NIU professors sound off on the high and low points of the presidential debate

By Sara Adams

President George W. Bush and Democratic candidate John Kerry stood at lecterns 10 feet from each other, but were a world apart Thursday night concerning the war in Iraq.

It was the first time – and the first of four presidential debates – that both men had to listen to his opponent’s criticism in such close proximity. The debate, held at the University of Miami, was undoubtedly seen by millions of Americans, who tuned in to almost every major news broadcast network.

“I don’t think you can lead if you say ‘wrong war,’ ‘wrong time,’ ‘wrong place.’ What message does that send to our troops?” said Bush of Kerry’s position on the war. Kerry countered this accusation by stating that he didn’t know if the president really sees what’s in Iraq.

Daniel Kempton, chair and associate professor of the political science department, said one of Kerry’s strongest points was when he admitted he made a mistake.

“I made a mistake about how I talk about the war, but the president made a mistake by attacking Iraq. Which is worse?” Kerry said.

“Surprisingly, it was just the opposite with dealing with issues with other affairs. I think the president had a better handle on the details and explained his policies more carefully,” Kempton said.

When it came to delivery, Kempton though Kerry came out on top.

“I think Bush has stayed on message very carefully, but he did so to the point of being repetitive,” Kempton said. “He did not, in my opinion, give enough of the evidence as to why he thinks his plan is succeeding.”

Barbara Burrell, associate director of NIU’s public opinion lab, agreed.

“I thought President Bush defended his positions but many times was rather hesitant,” she said.

The differences between both candidates were very clear throughout the debate, said Ferald Bryan, associate professor of communication at NIU.

“It’s easy to see the real differences, and I think that’s one of the real benefits of the debate,” he said.

Kerry brought up Bush’s plan to give diplomacy every chance to prevail, stating Osama bin Laden used the invasion as a recruiting tool for terrorists.

Bush responded by saying this statement was an “amazing claim” and the United States should decide America’s strategy in the war, not bin Laden.

“I think both candidates were very careful and cautious,” Kempton said. “There’s no clear winner, and I don’t think there’s any losers either. But I think the American people will come being pleased with both candidates.”

Kerry also attacked the president by bringing up the point that the president’s father, George H. W. Bush, stopped the advancing of troops on Baghdad during his presidency.

“I think Kerry, in terms of delivery, had been very smooth quoting Bush’s father against him,” Bryan said.

The next scheduled debate will be held Oct. 8 at Washington University in Missouri. Vice President Dick Cheney and Sen. John Edwards are scheduled to debate Oct. 5 at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio.