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Newt Gingrich's "Contract With America" was about to help the Republicans take control of Congress.
Neither George Bush nor John Kerry has suffered more than an occasional lapse or setback in a debate.
Neither has "lost" a contest in the only way that matters: a serious post-debate decline in the polls or an electoral defeat.
Lakoff also emphasized that what had changed in Bush's style was less important than what had remained the same.
Bush's ways of appealing to his electoral base, of demonstrating resolve and strength, of deflecting rather than rebutting criticism, had all worked against Ann Richards.
"To lay out my juvenile-justice plan in a minute and a half is a hard task, but I will try to do so," he said fluidly and with a smile midway through the debate, before beginning to list his principles.
Richards's main line of attack—in fact, her only one—was that Bush had done so poorly in a series of businesses that he would be over his head as governor.These have been constants in his rhetorical presentation of himself over the years, despite the striking decline in his sentence-by-sentence speaking skills, and they have been consistently and devastatingly effective.The upcoming debates between Bush and Kerry will in an odd way be a contest of unbeaten champions.When talking about schools he said, "I think the mission in education ought to be excellence in literature, math, science, and social science"—an ordinary enough thought, but one delivered with an offhand fluency I do not remember his ever showing at a presidential press conference.When Richards was asked about permitting casino gambling, she replied with a convoluted, minutes-long answer with details about Indian tribal rights.Each time she tried this, Bush calmly said, "I think this is a diversion away from talking about the issues that face Texas"—which led him right back to the items on his stump speech ("I want to discuss welfare, education.I want to discuss the juvenile-justice system ...").So great was Richards's perceived rhetorical advantage that the Bush campaign stonewalled in debate negotiations and finally agreed to one debate only, to be held on a Friday night in October two weeks before the election.This spring I watched dozens of hours' worth of old videos of John Kerry and George W. But it was the hour in which Bush faced Ann Richards that I had to watch several times. He rattled off complicated sentences and brought them to the right grammatical conclusions.And Richards seemed visibly to have lost passion for her job.Her relatively young and inexperienced opponent, whose lackluster business career was his main credential, seemed to be the least of her problems—especially when it came to speaking skills.