The Big Debates!

FOX Fan Central asked Rich Lowry of the National Review and Ellis Henican of Newsday, who regularly spar on "DaySide with Linda Vester," for a quick Presidential Debate preview.

Rich Lowry:

The stakes are higher for John Kerry in this debate. No doubt about it. If the election were held today, he would lose. That's the dynamic he has to change. The problem Kerry has is that there are legitimate criticisms to be made of Bush's handling of the Iraq war, but if he focuses too much on them he risks seeming defeatist and overly pessimistic. Kerry's unfavorable rating has reached dangerous levels in some polls, a sign that people perceive him as overly negative. As long as he is exclusively on the attack and emphasizing what's wrong, he will drive his negative ratings higher. So the task for Kerry in the debate is tricky: make the case for change, but don't seem too downbeat.

Bush has a simpler job. He has to seem clear, confident, resolute, and optimistic. Throughout his career, and especially lately, he has been successful in projecting that kind of image. But there is always the risk that he will make some awful gaffe or that he will seem out of touch by flubbing or being unaware of some crucial fact.

So, in short, the advantage going in is Bush's, but you never know what's going to happen, which makes this must-see TV for political junkies and informed citizens.

Ellis Henican:

It’s not the no-props rule that has me ticked off. It’s not the no-risers rule or the no-crayons rule or the rule about no reaction shots from the TV cameras.

All that stuff’s pretty silly. And it does make the candidates seem like a couple of nervous-nellies instead of Prospective Leaders of the Free World. But that’s not the worst part of the 32-page – let me say that again, 32-page – “memorandum of understanding” the Bush and Kerry campaigns have signed in advance of the big debates.

It’s the no-debating rule.

That’s right, absolutely no debating will be allowed at the big debates. The rules are quite clear about this: “The candidates may not ask each other direct questions.”

And it doesn’t stop there. “Neither candidate may reference or cite any specific individual sitting in a debate audience.” And, “At no time during these debates shall either candidate move from their designated area behind their respective podiums.”

So, no, don’t expect a real free-for-all.

Bush will try to seem smarter than he is. Kerry will try to seem more human. Neither one is likely to achieve that with little 90-second speech-ettes.

Let’s just hope this second-hand style of debating doesn’t catch on in the coffee shops and barrooms of America. “Excuse me,” one patron will be saying to the waitress. “Will you please tell my friend here that his Red Sox are going down!”

What can I say? Enjoy the big “debate.”