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The last debate

Republican candidates are often described as "pandering to their base." After this debate, I'm sure I'll see various left-wing bloggers claiming that George W. Bush sent a few more "signals" to his "base." I agree that Bush did this tonight with some of his statements about religion and morality. He also used a lot of free-market rhetoric, saying that he believed the "role of government is to get out of the way."

I wonder if John Kerry tried to send any signals to his base? Maybe because I'm closer to Kerry's base than to Bush's, I thought Kerry spent most of the night using rhetoric that most of us associate with Republicans. Kerry bent over backwards to tell us how many times he cut taxes. He continued to try to talk "tough" on foreign policy. He spent a great deal of time using Bush's words for his health care plan, "government controlled," in the context of denying Bush's charges.

I'm not quibbling with Kerry's choice of rhetoric; he might have used the words he needed to in order to get elected.

I wonder, though, if there's any real democratic "base" out there that's powerful enough to compel a candidate to speak their language, in the way that Bush speaks the language of the hard-core right wing. Unions? Kerry used the words "shop steward," but did he really have to? Unions seem to be a dwindling political force. "Universal health care?" Kerry said he wanted to "cover every American," but the exchange seemed to be played out using the Bush rhetoric of "government-controlled healthcare." Religion? Rather than criticize Bush for his policies that have shaded toward theocracy, Kerry felt compelled to match Bush's obvious religious fervor.

I'm listening to the commentary on the radio right now, and the pundits seem to think that Kerry won this one going away. I hope they're right.

What does it mean, though, that the rhetorical playing field still seems to be so firmly located on the far right? I hope I'm wrong about that. I think I'll go read Instapundit or Andrew Sullivan, who I'm sure willl comfort me by pointing out how liberal John Kerry is.