September 13, 2004 | 10:15 p.m. ET

John Kerry is toast, but what about the issues? (Joe Scarborough)

I know there are still 50 or so days left, but I am beginning to wonder how a presidential candidate who has failed to define himself at this late stage of a campaign can ever find his footing.

Kerry has become the Amazing Shrinking Man over the past 60 days because the Bush campaign and the Swift Boat vets have endlessly run commercials that have painted the Massachusetts senator as a flip-flopper who believes in nothing more than winning elections.

The number one rule for challengers in political campaigns is to define yourself before you let others define you. The Kerry camp has failed this political test miserably while those blasting away at Bush are wasting their time and money. Americans know who George W. Bush is, for better or worse. And they really couldn't care less what he was doing during the Vietnam War.

All they care about is what he is going to do to win the war we are in with Islamic terrorists.

So now that the election is essentially won, the Republican Party has proven once again that it is ruthlessly efficient when it comes to finishing off political enemies outside the Party. Now the only question is whether they will be as effective taking on the enemies from within.

Republicans in Congress have spent the past three years passing the largest spending bills ever-ripping off taxpayers at record rates. The deficit, the debt, and the future debt are all at record highs. America has gone from being the biggest creditor nation to being the greatest debtor nation. And GOP leaders are now telling us that the era of small government is over—that it is good to be a "big government conservative."

Ten years after we also hear that $7 trillion socialized medicine schemes are good things and that Teddy Kennedy's bill to nationalize public education is a step forward.

I'm confused. Wasn't Goals 2000 supposed to bring about the end of Western Civilization? What of HR 4 in 1993? Where is the consistency? Where is the shame?

We were told ten years ago that deficits were the greatest threat to America's future. Now that they have almost doubled GOP leaders tell us that deficits matter.

One question: were we lying then or are we lying now?

Just curious.

Joe Scarborough hosts ' Scarborough Country,' weeknights, 10 p.m. ET on MSNBC. He's also the author of a new book, "Rome Wasn't Burned in a Day,"  which talks about how politicians, bureaucrats, and other Washington barbarians are bankrupting America.

September 11, 2004 | 3:15 p.m. ET

The Nth degree (Keith Olbermann)

All I know is, I didn’t have a typewriter like that in 1972.

But somebody had an idea like that. As early as 1844.

Many of the developments in “The Killian Memos” story are not merely inconsistent— they seem to be mutually exclusive. It’s so bad I can’t even tell how many rats I smell.

The starting line, of course, are with the papers themselves, filled with their electronic-age spacing and printer’s quality superscript “th”s and, most relevantly, their mis-timed references to military men who’d already beaten their swords into plowshares and gone home.

But there’s also the back-story, that of the reluctant CBS confirming source, the Bush supporter who says with sadness that all that’s in those notes is exactly what Jerry Killian told him, and if that doesn’t sound as phony as the documents themselves, I don’t know what would.

Except maybe the White House itself distributing copies of the memos to reporters and Scott McClellan almost defiantly announcing that the administration wasn’t contesting the authenticity of any of them.

I am not suggesting somebody set CBS up with subtly fabricated documents that could then be triumphantly proved as forgeries. That’d be a helluva political risk, since you could always go broke underestimating the resourcefulness of the American media and your deliberately phonied documents might never be debunked. But in this season of Swift Boats and Texans for Truths, I almost wish I could.

The largest lie contained in the charges and counter-charges by the arm’s length anti-Bush and anti-Kerry campaigns (with small c’s) is that this is all somehow new to presidential politics, as if the broad smear and the mining of the candidates' distant past were not part-and-parcel of American history. The commentators who bemoan the corruption and debasement of the process are as disingenuous as some of the ads, and as convincing as Claude Rains announcing he was shocked, shocked, to discover gambling going on in Casablanca.

