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Paul Begala's Debate Blog: Round 4

Editor's Note: Paul Begala, co-host of CNN's political debate program "Crossfire," is providing a view from the left on the third presidential debate through this blog. Follow along as he shares his observations and send us your own by typing them in the "Share Your Comments" box to the right.

Win for Kerry

CNN's Paul Begala
• Audio Slide Show: Debate history
• Formats

Posted: 10:35 p.m. ET

Bottom line: Bush scored some points attacking Kerry on taxes. But he misspoke several times -- he misled us about Osama bin Laden and about Kerry's health plan. The post-debate fact checkers will have a field day with it.

Kerry cleaned Bush's clock on the basic kitchen table economic issues: jobs, health care, social security, minimum wage. I give the win to Kerry.

Human moment

Posted: 10:30 p.m. ET

Last question: Do you love your wife? Give me a break. We have the worst environmental record in American history, and it was never mentioned. The Supreme Court is likely to have several vacancies -- the candidates were never asked about it. But we know they love their wives. Great.

I will say, Bush is always good when he's talking about our wonderful First Lady. But this may be Kerry's most human moment. He referred to his mother without being maudlin, to his wife with great humor and humility. Well done.

Moved to tears

Posted: 10:28 p.m. ET

Bush has just mentioned Ted Kennedy for the third time. The first two times as a pariah, the third time to praise him. Kerry invokes McCain, Bush invokes Kennedy.

Bush is angry about Kerry mentioning McCain. He slapped the podium and nearly wept. McCain clearly gets to him.

Great failure

Posted: 10:25 ET

Kerry just complimented Bush for his comments after 9/11. Then he turned the tables on him, reminding people that Bush squandered that unity. That Bush went from being a uniter to being a divider is one of the great failures of his administration.


Posted: 10:23 p.m. ET

Schieffer just asked Bush what role his faith plays in his life. What a softball. Why didn't he just ask, "Tell us how wonderful you are, sir?" Bush then referred to his faith-based initiative, by which I think he means Star Wars, his faith-based missile defense.

Keeping the faith

Posted: 10:21 p.m. ET

Kerry is very comfortable in his faith. Earlier he spoke of his Catholicism with real reverence. Now he's applying his faith to public policy, asking if we're really doing all we can to love our neighbors.

Man, this is good. A home run for Kerry on Bush's home field.


Posted: 10:18 p.m. ET

Bush just bragged he's met with the "Black Congressional Caucus" (it's the Congressional Black Caucus, sir) at the White House. Oooooo. Are we supposed to be impressed?

Bush got only eight percent of the African-American vote for a reason. He doesn't address the issues of jobs, health care, affirmative action and other issues of concern to African-Americans. And refusing to meet with the NAACP is shameful.

Will Bush ever take a stand?

Posted: 10:16 p.m. ET

Kerry is hammering Bush for wimping out to the gun lobby on extending the assault weapon ban. Gun control is a tough issue for Democrats, but Kerry isn't backing down an inch. He's showing a lot more guts than Bush is.

By the way, just when has Bush ever stood up to a corporate lobby? Even once? When corporate lobbyists say jump, Bush is in the air before he can ask, "How high?" Kerry has taken positions at odds with labor, trial lawyers and other key Democratic constituencies. When will Bush ever stand up to his corporate patrons? He seems to believe in corporate infallibility.

Back to Iraq

Posted: 10:14 p.m. ET

Why, oh why are we back in Iraq? Bush seems determined to drag the debate and the campaign back into Baghdad. Not only are 138,000 troops stuck there, Bush is stuck there as well. He doesn't even have a rhetorical exit strategy.

Good questions

Posted: 10:12 p.m. ET

Schieffer is now asking about the backdoor draft. As a Kerry supporter I thought he was too rough on Kerry in his question selection at the beginning of the debate, but now I see he's being just as tough on Bush.

He's asked about minimum wage and the backdoor draft -- issues that Bush is vulnerable on. All in all, Schieffer is handling the very tricky issue of question selection well.

Judge for yourself

Posted: 10:09 p.m. ET

Kerry is hammering Bush for giving $89 billion to the top one percent while kids lost their after-school programs. You be the judge. Beautiful.

Texas two-step

Posted: 10:07 p.m. ET

Schieffer just asked Bush if he would overturn Roe v. Wade. Bush, the straight-talking Texan, dodged the question. Yapped about judges. As we say in Texas: "Don't pee on my boots and tell me it's rainin'."

