
Stockdale – Unprepared – Only notified days before. Perot forgot to tell him and they never conversed about politics.
Gore brought up "read my lips, no new taxes."  Quayle, "lighten up, AL, take a breath, Al."
Stockdale said only observer in ping pong game.  He had had only a week's notice of debating, and had been picked without any political discussions with Perot.
Gore easily defeated Quayle -- and Perot's Adm. Stockdale revealed himself aged and ignorant.  Unable to participate effectively.
1996 Dole (R) v Clinton (D)
Dole – Learned in ’76 to know briefing material.
Clinton – Was ready for personal questions, but Dole declined.
Clinton ran on strong record and was ahead in the polls.
Dole at 73 worried about age question.
Dole uptight, attacking -- Clinton fluent and warmer.
1996 Dole, having left Senate, had experience of VP debate 1976, knew he needed to prepare (with Fred Thompson).
Whitewater, sex scandals, campaign funding issues had already surfaced.
Clinton prepared ruthlessly for defense on these, by George Mitchell.
Dole did not attack on character issues, surprised Clinton.  Chose not to cross the line.
Clinton used weak economy, now reviving, as focus.
Dole humorous, behind in polls, but hard to turn it around in a debate.
Had attacked president on stump -- but not in debate.
Town hall format, Clinton reasoned, made it harder to attack, unless question from audience led into it.
Dole received youth-age question -- Clinton questioned "age of his ideas".
Clinton aware of need to use only enough of memorable one-liners.
1996 VP - Kemp (R) v Gore (D)
Kemp – Missed chance to criticize Gore/Clinton. Even missed a soft question on ethics.
Clinton – Debates may not change votes, but force candidates to consider what they’ll defend.
Kemp (former quarterback) not by nature an attack dog for Dole.  Missed chance in debate to attack Clinton on personal and ethical issues.
Gore turned Niagara Falls economy remark quickly into Dole sending economy in a barrel over Niagara Falls.
2000 Bush (R, 43) v Gore (D)
Gore won one debate but seemed too intense in the other.
Gore's loud sighs in reaction undercut his presidential character ratings.
Election was close enough for debates to matter to actual vote: Gore won popular vote but lost his home state (TN) and the electoral college following Supreme Court decision to stop the recount in Florida.
Conclusions from Jim Lehrer's 40 Year of Presidential Debates (PBS)
Clinton: debates quite important, because hard to defend a position unless you really believe it.
Bush 41: debate skills not relevant to governing the executive.



2004 Presidential Debates:
2004, Kerry (D) v Bush (R, 43).
Foreign policy: Kerry more articulate and gave clearer plan than before, Bush repeated phrases and ran out of material near end.
Neither landed memorable jabs or phrasing.
Neither warm and comfortable; Kerry stiff at first, Bush pulled grimaces.
Bush a few malapropisms ("vociferously").
Substantive discussion of Iraq, Iran and N.Korea; moderator drew out their differences.
Bush charged Kerry with reversing positions.
Kerry charged Bush with error of judgment on Iraq.
2004, VP: John Edwards (D) v Dick Cheney (R)
Repeat of much material from presidential debate (as is typical) on Iraq.
Cheney: Edwards & Kerry flip flopped; Edwards said same of Bush administration.
Edwards: Bush & Cheney wrong on Iraq.
Cheney charged Edwards, a one term Senator, with inexperience and an undistinguished record.
Cheney charged Edwards with absences from voting, claimed as Pres. pro tem of Senate he had not met Edwards.
NBC and NYT both report the men have met in public several times, including on meet the press program.
Edwards charged Cheney with poor judgment on Iraq, and with Haliburton Corp's "no-bid" contracts, fraudulent accounting under investigation, and dissimulation.
GAO has exonerated Haliburton from no-bid accusation -- since they were only contractor with immediate capability of some rebuilding work in Iraq.
2004, Kerry (D) v Bush (R, 43). Second debate.
Format:
Town Hall format, Charlie Gibson (ABC) moderator.
Cameras pooled as before, networks elected to split screen to show reactions.
100 undecided voters, selected as cross section by Gallup.
Questions from participants supplied on cards to moderator, oral questions required to approximate the written ones.
2 mins for reponse, 90 seconds for rebuttal, some 30 second flow-ups allowed.
Content (both foreign and domestic policy):
similar to first debate, but tone much more aggressive and free flowing on both sides.
Kerry showed himself master of facts and arguments, again putting Bush on defensive.
As before, few quotable slogans.
Gaffe? Kerry agreed in response to a questioner to speak directly to camera and promise no tax increases.  This will be quoted by Republicans for time to come.
President seemed less comfortable on foreign policy, more so on simple solutions to domestic issues such as opposition to abortion.
Sen. Kerry gave one or two complex answers such as on abortion but stronger answers on foreign policy.
Possibly the most substantial debate in televised presidential history.
Impact:
Kerry again seemed to have won, though it was less surprising second time around, and by a closer margin.