The Connecticut Courant, then a house newspaper of the Federalist Party, anticipated Dick Cheney by 204 years when it wrote during the election of 1800 that the election of Thomas Jefferson (“the drunkard and enemy of religion”) would doubtlessly foment Civil War. By 1802, the Richmond Recorder had reported the rumor of Jefferson’s liaison with Sally Hemmings (to hell with Monica Lewinsky— that’s a story with staying power).

More to the point of the Killian memos: in 1844, campaigning on behalf of Whig nominee Henry Clay, kingmaker Thurlow Weed composed a newspaper article quoting a third party who’d supposedly seen the slaves of Democratic nominee James K. Polk branded like cattle with his initials. The Whigs later sent letters to Democratic leaders bearing the forged signatures of other Democratic leaders, forecasting horrific defeat and urging them to stay home from the polls. There was a damaging forged letter ascribed to James Garfield in 1880 (he won the election anyway, but was assassinated, and if there’s a lesson in there I don’t know what it is), and another forgery that contributed to Grover Cleveland’s defeat in 1888.

There is no conclusion here about the legitimacy of the Killian letters, although I will conclude by confessing that the Political Science Fiction explanation (these were literally designed to be discredited) appeals to me, if only out of a wish that these hack politicians would actually come up with something new and not merely repeat tactics which constitute the sole living legacy of long-defunct parties like the Federalists and the Whigs, for cryin’ out loud.

E-mail Keith at
September 10, 2004 | 5:45 p.m. ET

The eve of 9/11's third anniversary (Dominic Bellone, Hardball producer and newsletter editor)

Tonight, Chris Matthews hosts an exclusive special on the eve of the 9/11's third anniversary. 

We'll spend the full hour with five of the 9/11 Commissioners charged with investigating what led to 9/11, what went wrong and what our government can do to prevent another attack. 

One of the many ways we can honor the victims and heroes of 9/11 is to ask the tough questions of our government about America's worst terrorist attack in history.  Who's to blame?  Why weren't we more prepared?  Are we safer now three years later?  Have we dismantled the terrorist network that attacked us? 

Please join us tonight at 7 pm, 11 pm & 4 am Eastern in lieu of Hardball.

September 10, 2004 | 1:15 p.m. ET

When my daughter Christine met Kerry's now-chief adviser John Sasso (Joe Trippi


About 25 years ago in November of 1979, I received the call that beckoned me to work on my first presidential campaign.  I was 23 years old and my only possession in the world was an old beat up Ford Pinto which I promptly jumped into and drove like a banshee to Des Moines, Iowa.

I bring this up because John Sasso just joined the Kerry campaign , and in 1979, all I knew was I was supposed to get to Des Moines as fast as possible and report to a guy named... John Sasso.  John, along with 4 or 5 others, changed my life forever that year— I had been an aeronautical engineering major, and would end up dropping out of college to try and "change the world" through politics.  So yeah I'm biased but Sasso is someone I'm glad to know is on Kerry's team now.

In any case, for those of you who followed my recent 14-hour drive to take my daughter, Christine to college, I left something out.  Along the way I realized we were passing by the building John Sasso's office was in— and it hit me— we hadn't run into each other in years, really. I suddenly wanted to introduce Christine to someone who had such an impact on my life. So, I just pulled over (getting the "Oh, dad!" look from Christine) and headed up to his office unannounced (which really got the "Oh, dad!" look from Christine).

Sasso was in his office looking at a map of the United States with dozens of colored pins stuck in it. He brought Christine in and began to explain that all of the pins represented the campaign stops of Bush, Cheney, Kerry and Edwards, and that he was tracking them to see what the pattern of each campaign was.  Christine pointed at a bunch of stops Bush had recently made in Florida and asked if that meant the Bush campaign was worried about the Sunshine State.  My chest swelled a little at my daughter's clear understanding of exactly what the pins on John's wall meant.

A broad grin swept across my face as I watched Christine become deeply interested in what John Sasso was saying.  She asked him questions, and seemed to be getting more interested with each of his answers.

Then a sickening thought ran through my head: When I'd had a similar talk with John back when I was Christine's age, I had immediately dropped out of college.