Minimum answers

Posted: 10:06 p.m. ET

Minimum wage. Kerry is very strong on this. Bush seems annoyed. I want to hear a man you and I pay $400,000 a year -- and who spends 43% of his time on vacation -- explain why he doesn't think a working person is worth more than $5.15 an hour.

Bush's defense is to mumble something about Mitch McConnell. In 49 states people are turning to their spouses and asking, "Mitch McConnell. Wasn't he the bandleader on Johnny Carson?"

Bush is spending the bulk of his answer on minimum wage giving his education speech from 1998. So, your No Child Left Behind Act is the answer for jobs being shipped overseas, and for the low minimum wage. Next it's the cure for male-pattern baldness.

Porous argument

Posted: 10:03 p.m. ET

Bush is saying the borders are well protected. What the heck is he talking about? Our borders are porous. As Kerry points out, 4,000 people a day pour across the border. If Bush thinks he's doing a good job of policiing our borders, he's spent too much time in the sun down there.

Kerry on target

Posted: 9:59 ET

Kerry is now speaking to "a typical American family." He says take home pay is the lowest since 1929, while the over-privileged are making more than ever. This is resonating with those blue-collar Reagan Democrats -- and it's definitely making those Republican soccer moms Bill Clinton brought into the Democratic camp nod their heads in vigorous agreement.

Sunday morning guts

Posted: 9:56 p.m. ET

Kerry just did a truly gutsy thing. He cited "Meet the Press" -- the Sunday morning interview show hosted by Tim Russert. To do that in front of Schieffer, whose very fine Sunday morning interview show trails Russert's in the ratings, takes a ton of guts. He didn't run a swift boat for nothing.

Strong, plain, clear

Posted: 9:55 p.m. ET

Kerry just said Bush's proposal to privatize Social Security is a disaster. He's using strong, plain, clear language. All over Florida, seniors are turning up their hearing aids. And they like what they hear.

Trust but verify

Posted: 9:50 p.m. ET

Bush just cited something called the Lewin Group to support the proposition that Kerry's health plan is a big government takeover. It's a charge he's made before. Trouble is, the Lewin Group says he's not telling the truth. John Sheils, vice president of the Lewin Group, told ABC's Jake Tapper yesterday Bush's attack "is not accurate."

I'm a little insulted that Bush is this cavalier about the facts. What does he think -- that we trust him? After his fibs, falsehoods and fabrications about Iraq, no American with a brain will ever trust him again. I'm like Ronald Reagan: trust but verify. It took me less than five seconds on Google to find the quote from Lewin saying Bush is misrepresenting their work. Give us a little credit, Mr. Bush.

Who's your daddy

Posted: 9:47 p.m. ET

Kerry is really clocking Bush on health care. He's found his voice on this issue, and Bush looks befuddled. Bush can't even entertain the notion that there's something wrong with a health care system that leaves 45 million Americans out. And when Kerry said Bush thinks it's fine to have increasing premiums, increasing co-pays, increasing costs, it really resonates.

Finally, Kerry says citizens should have access to the same health plan that politicians give themselves. Amen. I was on that federal employees health benefits plan, and it's better than what I've got now in the vaunted private sector.

Kerry owns this issue. Bush tried to make a joke about media reports that have said Bush is misleading people...then oddly stopped and chuckled to himself. All across America people are looking at their TV's like the old RCA dog looked at the phonograph -- head cocked, brow furrowed, with a quizzical look on their face.

As Pedro Martinez would say: Kerry is Bush's daddy.

Rocketing health care costs

Posted: 9:42 p.m. ET

Bush just tried to laugh off any responsibility for the health care crisis in America. He stood in front of all of us four years ago and promised to make health care more affordable. Today, because of his policies, health care costs are up 59 percent and pharmaceutical corporation profits are up 38 percent. But Bush can laugh about it because he's got good health insurance -- and you pay for it.

One-sided question

Posted: 9:39 p.m. ET

Schieffer just asked Kerry about Catholic bishops who say Kerry's an unacceptable candidate because of his positions on abortion and stem cell research.

Will he ask Bush about the Pope's condemnation of President Bush's support for the death penalty and his war in Iraq? Why is it that only one side is being asked about the aspect of the issue where he's out of step with the Church?