Commentaries on 2004 Debates, with Poll Data:
Attorney Stephen Noles comments on VP debate:
 
First, to the extent there was progress made by either side, Edwards seems to have been more effective.  In a poll limited to undecided voters (including leaners who say they may change), Edwards was picked as the winner of the debate by 41%; Cheney by 28%; and 31% rated it a tie.  The poll, commissioned by CBS, was conducted by Knowledge Networks among undecided voters who watched the debate.  The poll's margin of error is ±7% in the universe of undecided voters.  Even if Kerry doesn't "gain" that much, he benefits from Edwards making no unpresidential gaffes, and the Republicans failed to reverse the Kerry momentum from the first debate.

The impact of the Kerry performance in the first debate is becoming more obvious.  A CBS/New York Times poll released yesterday shows that Kerry has moved from a 51%-42% deficit a week before the debate, to a 47%-47% tie with Bush.  Both polls were based on likely voters, and both have a margin of error of ±3%.  That's a huge movement for one week.

The New York Times performed a detailed "fact check" of the assertions made in the vice-presidential debate.   It will be interesting to see how far the media carry Cheney's gaffe, in which he claimed never to have met Edwards in person.  The Kerry-Edwards campaign has already released a photo of the two shaking hands at a 2001 prayer breakfast.  Talk about rapid response!  The fact-checking story follows:




The New York Times on VP Debate:
FACT CHECK

When Points Weren't Personal, Liberties Were
Taken With the Truth

By DAVID E. ROSENBAUM

In a debate laden with detailed assertions and rebuttals more than by rhetorical flashes, Vice President Dick Cheney and Senator John Edwards often stretched the facts last night on issues from the war in Iraq to medical malpractice lawsuits.

Often the matters were old saws, like the Edwards suggestion of an improper relationship between the Bush administration and the Halliburton Company, or the Cheney assertion that Senator John Kerry, the Democratic presidential nominee and Mr. Edwards's running mate, had voted nearly 100 times to raise taxes.

But on matters like Iraq, taxes and jobs, the liberties the vice presidential candidates took with the truth are worthy of scrutiny.

Iraq and Al Qaeda
Mr. Edwards accused the vice president of having justified the invasion of Iraq by saying a link existed between Iraq and Al Qaeda. Mr. Cheney declared: "I have not suggested there is a connection between Iraq and 9/11."

What Mr. Cheney said was only partly true, because while he has never explicitly made the link, he has on several occasions strongly suggested that evidence pointed to such a connection.

The vice president went furthest along these lines on Sept. 8, 2002, on NBC's "Meet the Press."

"I'm not here today to make a specific allegation that Iraq was somehow responsible for 9/11," he said. "I can't say that. On the other hand," he went on to say, since a previous interview on the show, "new information has come to light," adding "there has been reporting that suggest that there have been a number of contacts over the years."