My heart sank at the prospects, after all I hadn't even gotten Christine moved into her dorm yet!

I sprang into action immediately— apologized to Sasso for taking up so much of his time, and drove Christine straight to her campus.  Sure, leaving here there was kind of tough, but I consoled myself with the fact that I left her on campus without a car. No way was my little baby driving like a banshee anywhere in this presidential season.

Seeing your own crazed genes emerge in your child is a scary thing to watch, and I'd seen enough to scare me for the rest of the semester.


Read Joe's latest "Trippi's Take" on the comments VP Cheney can't "explain away."

September 9, 2004 | 10:30 p.m. ET

The quote machine otherwise known as VP Dicky Cheney (David Shuster)

This is the time of year when most of us in the reporting business wake up each day excited to be covering a feisty and interesting election campaign.  But these days, we aren't talking about the campaign of George W. Bush or John Kerry's... we are talking about one of the most memorable quote machines in years— Vice President Dick Cheney.

Today, our Vice President suggested national employment statistics were artificially high and misleading because they miss people who make money on E-bay.  Yes, he said "E-bay."  Quote:  "That's a source that didn't even exist 10 years ago... 400,000 people make some money trading on E-bay."  But, how many of them make a living on E-bay?  Details, details, details.

In the same speech in Cincinatti (yes, it was the equivalent of a daily double) the Vice President linked Iraq to those responsible for  9-11, (despite the assertion from President Bush last year that there was no connection.)   Cheney mentioned  the invasion of Afghanistan in which the U.S. punished the Taliban for harboring Al-Qaeda. Then Cheney said, "In Iraq, we had a similar situation." Huh?

Earlier this week, Cheney suggested that a vote for the Democrats is a vote for another terrorist attack.  Quote: "If we make the wrong choice, then the danger is we'll get hit again."  Cheney also warned about a return to the "pre 9/11 mindset."  Pre 9/11 mindset?  As in, ignoring a White House intelligence briefing titled "Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside the United States?"

Four years ago, Cheney offered this in the 2000 VP debate:  "I clearly have spent a lot of time in executive positions, running large organizations."  He was, of course, referring to his tenure as CEO of Halliburton.  The Securities and Exchange Commission is now examining Halliburton's accounting practices and the Pentagon is reviewing Halliburton's overbilling in Iraq. 

Speaking of Iraq... just before the war, Mr. Cheney said on Meet the Press in March of 2003, "We know he (Saddam) has been absolutely devoted to trying to acquire nuclear weapons.  And we believe he has, in fact, reconstituted nuclear weapons." 

As for the welcome U.S. troops would receive (also Meet the Press... and another daily double).  Quote:  "Now, I think things have gotten so bad inside Iraq, from the standpoint of the Iraqi people, my belief is we will, in fact, be greeted as liberators."

Oh and who could forget the famous greeting Mr. Cheney gave to a democratic critic during the annual Senate photo-op this year.  Quote:  "Go F (expletive deleted) yourself."

Vice President Dick Cheney... bland and boring?  Absolutely not.

E-mail David:

Click here to read more Shuster reports , and watch 'Hardball' for the latest election news from David.

September 8, 2004 | 12:55 p.m. ET

The Hardblogger jogger sums up his experience at the RNC convention (John Lichman)

John Lichman
To be the man, you have to beat the man. That right there is a quote from the "Nature Boy" Ric Flair, and it perfectly sums up everything that happened last week. Lugging boxes filled with MSNBC swag, having the key to our Ryder truck with said swag lifted by a shady bike messenger, and getting to match wits with Joe Trippi...  Either way, after the last night at the RNC, I think everyone on the Hardball/After Hours staff beat back this city.

My final day was to be highlighted with transporting Darrell Hammond, but that would be at 11:00 pm for an 11:45 hit, or when he would go live at Herald Square. This gave me a prime opportunity to catch most of the speeches, and all of the RNC videos proclaiming George Bush as a humanitarian and dog-lover. I was left waiting for him to slip and call the dog Checkers.  Dogs are great, mind you, but it seems like both Bush and Kerry exploit them for politics. Where's PETA when you need them?

