Sunday, October 10
News Analysis: Key question after Bush-Kerry debates: Why the mutual dislike?
James Bennet, New York Times, Sunday, October 10, 2004
St Louis Missouri--After two debates in which the presidential candidates have clashed over Iraq and North Korea, drug prices and jobs, a central question remains unasked: Why do these two guys dislike each other so much?
It is not as if they have nothing in common. Since World War II, no two candidates have had such strikingly similar backgrounds of class and privilege, with so many points of overlap. These two not only attended Yale University two years apart, but were also members of the same secret society there, Skull and Bones.
Yet this is the first campaign in recent memory in which the voters cannot be heard saying that--there is no real difference between the candidates.
The debates have been meaty, impassioned and personal.
In the debate here Friday, the signs of mutual contempt were obvious in what the candidates said, how they said it and how they listened.
Both men obeyed the forms: President George W. Bush smiled as he greeted Senator John Kerry, who waited for the president to sit before taking his own stool.
But over and over, Bush tapped a foot as he listened to Kerry's challenges to his record, and then exploded off his stool when given the chance to punch back. In making his arguments against Bush, Kerry often turned his back on him. While listening to the president, Kerry stared at him with heavy-lidded eyes, his expression stern and frozen.
The president, according to several Republicans who expressed worry about Bush's debate performances, may have become too accustomed to deferential treatment. Kerry's advisers believe that their candidate can set him off simply by confronting him. In Friday's debate, Kerry used the first question - about criticism that he is wishy-washy - to attack the president over Iraq, jobs, education and taxes.
"He's never in an environment where he's contested," Michael McCurry, a senior spokesman for Kerry, said of Bush. Advisers to both candidates say that the competition is personal as well as political and that it stems partly from the similarity of their backgrounds. Aides to Bush said Kerry reminded him of the Brahmins he met, and disliked, at Yale and Harvard Business School.
"One word the president uses sometimes is 'haughty,'" said a person close to Bush, adding of the debate, "and in Kerry's style, you saw some of that last night."
Stuart Stevens, a media consultant to the Bush campaign, said Kerry did not understand Bush's appeal and looked down on him.
"I think he looks at him and says, 'Why am I having to go through this process when I should be president?'"
McCurry said the clash of personalities was "so emblematic of the whole cultural divide" in the country.
He speculated that Bush saw in Kerry "that phalanx of New England liberals who made fun of me at Yale."