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Pre-Empting the Debates

They’ve Already Called It

by JOHN L. HESS

I plan to tune in on the debate Thursday night, but not to learn who won. They’ve already told us.

The moderator, Jim Lehrer, had Tim Russert on last night and they reminded each other how Bush whomped Al Gore in their debate four years ago. At noon today, PBS said merrily that Bush had cleaned Gore’s clock.

But Bush did not win that debate. As Paul Krugman reminds us, a poll of viewers in their living rooms gave it to Gore. But in the back room where the media were hanging out, Bush’s spin doctors were cleaning their clocks. They said, did you spot that body language–that sneer, that fuzzy math, that tie he was wearing, those tweeds — whatever. There’s a fresh news angle, just for you. By morning the headlines were calling Bush the winner.

Actually, Gore got more votes in the election, but that’s another story. As far as the pundits are concerned, Bush won the debate, and they’re all but calling him the winner this time, barring some horrendous misstep. — like admitting that he lied us into a terrible war and we should get out now. Well, his handlers have him better trained than that. Trouble is, Kerry’s handlers won’t let him say it, either. Listen to them, peddling Bush lite whenever the newsmakers put them on.

So we have to bring our own intelligence to the debates, to make a real contest,of them, over real issues. And who knows? There are really a lot of minds out there. They just need to be wakened up.

JOHN L. HESS is a former writer for the New York Times, a career he chronicles in his excellent new book My Times: a Memoir of Dissent. Hess is now a political commentator for WBAI. Hess’s blog can be read at: johnlhess.blogspot.com