As for the president’s speech, it was a convention-ender. He addressed the essentials of protecting the United States, and how only he was capable of doing it.  The feeling that he believed himself untouchable after Giuliani, Schwarzenegger, and even Pataki were clear.  Only, for Bush, he didn't have Zell Miller go on before him. It seems anyone who speaks after Senator Miller is sane, even the guy in Washington Square who "cuts" oranges with his 2x4.

And just like Giuliani, Bush's speech went over well into the point where I needed to grab Darrell Hammond. After asking security for help (and yes, being forced to unbutton my shirt to prove I had no slogans written on me) we found that he wasn't at the spot he said he'd be at. Instead, Hammond was on his way to meet me at Gate 61.  We finally met at 11:30, and fighting through a slew of people demanding photos or elderly people that could double zombies.  Actually, they may've been zombies after all the time that speech took.

On the bright side, Hardball ran late due to Senator Kerry's speech in Springfield, Ohio.  This only meant I had been given precious time to deliver Hammond, who was very calm and cool about the trip while I...was not. 

But, on the really dark side, After Hours was still required to be 120 minutes. After Hours didn't begin until 12:45 in the morning. This made all of us cringe, then cry, and then down some caffeine for breaking down the set.  You may enjoy the on-air talent, but the technicians and security were the real backbone of this set. The production staff-which includes the unshakable Christina Jamison, EP Tammy Haddad, Brian Doherty, Diane Robinson, Kerri Forrest, and Ann Klenk--are the lifeblood. As for the runners?

Well, we get things done. And I'm damn good looking to boot.

September 7, 2004 | 6:00 p.m. ET

The politics of fear versus the politics of Elizabeth Edwards (Keith Olbermann)

They told me that the wife of Democratic Vice Presidential nominee John Edwards had seen a story we’d done about her.

Since she was a Countdown viewer, I was further told, she wanted to let me know that my information was outdated. She wasn’t upset -- just a fan who’d spotted something wrong on the show, something that happened to be about her. Otherwise she thought everything had been pretty good that night.

Even with my comparatively limited exposure to the means of politics, I could smell this from a million miles away. Oh, Elizabeth Edwards is a viewer? Who are we kidding here? I’ve been wined-and-dined before, symbolically and literally. If it hadn’t happened since I switched to news, it had already happened while I was in sports.

Big fan, Keith. Love the show. Big favor if you covered this story. Hugely appreciated if you covered it from this viewpoint.


Elizabeth Edwards spent twenty minutes with me this afternoon by satellite—  there was no chaff, only wheat. We’ll be bringing you half the interview tonight, half tomorrow. She not only gave me more “un-politician” answers in one sitting than I’ve gotten in all my other interviews with political figures combined, but she actually unintentionally forecast tonight’s Number Five story, and also made my eyes well over with tears at the end.

She admitted August wasn’t a very good month for her husband and Senator Kerry, apologized for periodically sounding too much like a soundbite, and said something that seemed extraordinarily like the stuff actual non-sound-bite-sounding people say— that the President has “painted a very compelling picture of himself as the sole place Americans can go if they want to be safe from terrorism.  I don’t think it’s an accurate picture, but they’ve painted a compelling picture.”

That’s when she prophesied the show opening. “I don’t think there’s a single American, regardless of our party, who wouldn’t give everything possible to keep us safe,” Mrs. Edwards told me. “It ought not be a part of the dialogue. Someone is going to be president next January. And I don’t want any American, Democrat or Republican, feeling that person doesn’t have every bit of the will to protect us that they need.”

At almost the same moment Mrs. Edwards told me that from Kerry campaign headquarters, Vice President Dick Cheney was sitting before a ‘town hall meeting’ in Des Moines, erasing whatever remained from the convention of the line between honest politicking, and terrorizing voters.

“It’s absolutely essential that eight weeks from today, on November 2nd, we make the right choice, because if we make the wrong choice then the danger is that we’ll be hit again and we’ll be hit in a way that will be devastating.”

