For each question there is a two-minute response, a 90-second rebuttal, a 10-second eye roll, and a split-second expletive under the breath. There is an audience here, but they will remain absolutely silent, just as if they were attending a rally for the Bush/Cheney campaign.
The first question goes to you, Senator Kerry. Do you believe you could do a better job than President Bush in preventing another 9/11-type terrorist attack on the United States?
BUSH: Jimmy, let me put my brand on September the 11th. September the 11th been very, very good to me, and I just want to say thank you to the people of September the 11th. Ever since, seems to me we’ve been safer. Got the multi-pronged thing going on, lots of extra prongs. So like I’ve been telling the American people, put a fork in it, Iraq’s done. But if my opponent had his way, we would never even have jumped out of the fire into the frying pan.
We got lots to be proud of. We pursue al-Qaida wherever al-Qaida hides. Could be anywhere. We caught Cat Stevens. Ten million people registered to vote in Afghanistan in the upcoming presidential election. That’s more voters than Jeb’s gonna let cast a ballot in Florida.
In Iraq, we didn’t just see a threat, we were the threat, and we took the threat of ourselves seriously. Because that’s what you’ve got to do, otherwise you’re just an idle threat and nothing’s going to come of it, see. Saddam Hussein and Martha Stewart now sit in a prison cell. It’s a good thing. I think the American people can see that I stand for something.
We’re pursuing freedom around the world. We’ll find it, hunt it down. Free nations got a role to play, helping us achieve the peace we want. And we don’t want all that much.
KERRY: We have to be smart, Jim.
BUSH: I think I can speak to my own ignorance, thank you. I am the president. Everybody says so. I went to the United Nations. I didn’t need anybody to tell me to go to the United Nations. I just decided to go there myself. I learned off the address.
BUSH: How long was my last press conference? Oh, sorry, Jimbo, sort of got you mixed up with Trebek there.
LEHRER: What about Senator Kerry’s point, the comparison he drew between the priorities of going after Osama bin Laden and going after Saddam Hussein?
BUSH: Jimbalaya ol’ pal, we can do whatever the hell we want. Everybody knows that. But matter of fact, this is a global effort. My globe, my effort.
Now in a bit, my opponent’s going to yammer about passing some “global test,” and I’m going to poke fun at that, Jimmy Dean, because frankly I was too busy at Yale or wherever it was for some fancy-pants global test, and a hunnerd bucks says Tweeter had it covered anyway, didn’t you, Tweeter?
But did my opponent serve on the front lines of a football field? Anybody ever see him at cheerleading duty? We’re facing a bunch of folks who hate us for our cheerleading. Iraq is where it’s at. Gimme an “I”! Gimme a bunch of them other letters, too.
LEHRER: Senator Kerry, 5 seconds.
KERRY: Iraq was not even close to the center of the war on terror before the president invaded it.
BUSH: Can I respond to that?
LEHRER: I doubt it.
BUSH: How can you lead this country to succeed in Iraq unless you’re in Iraq to begin with? It’s just common sense, Jim-Jam!
LEHRER: Senator Kerry, what would you do to increase the homeland security of the United States?
KERRY: Jim, this president thought it was more important to give the wealthiest people in America a tax cut rather than invest in homeland security. I believe in protecting America first.
LEHRER: Mr. President.
BUSH: How he’s going to pay for all these promises if he’s not willing to make rich folks even richer, run up the biggest deficit in history, and put 2.8 million people out of work? It’s like a huge … gap. Can you see the gap, Jim-bob?
LEHRER: Yes, it’s very … apparent, sir.
BUSH: Jim-a-ling, the way to protect this homeland is to stay on the offense. I believe we’ve been very offensive. We got the FBI almost talking to each other. We’re having fun trying out some counterterrorism stuff. I been home 38 times just to clear brush out of the way. If there’s any terrorists in there, I’ll find ‘em. Barney’ll find ‘em.
LEHRER: OK. Here on earth, Senator?
KERRY: We didn’t need that tax cut. America needed to be safe.
BUSH: Hey! I wake up every day thinking, “How do I protect America? How?” Then somebody tells me. And they bring me breakfast. That’s my job. I’m the president. I work with Director Mueller of the FBI. Director Mueller comes in to my office when I’m in Washington just eating my eggs. He comes every morning. He talks to me about how to protect us. I like Director Mueller. He is nice to me.
LEHRER: Mr. President, what criteria would you use to determine when to start bringing U.S. troops home from Iraq?
BUSH: Let me tell you something I DO know, Diamond Jim. The way for Iraqi people to be safe is for every Iraqi who wants a job to have a job. And health care, a first-class education, clean water. We’re turning a corner — mortaring every corner — cornering mourners. Somethin’ like that.
