Second Look

It looks like I'm wrong about which candidate benefited from tonight's debate. And, boy, am I glad.The commentators on television seem virtually unanimous. On CNN, Jeff Greenfield thinks Kerry looked "presidential"; on MSNBC, Joe Scarborough calls it "Kerry's best performance ever." But maybe the most telling verdict comes from the Fox News panel. When host Brit Hume asks his guests which candidate would gain in the polls after tonight, non-ideologue Ceci Connolly and centrist Morton Kondracke both say Kerry, while Bill Kristol refuses to register an opinion.


Even if you acknowledge the obvious drawbacks--the "debate" was not really a debate, a first-rate rhetorician like Tony Blair would have shredded both these guys, simultaneously--you have to be pleased with last night's proceedings. For once, nobody called anybody a traitor, and both sides used their inside voices. Issues may not have been argued in depth but at least they were aired. It begs a question: What does it say about the campaign that it only got serious when it took on the trappings of a TV game show?Contestant number one hails from Massachusetts.


Against The Rules

There's a scene in the cult favorite The Big Lebowski in which Walter, the addled veteran, incensed over possibly losing a bowling match, seizes on a technicality to disqualify his opponent, screaming: "This is not 'Nam! There are rules! ... Am I the only one who gives a shit about the rules?"There's a bit of Walter in George W. Bush this week. Deathly afraid of being challenged on his unraveling Iraq policy, Bush demanded--and won--a series of bizarre rules governing tonight's debate. There will be no rebuttals allowed, for instance.


Voice Over

When I was growing up, my family would, on certain nights, put aside our regular activities to crowd around the living room TV. Sometimes the occasion was a cultural event like "Roots," but what I mainly remember was gathering during election seasons to watch as the presidential candidates stood side by side to debate each other. Scheduled infrequently, occurring live, aired on all the networks, and moderated by a distinguished host, these public contests always possessed a certain grandeur.


Out Rage

I was at the Kitty Kelley book party last week--don't ask--and an unpleasant character sidled up to me, with clammy hands and Gollum eyes, and asked, "So I hear you've got the goods on...?" It was one Michael Rogers, the new Robespierre of the gay rights movement, moving in on his latest attempt to "out" some traitor or other to the gay cause. I demurred.



Michael Crowley explains why the Democratic Party has failed to push for responsible national gun control.


Center Right

Jerusalem, Israel--The Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, had planned on offering the usual complaints when he visited Prime Minister Ariel Sharon last week. There was the stalled road map, Israel's security fence, and the recently announced expansion of West Bank settlements close to the Green Line. But, before he arrived in Jerusalem, something happened that changed Lavrov's agenda: the massacre of Russian children by Chechen Islamist terrorists.


Press the Flesh

New York, New York--A presidential candidacy begins here, in a grim Sheraton Hotel reception room with a faded carpet below, harsh fluorescent lights above, and subtext all around. It's 8:30 a.m., and Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska is standing at a lectern before the Iowa delegation to the Republican National Convention, pretending not to be doing what he's doing. Hagel, a second-term senator and former telecom executive, is looking sharp in a crisp blue suit as he ruminates on national politics for the 100 or so assembled delegates.


Officer Politics

Merrill "Tony" McPeak doesn't like George W. Bush. But it's more than that. McPeak has contempt for the president, which he freely expresses. Speaking from his home in Oregon, the John Kerry partisan describes Bush in terms usually employed by the likes of "Not even his best friends would accuse this president of having ideas," McPeak says. Mild stuff in the age of Michael Moore. Except that McPeak's first name is General. The former Air Force chief of staff is not the only general describing the president in such vivid terms.



Risen: How George W. Bush lost the Cato Institute.