He said that Mohamed Atta, one of the lead Sept. 11 hijackers, was "in Prague with a senior Iraqi intelligence official a few months before the attack on the World Trade Center. The debates about, you know, was he there or wasn't he there, again, it's the intelligence business."

Investigations later concluded that Mr. Atta was not in Prague at that time. Nor did Mr. Cheney's frequent accusations of deep contacts between Iraq and al Qaeda hold up, though there apparently were contacts. A bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee report concluded: "'The Central Intelligence Agency reasonably assessed
that there were likely several instances of contacts between Iraq and Al Qaeda throughout the 1990's but that these contacts did not add up to an established formal relationship."

The Senate report added that the C.I.A's assessment that "there was no evidence proving Iraqi complicity or assistance in an Al Qaeda attack was responsible and objective."

Weapons votes
Mr. Cheney said that Mr. Kerry had repeatedly voted against spending for military weapons systems in the last years of the cold war. That is true. But Mr. Cheney, as secretary of defense in the first Bush administration, opposed some of the systems himself, including the Apache helicopter and the F-14 aircraft.
Halliburton
Mr. Edwards suggested an improper relationship between the Bush administration and Halliburton, the company with large contracts in Iraq that Mr. Cheney led before he ran for vice president.

Mr. Edwards was right that Halliburton holds a no-bid contract for services in Iraq, is under investigation for overcharges and is still being paid by the government. But there is no evidence Mr. Cheney has pulled strings on Halliburton's behalf since becoming vice president. And the independent General Accountability Office concluded that Halliburton was the only company that could have provided the services the Army needed at the outset of the war and was thus justified in having received the noncompetitive contract.

War costs and casualties
Some factual disputes were echoes from last week's debate between the presidential candidates, including the cost of the war - Mr. Edwards put the figure at $200 billion, but only $119 billion has been spent so far. Another issue was the proportion of casualties borne by the United States: Mr. Edwards said 90 percent of fatalities, but that includes only foreign troops killed, and does not count approximately 700 Iraqi security forces said to have
died.
Taxes
Mr. Edwards said that under the Bush-Cheney tax laws, millionaires receiving dividends paid taxes at a lower rate than troops fighting in Iraq. The 2003 tax law lowered the rate on stock dividends to 15 percent. Many soldiers pay a rate higher than that on some of their income.

Mr. Cheney said that Mr. Kerry had voted 98 times to raise taxes. No question, he cast votes for higher taxes. But the number Mr. Cheney cited included multiple votes on the same legislation. Mr. Edwards said Mr. Kerry had voted against the overall legislation because the benefits went largely to the wealthy.

Mr. Cheney said that 900,000 small businesses would be affected by the Kerry proposal to raise taxes on individuals with incomes of more than $200,000. The Tax Policy Center found that only about 5 percent of small businesses would be affected by the Kerry plan and that much of the income of the business operators who would be affected came from sources other than their businesses.

Terrorist poison
Mr. Cheney referred to a suspected ricin facility in Iraq as evidence of support for terrorism by Saddam Hussein's regime. It was in an area controlled by a group linked to Al Qaeda operating in northern Iraq at a time when that region was controlled by Kurdish forces, and not patrolled by Mr. Hussein's forces.
Afghanistan
Mr. Cheney said that two and a half years ago, Mr. Edwards said the situation in Afghanistan "was chaotic, the situation was deteriorating, the warlords were about to take over." Noting that elections are scheduled to take place in four days, the vice president said his opponent "just got it wrong."

In an October 2002 speech in Washington, Mr. Edwards called Afghanistan "largely unstable," with much of the country "under the control of drug lords and warlords."

Last night Mr. Edwards stuck to essentially that description, saying that contrary to the "rosy scenario" described by Mr. Cheney, "What's actually happened is, they're now providing 75 percent of the world's opium" and "large parts of the country are under the control of drug lords and warlords."

