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SFSU debaters weigh in on first Kerry-Bush debate

October 1, 2004

KTVU news reporter John Sasaki interviews debate team member Allison BronwlowAs political advisers and pundits weighed the outcome of Thursday night's debate between presidential candidates George W. Bush and John Kerry, members of SFSU's nationally ranked Speech and Debate team provided their own analysis. Based on their knowledge and experience in debate, they believed Kerry had an edge over the incumbent President Bush.

"He was much more on the offense. Bush kept having to defend his positions," said Patrick Moe, a 25-year-old graduate student. "If you're having to defend your positions, then that's playing on the other side of the 50-yard line. You are not advancing your position."

Shawn Whalen, the coach of the team, agreed.

"Bush, in part, was unsuccessful in my opinion in challenging Kerry's record and unable to highlight his own record," Whalen said. "Voters were exposed to the failures of the Bush presidency and not Kerry's record."

Moe, one of about 40 people who watched the debate in the Humanities Auditorium, said that for Bush to perform better, he needs to focus on his strong leadership amid terrorist threats and Kerry's constant changing stance on issues. Others said Kerry should focus on his Democratic principles and views.

"Kerry needs to better distance himself from Bush," said Teddy Albiniak, a 22-year-old graduate student. "Appealing to moderate voters is a losing proposition."

Not all of the viewers on hand believed that Kerry came out as the victor. Senior Carlos Zepeda, president of the Political Science Students Association, said Bush continued to illustrate that he is a strong leader and Kerry is a "flip-flopper."

"(Kerry's) opinions keep changing every day," Zepeda said. "Last week he had a five-point plan for Iraq. Tonight he had a four-point plan."

In a debate that focused almost exclusively on U.S. foreign policy -- with more than half of the time devoted to the conflict in Iraq -- Whalen said he did not think supporters of either candidate would change their minds. The debate's short-answer format and stringent rules, which were much different than what is used in collegiate debate, made it hard to go in-depth.

"It is impossible to teach people in a 90-minute debate about policy issues," he said.

Team members noted the different strategies and visual appeals of each candidate. Kerry spoke declaratively and demonstratively, while Bush fumbled over his words throughout the event. Bush relied on emotion while Kerry focused on the president's record on U.S. foreign policy.

"Bush would look at the camera when he was talking," said Allison Brownlow, a 22-year-old senior majoring in speech and communication studies. "Kerry only did that at the beginning and end of the debate."

Team members said neither Kerry's nor Bush's performance would have been strong enough to make the cut on SFSU's team.

Earlier this year, the Speech and Debate team brought home the first-place trophy for sweepstakes in the Western region and ranked 24th nationally at the Cross Examination Debate Association National Tournament held in Louisville, Ky. The team finished ahead of such competitors as Stanford University, Northwestern University, University of Southern California and Georgetown University.

For more about the Speech and Debate team, see previous Web stories: Debate team is No. 1 in Western region, Three students named All-American in speech, debate and Senior speech major named All-American debater.

The presidential debate, held at University of Miami, was the first of three televised live events between Bush and Kerry. The other debates will be held Oct. 8 and 13, both at 6 p.m. Pacific time. Vice President Dick Cheney will debate Sen. John Edwards, Kerry's running mate, on Oct. 5.

-- Matt Itelson


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