The Friday Night Fight

“I Have A Plan”–on and on and on…

by Victor Davis Hanson

Private Papers

John Kerry proved tonight that he is a steady, glib, and adept debater who offers a fare of wonkish, comprehensive answers ad nauseam that can awe an off-guard opponent buried beneath facts, Clinton-like instant recall, and classical Ciceronian rhetorical skills. Indeed, we saw all that in the first debate against a dazed George Bush.

But by now Kerry is beginning to wear poorly, especially against a spirited and engaged candidate—such as George Bush revealed himself tonight as an opponent full of passion, ideals, and fight. As the night wore on Bush seemed the more human, the more real, Kerry the Boston Brahmin—smug, sanctimonious, self-righteous, and ponderous. Where Bush seemed genuine and vulnerable, Kerry appeared peeved, fussy, and smart-alecky.

Kerry ended almost every one of his shotgun blasts of facts and figures with “I have a plan”—though no plan was ever detailed or discussed, mostly because his proposals entail ceding American flexibility to international censure and sanction, and government as the first rather than the second or third recourse to solve social problems. A growing number of Americans is increasingly worried about that doctrinaire liberal worldview and precisely in anticipation of that fact we get the vague “I have a plan” whose details would bother if not frighten most Americans.

Pundits will harp that Kerry was adept at masking his liberalism, Bush missing key chances to remind the American public that Kerry had voted against the first Gulf War and was a virtual pacifist during a mediocre 20-year Senate career. Maybe, maybe not. But Bush held his own against an accomplished debater, and proved himself the more human and honest—and that will finally make all the difference in the world.

©2004 Victor Davis Hanson

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