Saturday, October 16, 2004

Working hard? Or hardly working?

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The 2004 presidential debates now belong to history, but it remains to be seen whether history will ever take delivery. We did not witness anything like Lincoln-Douglas, friends. At one point in the third presidential debate, President Bush rebutted John Kerry with, "Whoo!"

I sat through four debates at 90 minutes apiece for a total of six brain-tenderizing hours, and spent at least twice that much time on the Internet and with my nose buried in the AP wire, checking facts.

At the end of it, I know a great deal more about the candidates than I did before, but I wish the rest of October would take a flying leap. Let's just elect one of those poor bastards now and get it the hell over with. We'll finish out the rest of October next year sometime -- I say we tack it onto the middle of May and have a longer spring.

But no -- we have to slog through until November. Thank you very much, Founding Fathers.

In the meantime, I've distilled those four debates into a form considerably less stupefying, I hope. Here are the four most important things I learned from the debates:

1. Being president is hard work.

If Bush did nothing else during his performance at the first debate, he convinced me that being president is hard work. It's tough work. There's a lot of good people working hard. It's hard work. I understand how hard it is. Everybody knows it's hard work. I see on the TV screens how hard it is.

Which is nice to know. I had been laboring under the impression that being president of the United States of America, the most powerful head of state on planet Earth, was somehow easy.

Maybe Bush thought the same thing. Or maybe ... wait, yes! He was using reverse psychology! How could I not see it? He was hoping Kerry hadn't figured what a hard job the presidency is -- but if Kerry only knew that it involves being constantly on call up to eight hours a day, 30 or so weeks out of the year, he'd drop out. A wily stratagem indeed, Mr. President.

2. Kerry has at one time, probably, supported the idea that some people who are quite wealthy should pay more taxes, and thinks the same thing now.

Back in the summer, the Bush campaign accused Kerry of voting for higher taxes "350 times."

The nonpartisan Web site coolly dismissed the "350" claim as nonsense. Then, in August, the Bush campaign suddenly flip-flopped, claiming Kerry had cast "98 votes for tax increases." FactCheck also dismissed this as garbage -- but the campaign keeps using it, including in all the debates.

For the record, from FactCheck: Most of those 98 were multiple votes on single bills, like votes to discuss it now or later. A full 16 of those 98 votes were on one item, "Clinton's 1993 deficit-reduction package, which raised taxes almost exclusively on the highest-earning 1 or 2 percent of households." That's fine by me. I'm not one of those rich assholes, and if I were, I'd expect to pay more. That's how it goes.

But then, during the VP debate, Sen. John Edwards went temporarily insane said Kerry had voted for tax cuts "over 600 times." At that point, a swoon came over me, and as I tumbled to the floor I imagined Cheney and Edwards arguing over whether Kerry had raised taxes a bergillion times or cut them a bergillion plus one times.

Let me make it simple: Kerry would raise taxes for the rich. Bush cut taxes mostly for the rich. The difference? When Bush cuts taxes for the rich, it trickles down onto us regular people, on the local level -- water bills, property taxes, fees for government services, they all go up. There goes your tax cut.

I remember a few years back, Bush stuck a $600 check in my cap and called it macaroni. Apparently, I'm supposed to be grateful. I put the money in my checking account, and now it's gone, because I had to spend it on things like utilities and food. All I know is, Bush says thanks to his tax cut I have more money in my pocket, but I checked -- I have like two bucks and a half in change, and I need that for coffee.

3. Kerry has Blue Cross Blue Shield.

I was in the newsroom watching the last debate. Referring to his campaign's health plan, Kerry stated, "I have Blue Cross Blue Shield."

Greg Sullivan of the Sports Department walked by and said gratefully, "That's the clearest thing anybody's said so far."

It's true. I'm still trying to figure out his health care plan, but I can't look at him without thinking, "There's the guy with Blue Cross Blue Shield."

4. When you're stuck, say "education is good."

In the final presidential debate, I thought Bush was running for school superintendent. He avoided talking about the lost jobs under his administration and affirmative action by talking education, and he said just 15 measly words on raising the minimum wage before he switched abruptly to school funding.

There's a bizarre rumor going around on the Internet that Bush was wired during the debates with a radio feeding him answers. Some people claim they saw a "bulge" on his back, under his jacket, in the second debate. I think it was more likely just a sandwich he accidentally rolled on top of while taking a nap -- but a radio could explain the C student's sudden fascination with education. What if it started picking up an NPR show about public schools, eh?

The Hidden Radio Theory could explain something else, too:


SCENE: The first debate. It's hot under the lights, and Jim Lehrer is so mean. Kerry's glib remarks are swinging voters all over the place. Bush has been receiving signals through a radio on his back and vibrating in one of his teeth fillings, but suddenly the sound starts to crackle and pop in his mouth -- causing him to scowl extravagantly.

LEHRER. Mr. President? What are your thoughts on Iraq?

(Bush begins to sweat and stare blankly at America. Cheney said this would be perfect... But soft! He hears voices buzzing through!)

VOICE 1. Try to fix it!

VOICE 2. I'm trying, but it's hard work! It's very tough work!

VOICE 1. I know how hard it is! I understand how hard it is!

CHENEY'S VOICE. (crackled) We have him back yet?

KARL ROVE'S VOICE. There's a lot of good people working on it, sir, but it's very hard work...

VOICE 2. Yes, it's very hard!

VOICE 1. Everybody knows how hard it is -- we can see it on our TV screens!

LEHRER. Uh...Mr. President?

(Bush purses his lips -- the green light is already on! He starts to speak.)

BUSH. Well, it's hard work...

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