Last night, Bush and Kerry went at it in the first presidential debate of this political season. I missed the first couple of minutes, but watched the next 90 minutes, glued to the set.

To me, it seemed that Kerry had a much more polished message. Infrequently did he harp on the same message, aside from his belief that going into Iraq without a strong coalition was a mistake. He was quick and seemingly thoughtful in his rebuttles of Bush’s comments.

I happen to believe that having a strong coalition is important. Bush stressed the contributions of the UK, Australia and Poland, and belittled Kerry, indicating he was dishonoring the contributions of the nations standing with us. My opinion is, however, that when we are supplying over 90% of the troops on the ground, that’s not a coalition.

OTOH, Bush did hit the same messages over and over — something Ann Richards was quoted as saying Bush was very good at — quoting trite phrases such as “wrong war, wrong time” and “we have a plan to get out of Iraq”. He hit hard on his belief that Kerry is blown by the winds in his opinion on important policy issues, denying Kerry the privilege to re-evaluate issues in the war and change his policy, and retaining that for himself.

There was, in my mind, a significant difference in their views on the internation community. Kerry seems very “international” in his thinking: UN, coalitions, resolutions… basically playing within the letter of law. This is the way my mind works, the way I play, and frequently, I am frustrated over the rewards to and gains by those who don’t play by the rules.

Bush seems to enjoy having the world on his side, when he can get that. However, if you’re not with him, you’re against him. He seems to have little respect for the UN, little respect for the leadership position that the US is in — it’s hard to get other countries to play by the rules of law and treaty, when you flagrantly go against them — and he really doesn’t seem to want to have to answer to anyone concerning his actions.

My eyes and ears tell me that Kerry won this debate. Bush looked disinterested, looked as though he thought the debate was a waste of time, and came across as more of a “good ol’ boy” than a commander-in-chief and president, and simply didn’t give very good information as to where he would take us as a country. Kerry came across as a businessman, succinct and with a pretty good handle on the knowledge of the issues needed to lead the US.

Bush didn’t really address the endgame in Iraq, which I think is critical to understanding where we, as a nation, would go for the next four years. Kerry did address this, and pointed to a published plan for getting us out of Iraq.

One thing that I would have loved to hear Bush and Kerry address was the statements by Putin that he would consider going into another country to pre-emptively strike to defend his nation. I still believe that statement probably sends incredible chills down the spines of many folks in Washington.

Biggest faux pas: By Bush, stating that “the enemy attacked us” in trying to defend sending troops into Iraq. Kerry rightly pointed out that it was Bin Laden that attacked, not Saddam Hussein. Bush had to peddle and reassure us that he knew which was which. 🙂

Most humorous comment: By Kerry, quoting,

The terrorism czar, who has worked for every president since Ronald Reagan, said, ‘Invading Iraq in response to 9/11 would be like Franklin Roosevelt invading Mexico in response to Pearl Harbor.’

Most intriguing comment: Reponse by Bush, to Jim Lehrer’s question concerning Bush’s quote that there was a “miscalculation, of what the conditions would be in post-war Iraq.” My interpretation is that Bush indicated that we did such a good job in felling Hussein regime, that the rebels didn’t fight at the time, and now they are. In other words, our reward for a job well-done (by Bush’s estimation) is a continuing blood-bath on the network news every night.

In truth, did either of them win? Well, I dunno. I have to admit, though, that I was pretty impressed by Kerry’s polish, and a little put off by Bush’s seeming too flippant.

(Transcript is here.)