That’s quite an answer to Mrs. Edwards’ politics of inclusiveness on the subject of Homeland Security, especially given that some international analysts conclude that Osama Bin Laden attacked this country largely in the hope that we would respond by doing something militaristic in the Middle East that would make every Muslim in the world perceive us as a slow-moving bully, and thus provide a focus and an inspiration for fanaticism that would overthrow all of the region’s secular governments.

Elizabeth Edwards won’t question Republicans’ intentions on counter-terrorism.

Dick Cheney not only questions Democrats’, but as he does he sounds like he’s nearing Megalomania Freeway.

But I promised a note about Mrs. Edwards and why she’s on the show.

The tape of this will be in the second half, which we’ll run tomorrow night.

You probably know that the Edwards lost their first-born son, Wade, in a freakish automobile accident in 1996, when he was 16.

You probably didn’t know they watched SportsCenter together.

I sure didn’t.

“I have to just say that on a completely personal note, and not kissing up to you in any way, I said before this interview started what a great treat my son would have thought this was for me to be spending any time talking to you after he was a devoted watcher of you while you were on ESPN with Dan Patrick and Chris Berman.”

Hadn’t felt too good lately about having being on that program.

Mrs. Edwards kind of changed that.

Right now I’m very proud to be part of one of her warm memories about her son.


September 6, 2004 | 9:35 p.m. ET

56 days, 37 wrongs, and one too many OB-GYN (Keith Olbermann)

Where'd the bounce go?

Where’s the bounce at?

While Newsweek's latest poll hits a newsstand near you, replicating the 11 point margin produced Friday by "Time,” first the Bush campaign said not to put much stock into the supposed super-gap, and then at least four other new polls suggested the committee to re-elect had a reason to be dubious.

A USA Today/Gallup poll taken over the weekend gives the President a 52-45 margin, but only a two-point jump in his own percentage from its pre-convention data (the textbook definition of “bounce.”

Meanwhile, The Economist poll that closed last Thursday offered a 45-45 tie. And Rasmussen Reports, pollsters who have consistently had the President ahead, issued its Labor Day daily tracking poll at Bush 48, Kerry 47, with a margin of error of two points. The company, with evident befuddlement, tells us those it interviewed on Saturday had Kerry way ahead.

Regardless of the correct measurement (if any; Gerald Ford may have been right: the polls, if not the Poles, are separate and independent), Senator Kerry is acting like a man behind. The New York Times says he’s seeking help from former Clinton strategists like Stanley Greenberg, James Carville, and Paul Begala.

Wait a minute. Aren't Carville and Begala on television? Isn’t that a conflict of interest? I mean, you can't actively participate in  a campaign while analyzing it on— Oh, sorry.   

I forgot— I live in the past.

You remember the past: the “kinder, gentler” George Bush the first.

The “home stretch” of this campaign opens with what appears to be just the opposite from Mr. Kerry. Trying to simplify his oft complex message, he jumped into the politics of Itchy and Scratchy at a coal miners’ Labor Day picnic in West Virginia.

In a 23-minute speech devoted to establishing the idea that the “W” in “George W. Bush” “stands for wrong,” Senator Kerry used the word “wrong” exactly 37 times. That’s roughly one usage, every 37 seconds.

Two wrongs don’t make a right, but 37 wrongs may make a president.

And lastly you may recall that in this cyberspace last week I suggested that the President's reference to OB/GYN's in his acceptance speech— a virtual call to make the world safe for gynecology— was the weirdest thing I'd ever heard in such an address. My hunches on such things are often far better than I know at the time.

Hours after Kerry's Wrong-a-thon in West Virginia, Mr. Bush brought the subject up again, in Poplar Bluffs, Missouri, and unleashed one of the whoppers of the campaign.

"Too many good docs are getting out of the business," he told the Labor Day rally "Too many OB/GYN's aren't able to practice their love with women all across the country."