Leave her out of it

Posted: 9:33 p.m. ET

President Bush doesn't know whether he thinks being gay is a choice. It matters. If it's a choice, when did you choose? How did you choose?

Kerry injected Dick Cheney's daughter into the discussion. I really don't like that. I generally want politicians to put a human face on issues, but I really do not like Kerry mentioning Cheney's daughter. Leave her out of it.

Bad script

Posted: 9:31 p.m ET

Bush tried one of his canned lines: "There's a mainstream in American politics, and you sit on the left bank." It's a little too forced. Bush is better when he's unscripted, so why has he been so carefully scripted?

Strong ground on tax loophole

Posted: 9:28 p.m. ET

Kerry is on very strong ground when he talks about the tax loophole that rewards corporations for shipping jobs overseas. It is truly an outrage that working Americans are taxed, and then their tax dollars are given to corporations as a reward for shipping your job overseas.

Bush doesn't defend this outrageous tax loophole, because he can't. He's a prisoner of the corporate lobbyists who exploit that loophole.

Tough luck

Posted: 9:25 p.m. ET

Schieffer just asked President Bush what he'd say to someone whose job just got shipped overseas. Mr. Bush's answer is basically, "Tough luck. You lost the job you need and want and love. Go to community college."

Bush has slipped off of jobs and is now yammering about education. If only he had been as interested in education when he was in school.

And if community college is the answer for joblessness, let's hope there's a good community college in Crawford, Texas.

Too much Washington-ese

Posted: 9:22 p.m. ET

Both of these guys are way too wonky. Both of them are speaking Washington-ese. Bush's "pay-go" joke about the budget fell flat. His sound bite blew up in his hands.


Posted: 9:21 p.m. ET

Bush just said Kerry's health plan would cost $5 trillion. Right. Why not just say, "Ten hundred gajillion, zillion dollars"?

Bush is simply not credible. He's so out of his depth on health care he looks like Mini-Me at the bottom of the Grand Canyon.

Definitely no earpiece

Posted: 9:18 p.m. ET

Bush claims he never said he didn't think much about Osama bin Laden. Sorry, Mr. President, in a press conference on March 13, 2002, you said (and I quote):

"I don't know where he [bin Laden] is.You know, I just don't spend that much time on him... I truly am not that concerned about him."

Bush tried to say Kerry's claim "is one of those exaggerations." That was his attack on Gore, not Kerry. Has he hit the wrong button on his playback machine?

This performance should forever dispel the myth that someone is feeding Mr. Bush lines through a secret earpiece. Believe me, if someone was feeding Bush lines, he wouldn't sound so goofy.

Empty numbers

Posted: 9:13 p.m. ET

Kerry's opening answer about national security is putting Bush's record on defense -- underfunding homeland security, ending the COPS program that put 100,000 police on the street.

The President's answer begins with the poppycock that three-quarters of al Qaeda leadership has been killed or captured. When Wolf Blitzer asked Condi Rice about this, she admitted that's fewer than 100 people. Meanwhile, even our allies like Pakistan's president Musharraf have said Bush's policies are creating more al Qaeda members.

Kerry hammered Bush for letting Osama bin Laden get away. Much better than rising to the bait and defending his "nuisance" comment.

Domestic issues, not national security

Posted: 9:08 p.m. ET

Schieffer is opening up the debate with a question about national security. Schieffer's a real pro, but we've already had two debates that were dominated by national security. He should be asking about domestic issues -- that's what he signed up to do.

Bush can't defend record

Posted: 8:38 p.m. ET

Finally. We're finally going to have a debate that's not dominated by President Bush's invasion of Iraq. To be sure, Iraq is a dominant issue, but there are 8 million Americans who don't have jobs. Forty-five million Americans don't have health insurance. Bill Clinton's enormous surplus is now George W. Bush's enormous deficit. Corporate polluters and oil company lobbyists are weakening our environmental laws. And America is more dependent than ever on dangerous Middle East oil. That's the Bush record. Let's watch him defend it.

My prediction: he can't, so he won't. President Bush will spend more time trying to tear down John Kerry than he will spend trying to defend his record. You can be sure that if he'd created jobs, balanced the budget and expanded health care he wouldn't have to spend his time attacking John Kerry.

The more President Bush attacks Kerry, the more you'll know he has nothing to say about all the problems that effect your life.

Paul Begala, co-host of CNN's political debate program "Crossfire," worked in the Clinton administration as counselor to the president and served as his principal public spokesman.

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