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US Elections: Great Entertainment!

Jim Lehrer, the moderator, is the frontperson of the NewsHour on PBS. The very same Jim Lehrer who first recommended himself to me as a consummate news anchor during the Olympics when he said that a particular female athlete whose lycra-clad form we'd just seen should be "stripped off... stripped of her medal". Without missing a beat, as they say in the trade.

Lehrer got to choose the questions and enforce the rules of debate. Or not enforce them as the case may be, since the two sides had agreed neither debater should ask questions of the other and Gore asked two of Bush, and Bush asked one of Gore. Nya, nya, nya. But the nastiest thing Gore did - apart from look like a hooded cobra for most of the time, a sly grin licking his face - was take advantage of having already unsettled Bush on the hate crime laws in Texas, by saying that he'd like to come back to Bush's education claims later. Which unsettled Bush even further.

Hey, I don't know what the ins and outs of the Texas laws are but Bush sure came across as heartless by saying "Guess what?" with a smirk, as he pointed out that the three men found guilty of murdering James Byrd by dragging him behind a car were going to be executed. It was the kind of "You can't have it both ways" politics that most people find distasteful, particularly when delivered with a smirk. It would surprise me very much indeed if any American - no matter what their stance on executions and hate crimes was - thought the death of any of those four people was something to be booted about a political playing field on Big Game night.

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Gore was making the point that Bush didn't know the ins and outs of the Texas laws on hate crimes, and it's this assurance and competence exuded by Gore that both unsettles Bush and gives him his best defence. Even when speaking about America's role in the world, Bush was able to keep the Republican branding of "hands-off government" by saying he didn't think it was up to America to go into another country and tell them how to run it. Just as he says the government shouldn't go into people's pay packets and tell them how to spend it, the way those know-all Washington folks like Gore would do.

Bush was answering a question about whether America's military should go into a country and tell them how to run it. He had no problem with America's corporations demanding that a country meet certain (American) financial reporting standards and follow certain (American) market practices before they would do business with that country. Which is just a way of telling another government how to run it's country without having to send troops there. Saves on prophylactics I suppose.

Lehrer's questions covered foreign affairs - both the use of military involvement in conflicts in the Middle East, the Balkans, and Africa, and the use of financial and economic aid; race issues; same sex relationships; gun sales; health insurance for younger Americans; and the environment. He also gave both the candidates the chance to reply to the criticisms each had made of the other's conduct in the previous debate. All Gore had to do in reply to the criticisms that he'd got details wrong was say: "I'm sorry and I'm going to try to do better." And he said it, in almost the exact same tone of voice his President used when he was caught fibbing.

Bush has to rebuff criticism that he's a bumbler. It's a far more serious charge. Not because people would prefer to have a know-all in the White House (I don't think they would), but because the ability not to bumble when under pressure is ultimately a more presidential quality in the world full of deceitful ratbag rulers of foreign nations that the Republicans would have us believe we inhabit, than is the ability not to exaggerate when under pressure.

Game, set and match to Gore, courtesy of Bush's own game plan.

But hey, my favourite part of tonight's debate was actually in the commercial break just before it began. The Blue Men appeared, and each proceeded to create - in a very startling way - a green line on a wall. For 29 seconds I thought the Nader campaign had really outdone itself. Good old Pentium III. No wonder Joe Lieberman extended his silicon valley stay last night. Even the $3.2 million dollars the 120 people at his fundraising dinner contributed to the Democratic National Committee could not buy one fraction of what that misconception was worth.

Lea Barker
Tuesday 11 October PT

The audio and written transcripts of tonight's Presidential Debate are online at http://www.pbs.org/newshour/election2000/ and a written transcript is at http://www.debates.org>.


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