I didn't know the crisis was that bad.

Is this being worked into that constitutional amendment about marriage?

September 6, 2004 | 1:05 p.m. ET

Labor day front porch event (Becky Diamond)

There was news at this event and it was the most dynamic and interesting event I have seen in quite some time. Amidst sustained and loud jeers of "four more years" by Bush supporters and cheers of his own supporters, the Democratic candidate began his three-state Labor Day tour with a front porch event in Cannonsburg, PA, where he focused on jobs and the economy.

This was the most polarized event I have seen on the trail with supporter of President Bush yelling throughout Senator Kerry's speech and the candidate's supporters shouting back and the candidate hitting back on the stump. There were approximately fifty Bush supporters, including a very vocal group of about ten who were drinking lots of Busch beer. Senator Kerry stayed on message and delivered a short and focused speech, taking questions instead of talking endlessly to the crowd.

Senator Kerry began his remarks by telling the crowd, "this is very important time."  The senator was interrupted with chants of "four more years" from Bush supporters. He told the crowd, "if you want four more years of your wages falling of social security trust funds raided in order to give tax cuts to the wealthiest people... schools shortchanged... if you want four more years of losing jobs overseas and replacing them with jobs that pay 9,000 less for the jobs you had before than you should go vote for George Bush."  

Senator Kerry stuck to his focus. The candidate talked about the tax burden of an average American family and was interrupted by a Bush supporter who yelled out, "yeah and you're average Kerry," to which the senator responded, "I want to respond...because he's right. I'm privileged. My tax burden went down and I don't think that's right. I think your tax burden ought to go down. This is about fundamental fairness. George Bush and I fit into the same group... but he thinks the wealthiest ought to be rewarded again. But those are differences in values."

There were more jeers, causing Senator Kerry to say, "they don't like to hear the truth...the truth is that we've added more (national) debt..." He pointed out the decrease in the standard of living and fewer health care benefits.

The Bush supporters did not let up shouting while an elderly woman who had several throat surgeries tried to tell her tale, prompting Senator Kerry to say to the cameras and the crowd, "While the Bush people were rudely shouting...a 70-year old woman was trying to tell the story of how she has to go out and work because she needs to take pills."

A Bush supporter yelled "Where is your swift boat?"

When Kerry was asked questions about the policy in Iraq, this is how he responded.  "Let me tell you. I would not have done just one thing differently that the President on Iraq. I would have done everything differently than the president on Iraq. Everything I'm saying to you is not Monday morning quarterbacking. I said, "Mr. President don't rush to war...take the time to build a legitimate coalition and a plan to build the peace." He's cost all of you 200 billion that could have gone to healthcare...schools....prescription drugs. When they talk about a coalition that's the phoniest thing I ever's American troops that are 90 percent of the combat's the wrong war, in the wrong place at the wrong time...I will bring other countries to our side. I will do a better job at fighting a more effective war on terror."

Bush supporters started yelling "flip flop" over and over.

Senator Kerry went on "I think you can bring those folks back and I have a plan for how to do that. What we need to do is to target bringing out troops home. My goal would be to try to get them home in my first term."

On this Labor Day, the Kerry campaign released its own jobs report, "A Failed Record:  Jobs Quality," that shows "lackluster job creation under President Bush." They say workers are not gaining but rather "falling further and further behind" due to jobs that pay less and offer fewer benefits. The Bush administration says the latest jobs numbers show an economy that continues to recover.

The senator was more on message than I have seen him recently. His comments were simple and focused.  His last line has improved greatly— going from convoluted to clear and concise. "This race is about the last four years and the next four years. This race is about the choices that George Bush has made...and has taken America backwards on the economy, on the environment...they've made the wrong choices, they're moving in the wrong direction. ...we need to turn America around and move in the right direction."

Write to

September 4, 2004 | 1:45 p.m. ET

Triumph again! (Joe Trippi


I froze period.  No excuses. No pointing the finger.  No it was me and me alone...

