Repeat when necessary

Published October 9, 2004 3:44AM (EDT)

After the first debate, President Bush took some heat for repeating a couple talking points ad infinitum (even if his unique orating style made them sound a bit different each time) -- think "wrong war, wrong place, wrong time."

But it appears that the Kerry camp didn't learn much from that criticism. In tonight's contest, Kerry referred to his "plan" for leading the country two dozen times. The words "I have a plan" tumbled forth from his lips on 13 different occasions.

Sounding confident and "clear" is, of course, the logical foil to the Bush camp's incessant "flip-flop" attack. But at what point does a familiar mantra start to sound empty?

If Kerry overdid it on his "plan," he also scored some strong rhetorical points tonight. When Bush angrily commandeered some extra time to defend the "coalition of 30 countries" in Iraq, Kerry delivered a body blow: "Mr. President, countries are leaving the coalition, not joining. Eight countries have left it."

Kerry also ripped into the self-proclaimed "war president" for having the wrong priorities during a time of conflict.

"This is the first time the United States of America has ever had a tax cut when we're at war. Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, others, knew how to lead. They knew how to ask the American people for the right things."

If Kerry's reference to the weight of history and sacrifice made Bush look small, the president did not need a whole lot of help in making himself look silly -- he took care of that with a fresh supply of Bushisms.

By Mark Follman

Mark Follman is Salon's deputy news editor. Read his other articles here.

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