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Advantage: Bush

I plan to watch the debate tonight between George W. Bush and John Kerry. If this were an intellectual debate, I would be sure of the victor: John Kerry in a blowout.

But this is a political debate, and that means the rules are different. You don't win political debates with argument, with reasons, with logic, or with evidence. Unfortunately, John Kerry's advantages all spring from his superior grasp of argument, reason, logic, and evidence, so in this debate with Bush, Kerry has no advantage at all.

You win a political debate with emotion, and that means the advantages all belong to Bush.

George W. Bush is certain that he is right. And that's his advantage, because this certainty--however unsupported by facts or logic--is emotionally more compelling than John Kerry's more nuanced beliefs. It feels good to be right. This is why some people find it so hard to admit when they're wrong. Willful denial is such a common phenomenon because people feel so badly when they admit their mistakes.

Bush's certainty gives him the advantage in two ways. First, he'll look good in the debates no matter what Kerry says. After all, he's right. He's fighting the evildoers. Iraq is a mere logistical issue. All the viewers watching with less than 100% attention won't notice what either candidate says, but they will notice that George W. Bush looks Presidential. Confident. Self-assured. People will like that.

The other aspect of Bush's advantage is that many Americans are unsure of what policy is correct. They live with the uncomfortable feelings of not knowing whether Iraq will ultimately turn out to have made the nation safer. They don't know for sure if the need to prevent terrorism justifies the surrender of their civil rights. Kerry's message is that in this uncertain new world, we need a President who recognizes this uncertainty, and who is willing to reevaluate the situation and to correct mistakes. Intellectually, this position is close to being unassailable. But many people will sacrifice this superior intellectual position to obtain the more pleasant emotional condition modeled by George W. Bush.

After all, if the President is sure of himself, it might be OK for each of us to be sure of ourselves, too. And that would feel so good.

Call it the "inherent political advantage of the stupid" or whatever. It is a real advantage, and George W. Bush will have it in tonight's debate.

Comments

I think Kerry won this debate with emotion -- or Bush lost it with emotion -- or something.

I was watching C-Span's continual split-screen, and Bush's facial expressions were incredible. He looked by turns bored, petulant, and angry. The man really can't stand being criticized to his face, and I think it had him off-balance. The loyalty oaths and big-deal security checks have coddled him far too much.

Admittedly I'm biased, but I thought one of the strongest things Kerry said last night was (paraphrase) "You can be certain and still be wrong."