And so the best indication about when we can bring our troops home — which I really want to do — but I don’t want to do so for the sake of bringing them home — I want to do so because we’ve achieved an objective — and that’s not the issue here — is, say, did you hear the one about the OB-GYNs who weren’t able to practice their love with women all over this country?
LEHRER: Just 31 more days of this, Senator Kerry.
KERRY: Thank you, Jim.
BUSH: I think it’s worthy for a follow-up.
LEHRER: You do that, sir.
BUSH: My opponent says help is on the way, but what kind of message does that send to the troops that I have committed to harm’s way?
LEHRER: Senator Kerry, was the rush to war a colossal misjudgment or has the quagmire been a catastrophic success?
BUSH: Wait, I know this one!
KERRY: I believe that when you know something’s going wrong, you make it right. I believe that we have to win this. The president and I have always agreed on that.
BUSH: Hey, look what I can do with my upper lip.
KERRY: But I also laid out a very strict series of things we needed to do in order to proceed from a position of strength. They didn’t do the planning.
BUSH: But what I really like, see, is this thing with the tongue.
KERRY: When the Secretary General Kofi Annan offered the United Nations, he said, “No, no, we’ll go do this alone.”
BUSH: Nuh-huh! Rummy was there, too. Where is Rummy?
KERRY: To save Halliburton the spoils of war, they actually issued a memorandum from the Defense Department saying, “If you weren’t with us in the war, don’t bother applying for any construction.” That’s not a way to invite people.
BUSH: Is so!
LEHRER: Ninety seconds, Mr. President, not including time to pack a few things.
BUSH: My opponent says we didn’t have any allies in this war. What’s he say to Alexander Kwasniewski of Poland? Hey, I just said “Kwasniewski”! Not so dumb now, hey, Dad?
LEHRER: Will you be purchasing your bus ticket on Trailways or Greyhound, Mr. President?
BUSH: Jiminy, I know how these people think. I deal with them all the time. I sit down with the world leaders frequently and talk to them on the phone, frequently. I have a phone and a thing that I sit down on and everything. Karl got it for me.
Those combat guys are not going to follow somebody who says, “This is the wrong war at the wrong place at the wrong time.” They’re going to follow me to the wrong war at the wrong time, and, for the record, I actually know where the wrong place is.
LEHRER: Wrap him up, Senator. I’ve got a remaindered book to write.
KERRY: At the United Nations, Kofi Annan offered help after Baghdad fell. And we never picked him up on that. Secondly, when we went in, there were three countries: Great Britain, Australia and the United States. That’s not a grand coalition. We can do better.
BUSH: Poland! He forgot Poland! And Great Britain is two words!
LEHRER: Mr. President, your ride is here. But first, you have said there was a, quote, “miscalculation,” of what the conditions would be in postwar Iraq. What was the miscalculation, and how did it happen?
BUSH: No, what I said was, we achieved such a rapid victory, we didn’t have time to whip more of ‘em going in, before they got going out. Then they disappeared, see? But then they came back, so the good news is, now that we’ve achieved such a rapid victory, we can get on with the fighting, and the world is a lot safer, except where all that fighting’s going on. I seen it on the TV screens.
And we’ve got a plan in place. Our intelligence sources tell us that we will find it on the seat of our pants any day now. We’re closing in on it. The plan says there will be elections, just not here. We’re taking the election over there, so Americans don’t have to fight an election here. It is hard work to go from a tyranny to a democracy. But going from a democracy to a tyranny — dang, that turned out real easy.
LEHRER: Kick his ass, Senator Kerry?
KERRY: What I’m trying to do is just talk the truth to the American people and to the world. The truth is what good policy is based on. It’s what leadership is based on. First of all, we all know that in his state of the union message, he told Congress about nuclear materials that didn’t exist.
BUSH: La-la-la, la-la-la-la, laaaaa!
KERRY: He misled the American people in his speech when he said we will plan carefully. They obviously didn’t. He misled the American people when he said we’d go to war as a last resort. We did not go as a last resort. And most Americans know the difference.
BUSH: They do not!
LEHRER: Mr. President — ten … nine … eight … .
BUSH: My opponent just said something. That makes him a flip-flopper.
LEHRER: Senator Kerry, a triple Lutz?
KERRY: I’ve had one position, one consistent position, that Saddam Hussein was a threat. There was a right way to disarm him and a wrong way.
BUSH: Flip …
KERRY: And the president chose the wrong way.
LEHRER: And that ends tonight’s debate. Impossible to predict the outcome, of course. I’m Jim Lehrer. See you at the Inauguration, Sen. Kerry. And George, have fun storming the ranch.