Turning to the issue of who 'won', to borrow a phrase from Jessamyn, you can call Al Gore a bus driver, 'cuz he took Bush to bitch school. Bush was rambling, unfocused, and seemed, at times, confused. He often failed to answer questions, not because he was trying to make another point (like Gore often was), but because he just couldn't get to a point. Gore, in contrast, seemed to know the ins and outs of not only his plans, but Bush's as well (oftentimes better than the Governor seemed to know them).
The difference that I'm talking about was most pronounced in the candidates' responses to the question about family farms. Gore seemed very informed, about an issue that doesn't really (on the surface) seem to impact that many Americans, and was able to point out how, via the intersection of conservation and farming, the issue did have a broader impact. Bush, on the other hand, babbled for two minutes, without giving any specifics what so ever. In fact, I'm not sure if he actually uttered a complete sentence in response to the question -- his entire reply seemed to consist of short two or three word platitudes, strung together at random.
In the post-debate voter reactions that I heard, many people seemed to think that Gore violated some of the debate rules, and that this somehow reflected on his integrity. I agree, he did break some of the rules; however, Bush broke just as many: both directly addressed the audience and each other, both went over time on responses, and both tried to seize rebuttal time without deferring to the moderator. Perhaps the fact that Gore was the first to break these rules does reflect on his ability to hold the office of President (I don't actually think so, but I'll concede that some people will find it important.) The question for me is, what does Bush's response to Gore's rule-breaking say about his ability to govern? After Gore broke a rule, Bush was usually happy to follow in his footsteps -- the only time he appealed to Jim Lehrer was in the exchange about his social security plan, when Gore had him backed into a corner and he had no other way out. What's Bush going to do if he gets into a similar situation as President? Who will he appeal to then?
Finally, just to indulge in a little cross-'blog discussion: Mike says "If the Democrat ticket is pinning its hopes on the American public believing it's the party of small government, then the race is over." There may be some merit to that position; nonetheless, I was impressed tonight when Gore pointed out that during his terms as Vice-President, the federal government has decreased in size by 300,000 employees -- that's down from whatever it was at the end of the last GOP administration. In contrast, Gore claimed, the size of the state government in Texas has actually increased under Bush's time in office there. So, my question to Mike is, if past performance predicts future behavior, how do you reconcile your statement and (what Gore claims are) the facts? (In case I'm not totally clear: dispute the facts if you choose, but I'd like to see primary source citations if at all possible.)
Whew! That's probably the longest political piece you're going to see on GeneHack for quite some time. Apologies to the non-Merkins in the crowd who stuck it out this long -- it won't happen again, at least for a good long while. Finally, despite all of the above, I'm still not planning on voting for either Gore or Bush -- my 'none of the above' vote will be going to either Nader or Browne.