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Wrapping Up the Debates

The third and final US presidential debate was held last night, and now we have just under three weeks to go until the election.

As I watched the debate, the thing I kept saying was, "Someone coached Bush to smile." They coached him so much that he barely ever stopped smiling. Sometimes this made him seem upbeat and eager. At other times -- particularly when he was seen via split-screen reacting to something serious being said by Kerry -- it came off as a little creepy.

At the end of the debate, moderator Bob Schieffer threw a softball at Bush. To his credit -- and this is the ground where he's always the most comfortable -- he hit it out of the park:

Mr. Schieffer: We've come gentlemen, to our last question. And it occurred to me as I came to this debate tonight that the three of us share something. All three of us are surrounded by very strong women. We're all married to strong women. Each of us have two daughters that make us very proud. I'd like to ask each of you what is the most important thing you've learned from these strong women?

Mr. Bush: To listen to them. To stand up straight and not scowl. I love the strong women around me. I can't tell you how much I love my wife and our daughters. I am, you know, it's really interesting, I tell the people on the campaign trail when I asked Laura to marry me she said fine, just so long as I never have to give a speech. I said O.K., you've got a deal. Fortunately, she didn't hold me to that deal. And she's out campaigning along with our girls. And she speaks English a lot better than I do. I think people understand what she's saying. But they see a compassionate, strong, great first lady in Laura Bush. I can't tell you how luck I am when I met her in the backyard of Joe and Jan O'Neill in Midland, Tex. It was the classic backyard barbecue. O'Neil said come on over, I think you'll find somebody who might interest you. So I said all right, bopped over there. There's only four of us there. And not only did she interest me, I guess you could say it was love at first sight.

This was easily Bush's best moment of the debate -- talking about the woman he obviously loves.

As the debate ended, I thought to myself, "That was pretty much a draw." But I woke up feeling quite differently. In 2000, Al Gore was criticized for seeming to change personas, trying to be different things to different groups of people. In 2004, though Bush on the stump is remarkably consistent, in three debates, we saw three different Bushes:

  1. Coral Gables, FL: Sad Bush -- slumping, grimacing, scowling.
  2. St. Louis, MO: Angry Bush -- practically yelling, talking over the moderator.
  3. Tempe, AZ: Happy Bush -- a perpetual smile on his face.
Whatever thought of Kerry's positions on the issues, he was as consistent in his delivery throughout the debates as Bush has been on the campaign trail. In the debates, Bush has been as inconsistent in his delivery as he has accused Kerry of being on the issues.

I made up my mind a long time ago that I under no circumstances would I vote to re-elect Bush. I certainly don't fall in the undecided bloc of voters, struggling to make a choice with so little time left. I don't pretend that my opinions represent mainstream thinking. With that said, though, I can't help but wonder, if Bush is re-elected, which Bush will we get on any given day? Sad Bush? Angry Bush? Happy Bush? This is not something one wants to wonder about one's Commander-in-Chief. And I can't help but wonder if undecided voters are wondering the same thing today.

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