Lee P Butler

Debating The Debates: To Sandbag Or Not To Sandbag

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Debating The Debates: To Sandbag Or Not To Sandbag 


In my first ‘sandbag’ column I wrote about the President’s performance during the first presidential debate between him and John Kerry, I speculated a hypothesis that the Bush debate preparation team may have put a game plan in place that required the President to ‘sandbag’ Kerry.

To better explain what that meant, I used an analogy of this method of debate instead of the actual definition for the term in reference to debating. Understand that perception is in the eye of the beholder. So as I watched the debate, what I saw and heard didn’t mesh with what the elite media pundits and writers told everyone they should have seen and heard.

They had an agenda they felt compelled to promote and their latent bias against the President showed clearly in their perceived nuances of his reactions to Kerry’s comments. When they asserted he was smirking, I saw concentration. They saw weariness, I saw exasperation. They claimed he ‘had an empty playbook’, I claim he was using restraint.

After one Vice Presidential and three Presidential debates, I stand by my conviction that I’m closer to the truth than they are, especially in my belief that during the first debate the President used the debating method of ‘sandbagging’ Kerry. The official definition of ‘sandbagging’ in regards to debating is to: Save your best evidence for an argument until the rebuttals, or present the impact for an argument later.

Which is exactly what took place.

Most people get caught up in the media spin in situations like these, because that is exactly what the elite media wants. It adds drama, intrigue, viewer ship, but mostly it gives the elite media a more concise opportunity to control the angle from which the news story is disseminated to the American electorate.

Many people contended, in hind-sight, that President Bush should have knocked the first debate ‘out of the park’, because that debate was about foreign policy... his strongest area. But what these people miss is the fact that the elite media wasn’t going to let that happen even if he had destroyed Kerry.

A perfect example of this is the last debate, where many pundits were asserting after the match that President Bush had put Kerry on the defensive, taking him out of his element and waylaid him in the process. Since then, the elite media has spun the story and now according to them, Kerry easily ‘won’ all three debates. Remember, for a week the second debate was considered a ‘tie’.

I believe the Bush team expected this at the start and implemented a plan during the first debate where President Bush held back and let Kerry do the talking, while Bush simply reiterated his position on the War on Terror and pounded that message home. Kerry dug himself into several holes as he kept morphing his stances on this issue while claiming his was being ‘consistent’.

His most glaring indiscretion came when he said America would have to pass a ‘global test’ before taking action to prevent a terrorist attack here. The Bush team has incessantly hammered Kerry over that comment since and put him on the defensive about it for the final two debates.

That tactic is how you ‘sandbag’ when debating. You save the best evidence you collect against your opponent, then present it later so the impact for your argument has a more lasting and detrimental effect.

You still don’t think Bush was utilizing the ‘sandbag’ tactic during the first debate? Kerry was so emboldened going into the second debate, when President Bush hit him with his Senate record against the military and his flip-flopping on the War on Terror, Kerry seemed dazed and confused. Lost among his own ‘consistent’ rhetoric, he asserted that, “I do believe Saddam Hussein was a threat,”, then attacked the President for being, “preoccupied with Iraq, where there wasn’t a threat.”

That Looney Tunes moment would never have happened with a first debate ‘home run’. Neither would President Bush have had the zeal to ‘shush’ Charlie Gibson to hit Kerry about fallaciously whining that America had gone into Iraq alone saying, “Tell Tony Blair we’re going alone. Tell Silvio Berlusconi we’re going alone. Tell Aleksander Kwasniewski we’re going alone.”

After the first column ran, I received several emails from people telling me just how stupid I was for that theory, because President Bush was just as stupid and he ‘lost’ the debate because he could never stand toe to toe with the great intellectual prowess of John Kerry.

As I tried to explain in that column, especially when there are multiple debates, you don’t ‘win’ or ‘lose’ a debate, you take the opportunity to reach a large constituency at once to solidify your position on a particular issue or platform. The ‘win or lose’ concept is postulated by the media for their own benefit of misdirecting the public from the actual debate premise of a candidate connecting with his/her constituency so you, as a voter, will focus on who and what they tell you to.

Making that claim also got me into trouble with readers, yet a story that came out shortly after the third debate seems to have vindicated me on this subject, too. Pollster Frank Luntz gathered a focus group of uncommitted voters for the last debate to garner their reactions immediately following the debate.

When asked who the 23 participants thought had ‘won’ the debate, they all agreed that Kerry had ‘won’ the debate. Yet when asked if they had decided who they were going to vote for in November, 17 said they were voting for Bush, 5 said Kerry, and one Libertarian. Luntz said, “They still don’t trust what John Kerry is saying.” Probably because they still don’t know WHAT Kerry is saying.

Which proves my point. Debates are about getting your message across to the viewers, not about ‘winning or losing’. Here in North Carolina, Republican Senate hopeful Richard Burr was well behind in the polls, until his debate, now he is tied and moving ahead of his challenger. Gubernatorial Republican candidate Patrick Ballantine was even farther behind his opponent in the polls until his first debate, now he’s gaining ground and after the second debate may well be ahead. In South Carolina, Republican Senate hopeful Jim DeMint has now taken a commanding lead over his opponent after their debates.

What do all these candidates have in common? Most of the media coverage of their debates didn’t declare any of them to be the ‘winner’ of their respective debates. But all of them obviously did something right... they connected with the constituency.

I will always believe President Bush ‘sandbagged’ the first debate, because it set him up for a strong finish during the final two debates, where he was supposedly weaker on the projected issues. Despite the accusations I received from Bush haters across America that he was just too dumb to stand up to Kerry and that I was ‘fooling’ myself after that first debate... It’s kind of hard to deny that he wasn’t holding back when even the media was forced to say the second debate was a ‘tie’

To sandbag or not to sandbag, that is the question? Though we may never truly know the answer to that, the President made sure that we’ll never wonder about where Kerry stands on the issues because he can run, [from his Senate record] but he can’t hide. The stupid cowboy from Texas who 'lost' the debates has made sure of that.

Lee P Butler

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