The Drug Enforcement Administration has reported that opium production in Afghanistan has indeed soared since the end of Taliban rule in 2001, from 74 metric tons in 2001 to 2,965 metric tons last year. The government of President Hamid Karzai does not control large parts of the country.

Jobs
Mr. Edwards said that the nation has lost 1.6 million private-sector jobs since Mr. Bush took office, while Mr. Cheney said the nation has added 1.7 million jobs in the past year.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of payroll jobs has declined by about 900,000 since Mr. Bush took office. Mr. Edwards's higher number comes from isolating private-sector jobs, not taking into account increases in state, local and federal government jobs.

Mr. Cheney was correct in saying that the nation has added about 1.7 million jobs in the past year. What he did not say is employment has yet to return to its level before the recession of 2001 and the sharp decline in manufacturing employment that continued nearly two years after the recession officially ended in November 2001.

More importantly, in the view of many economists, employment growth has lagged even further behind the growth in population. The nation's adult work force climbs by more than a million people every year. So even if the number of jobs returns to its level in January 2001, as many as three million more people would still be unemployed or underemployed than they were at that time.
 

Voting records
Mr. Cheney said correctly that Mr. Edwards had missed most votes in the Senate this year, as well as many committee meetings. Candidates for president and vice president generally skip all but the most important votes because they are out of town on the campaign trail.

Mr. Cheney said that Mr. Edwards had been absent so often that he had never even met him before last night. Mr. Edwards said later last night that they had actually met twice before, at a prayer breakfast in 2001 and at the swearing-in last year of Senator Elizabeth Dole of North Carolina.

Mr. Edwards was correct in saying that Mr. Cheney, as a member of the House, had voted against such measures as the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, Head Start and creation of the Department of Education.





Polls on Second Presidential Debate, Oct 2004.
Attorney Stephen Noles comments:
Two early polls give Kerry a narrow edge in the second Presidential debate.  A Gallup poll conducted
for USA Today, and with a margin of error of ±5%, gave Kerry a 47-45% margin in the "who won"
contest.  A poll conducted for ABC by TNS, with a margin of error of ±4.5%, gave Kerry a 44-41%
edge on this question, with 13% calling it a tie.  This is particularly bad news for Bush.

At this late date, polls are emerging showing him trailing Kerry, and every major poll released since the first debate has shown the numbers are moving in the wrong direction for Bush.  The ABC poll showed Kerry with a
50-48% lead; this follows an AP poll released earlier this week showing Kerry with a lead of 50-46%,
with a margin of error of ±3%.  If Kerry needed to "win" the first debate, Bush badly needed to "win"
the second.  Bush is further looking at the prospect of the third debate being on a Kerry-friendly topic:
economic and domestic policy.  Three key questions from the Gallup poll are set out: note that the
"more/less favorable opinion of ____" questions favor Kerry more heavily than the "who won" question.

One interesting release by the Zogby poll, which has been the most accurate major poll in each
Presidential race since 1992: based on his tracking polls in the swing states, Zogby calculates that Kerry
now leads in states with 278 electoral votes - a majority - and has closed to within striking distance in
Ohio.  John Zogby said yesterday, "Mr. Bush had lead [Ohio], at times handsomely, but that lead is now
so much wind through his fingers.  ... Though the latest collection of polls shows Mr. Kerry doesn't need
Ohio or Florida to win the race, should he capture either one, the game is over."  He classifies only Ohio,
Florida and Arkansas as too close to call. Zogby's national tracking poll also shows Kerry taking the
lead this week, by 46-45%, with 6% (who will probably break Kerry's way; undecideds usually go
heavily against an incumbent) undecided.  Zogby has a ±2.9% margin of error.