I had Triumph the Insult Dog exactly where I wanted him— on the air insulting Mike Barnacle, Ron Silver, Ron Reagan, Joe Scarborough and Susan Molinari.   I was safely off the MSNBC 'After Hours' set— minding my own business.

But then all hell broke loose. About the same time Triumph disappeared momentarily under the anchor’s desk to admire Molinari’s legs and then reappeared more vicious than ever, someone in the control room got the bright idea to give me a microphone and put a camera on me to go mano a dog with Triumph.

Suddenly my worst nightmare had come true, it was just the cigar chomping marmot and me.  Split screen.  Then I heard Phil in my earpiece say “sick ‘em Triumph!”

I had decided ala Senator Zell Miller to challenge Triumph to a duel. Maybe ask the plastic pipsqueak which allies he trusted most in the world French Poodles or German Shepards?

Instead, with Rick Kaplan the President of the MSNBC network watching in the wings, I froze.

Triumph verbally beat me like a drum.  And I alternately stammered and laughed uncontrollably.  The Taco Bell Chihuahua would have done better than I was doing.

But then inexplicably I was saved.

Ron Silver took umbrage to something Triumph had said about the Bush economic policy.  Like everything Triumph did on 'After Hours' Thursday night, it was a joke.  But for reasons that no one watching could understand (least of all me) Ron took the dog seriously and suddenly began to conduct a serious economic debate with a piece of plastic (I mean can you say hand puppet?) for the rest of the segment.  

It’s was a sad thing to watch.  Just days earlier Ron Silver had been one of the triumphal speakers at the Republican National Convention. On the last night of the convention, at 2:15 in the morning he was talking unemployment numbers with a dog— and not even a real one.   There but by the grace of god, goes me.

E-mail Joe at

September 3, 2004 | 8:15 p.m. ET

Break out the popcorn: Chris Matthews is a guest on Jon Stewart's 'The Daily Show,' tonight, 11 p.m. ET on Comedy Central. As to what they'll be talking about... one can only guess.

September 3, 2004 | 8:11 p.m. ET

A stemwinder?  Definitely not (David Shuster)

I've seen President Bush give some pretty good speeches in this campaign... Thursday night's address to the Republican National Convention was not one of them.  In fact, I heard more than a few delegates grumble that it was "boring" and "flat."

Here's what I noticed:  I watched the first 20 minutes of the speech from one of NBC's open air booths in Madison Square Garden.  Then, I left and watched the rest of the speech on a television monitor in a back hallway.  The difference was striking.  Television doesn't pick up ambient noise or much of the "atmosphere" in the crowd.  And what was left was a man who seemed to be speaking in an usually slow paced monotone.  While the pauses weren't so bad in the hall (because the crowd filled the gap),  on television it just made the speech even slower and dull.   (Remember when Al Gore "surfed the applause" 4 years ago?  Delegates in the hall couldn't hear half his speech... but the pacing made it a compelling and passionate speech on TV). 

So, what happened?  For weeks, the President has been speaking on the campaign trail without a teleprompter.  When you do this, you have to rely more on what words and phrases you know instead of what words and phrases you see.  In other words, it's easier to make a mistake when you are speaking off the cuff...  but it's easier to lose your personality and "knowledge" of your words when you have the prompter providing them for you.  Also, with a prompter, it's easy to fall into what we call "prompter lock."  That means you stare at one of the prompter screen for too long instead of breaking it up with glances down, away, or towards one of the other prompter screens.  The President definitely seemed to fall into "prompter lock."  Add in the fact that television tends to magnify a speaker's facial expression and the end result was the image of a man who seemed to be reading somebody else's lines for the first time.  Of course he wasn't.   But it certainly had that feel.

So, why is this important?  Because the Republicans had huge momentum after the first two nights of their convention.  McCain, Giuliani, and Schwarzenegger delievered speeches with passion and personality...  speeches that evoked a certain thoughtfulness.  The president attracted 27 million television viewers and came up flat, very flat.  In doing so, he blew an opportunity to put an exclamation point on the week.



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