Whine merchant

Published October 9, 2004 3:32AM (EDT)

Bush succeeded in squelching his scowls this time, even joking in response to one Kerry broadside, "That answer almost makes me want to scowl." All right, the line had all the spontaneity of a Karen Hughes pre-debate strategy session. But at least the scowls were replaced by intent, if somewhat vacant stares while Kerry was speaking, and of course, the requisite mad scribbling. But the other little problem from last weeks debate was, unfortunately, very much in evidence: the whine.

What is it about President Bush that makes him confuse a resolute tone with a screechy one? For 90-minutes plus, Bush hunched his shoulders and delivered a steady stream of high-pitched hectoring. His supporters always go on about Bushs firm convictions. But for a man who supposedly possesses such deep belief, he sounds awfully pleading and uncertain.

Bushs nagging tone of voice is all the more irritating, because it sounds as if hes trying to explain something obvious to a simpleton. But the simplest person in the room is usually him.

What it comes down to is Bush generally has very little to say, and even the 90 seconds allotted to him in debates seem to stretch out endlessly before him. Did he really answer the question about his criteria for picking a future Supreme Court justice, after stumbling around aimlessly for awhile, by suddenly latching onto the 1857 Dred Scott decision, that reaffirmed the institution of slavery, as an example of something hes against? This will come as an enormous relief to all runaway slaves currently on the loose in America  although he might have risked alienating the Trent Lott wing of the party with his bold stand.

By David Talbot

David Talbot, the founder of Salon, is the author of New York Times bestsellers like "Brothers," "The Devil's Chessboard," and "Season of the Witch." His most recent book is "Between Heaven and Hell: The Story of My Stroke."

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