Bush continues to get hit in "fact check" stories that will shape the post-debate news.  The Washington
Post's fact-check, reproduced below, says "As in the previous debate and in his stump speech, Bush
repeated a number of assertions about Kerry's voting record on taxes, intelligence spending and budgets
that are out of context and misleading."

[Gallup questions]
Regardless of which candidate you happen to support, who do you think did the better job in the
debate?
Kerry     47%
Bush     45%
Neither (vol.)  1%
Both/ equally (vol.) 7%

How has your opinion of John Kerry been affected by the debate?  Is your opinion of Kerry -- more
favorable, less favorable, or has it not changed much?
More favorable    38%
Less favorable    20%
Not changed much 42%

How has your opinion of George W. Bush been affected by the debate?  Is your opinion of Bush --
more favorable, less favorable, or has it not changed much?
More favorable    31%
Less favorable    20%
Not changed much 49%





Washington Post on Second Presidential Debate:
Plenty of Flaws among the Facts
Candidates Made Questionable Claims

By Glenn Kessler and Ceci Connolly
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, October 9, 2004; Page A20
 

President Bush and Sen. John F. Kerry disagreed vigorously last night as they tossed out plenty of numbers, and both demonstrated a talent for relying on facts and assertions of questionable origin.

Kerry said the administration retired Gen. Eric K. Shinseki, the Army chief of staff, because he said that more troops were necessary in Iraq, which is technically incorrect but close to the mark. Shinseki was permitted to retire on schedule, but in revenge for his comments, Defense Department officials leaked the name of his replacement 14
months early, effectively undercutting his authority.

Bush was skating close to the line when he said that he spoke to generals in the White House, asked if they had enough troops, and "they looked me in the eye and said, 'Yes, sir, Mr. President.' " In that 2002 White House meeting, Gen. Tommy R. Franks, whom Bush mentioned, said there were enough troops, but Shinseki told the
president there were not. Other senior members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld that they were concerned about troop levels.

As in the previous debate and in his stump speech, Bush repeated a number of assertions about Kerry's voting record on taxes, intelligence spending and budgets that are out of context and misleading.

Bush, hitting Kerry for alleged inconsistency, also asserted: "He said he thought Saddam Hussein was a grave threat, and now he said it was a mistake to remove Saddam Hussein from power."

Kerry has never said that. This attack is derived from a Kerry statement that "the satisfaction that we take in [Hussein's] downfall does not hide this fact: We have traded a dictator for a chaos that has left America less secure." Kerry prefaced that statement, however, by saying that although Hussein was "a brutal dictator who
deserved his own special place in hell," that by itself was not a reason to go to war.

In last night's debate, Bush also asserted often that Kerry was rated the "most liberal" senator, citing a study by the magazine National Journal. This is correct for the past year -- Kerry earned the rating in part because he missed a number of votes while campaigning -- but in a recent issue, National Journal said "the shorthand used to describe our ratings of Kerry and Edwards is sometimes misleading -- or just plain wrong."

Bush said Kerry's tax-cut rollback would raise taxes on 900,000 small businesses. This is misleading. Under Bush's definition, a small business is any taxpayer who reports some income from investments, partnerships or trusts. By that definition, every partner at a huge accounting firm or at the largest law firm would represent a small business.

Although Bush expressed surprise at Kerry's assertion that the president earned $84 from his investment in a timber company and, thus, qualified as a small business -- "I own a timber company? That's news to me. Need some wood?" -- the Web site www.factcheck.org backed up Kerry's assertion.

"President Bush himself would have qualified as a 'small business owner' under the Republican definition, based on his 2001 federal income tax returns," the Web site's analysis said. "He reported $84 of business income from his part ownership of a timber-growing enterprise. However, 99.99% of Bush's total income came from other sources that year."

On health care, Bush continued the specious accusation that Kerry is proposing a "government takeover" of the U.S. health system, saying Kerry's position is: "Let me incent you to go on the government." Kerry's plan builds on both private sector and government programs. Kerry does propose broad expansions of Medicaid and the State
Children's Health Insurance Program. A report by the Commonwealth Fund, a private social research institute, estimated that under Kerry's proposal an additional 18 million to 21 million people would be covered. Like Kerry, Bush has been a supporter of SCHIP and said he intends to start an "aggressive" outreach effort to sign up a few
million more children.

The president suggested he is on the verge of supporting the legal importation of lower-cost prescription drugs from countries such as Canada, which would be a major reversal. Despite overwhelming support in the House and Senate, the White House has blocked legislation opening the borders to the reimportation of U.S.-made pharmaceuticals.

Bush was correct in noting that during the Clinton administration, Health and Human Services Secretary Donna E. Shalala concluded that she could not guarantee a safe system for drug imports. In a tense back-and-forth over Medicare, Bush took credit for achieving much more in his four years in Washington than Kerry has done in his 20
years in the Senate.

"Show me one thing on Medicare he accomplished," Bush said. Kerry responded that he was "involved in" 1997 legislation that extended the solvency of the program, adding: "We balanced the budget and paid down the debt of the nation." In fact, his role was limited to voting for the Balanced Budget Amendment that was designed to keep Medicare afloat through 2030.

On the hot-button subject of medical malpractice, both men skipped over details that did not suit their cases. As he often does, Bush suggested that limiting non-economic damages would sharply reduce health care costs for most  mericans. Analysis by the Congressional Budget Office found that legislation capping damage awards to $250,000
would lower physician malpractice premiums by 25 percent to 30 percent. But that reduction "would lower health care costs by only about .4 percent to .5 percent, and the likely effect on health insurance premiums would be comparably small," the CBO said.

Kerry glossed over his opposition to that bill, saying only: "I think we should look at the punitive [damages] and we should have some limitations."

Kerry stretched the truth when he said that the Bush limits on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research "makes it impossible for our scientists" to pursue an array of medical cures. Overwhelmingly, the scientific  ommunity has complained that the administration's policy has slowed research efforts but not curtailed them entirely. But Bush's assertions that the work "requires the destruction of life" is subject to debate. The research does involve destroying 5-day-old embryos, but people differ on whether that is life.

Kerry at one point said that "the president has presided over an economy where we've lost 1.6 million jobs." Kerry misspoke. He meant to qualify that statistic by referring to "private sector" jobs. The net number of jobs lost since Bush became president is about 800,000, because of growth in the public sector. It is the first time in 72 years, as Kerry correctly noted, that a president has presided over a net loss of jobs.

Bush asserted that he had tripled spending on homeland security, which depending on the numbers chosen could be an exaggeration. The budget authority has essentially doubled, from $20 billion in 2001 to $40 billion in 2004,  ccording to the Congressional Budget Office. The White House budget office says that Bush was including his proposal for fiscal 2005, and that he was not including non-homeland security activities under the Department of Homeland Security.

Staff writer Thomas E. Ricks contributed to this report.





NY Times.com: 10/10/04
Katharine Q. Seelye's NYT web log of the second presidential debate (excerpt)
9:30 p.m.
  Kerry needs to curtail this tendency toward over-explanation when answering a question. But his style tonight is a lot like the arc of his political life: starting off indirect and unfocused but closing with a bang. Here's the bang: "If we have to get tough with Iran, believe me, we will get tough.'' Listening to that, Bush tried to wipe out the memory of his expressions in the first debate, saying Kerry's answer almost made him "want to scowl.'' But no one laughed.

  9:24 p.m.
  Kerry just delivered one of his crispest lines: "The military's job is to win the war; the president's job is to win the peace."

  9:22 p.m.
  This may be as close as Bush comes to admitting that even if he didn't make a mistake, something went awry by invading Iraq: "I recognize that I've made some decisions that have caused people to not understand the great values of our country."

  9:19 p.m.
  Bush is adamant: "Of course we're going to find Osama!"