The one thing I've repeatedly heard since last night after the first debate of the season are various versions of "He didn't appear anything like I'd expected him to."
The refrain has come most often from folks on the Right last night and today about both Bush and Kerry. They thought John Kerry would be appear as a confused, weak, prolix flip-flopper and they expected that Bush would demonstrate himself to be strong, resolute and in command of the Foreign Policy debate (which the Bush campaign fought hard to have as the first, and historically most-watched, evening).
Why the surpise from those folks? Apparently, they really have been able to convince themselves of their own spin, and that of the media. The picture that has been painted of these two guys for months is exactly the opposite of reality. Last night, without the media filter in place, the spinners, the quotes taken out of context, and with someone who was actually able to respond to the nonsense Bush spouts every day at his rallies, the picture was vastly different than the distorted mythology the Right has worked so hard to create.
The Bush camp has for months kept their man isolated from reality and opposing positions everywhere from the Campaign Trail to the White House itself. So much so, that he simply floundered like a fish out of water without his usual protective filters in place. Anyone who's paid attention to what Bush has actually said and done was not surprised at all by his appearance last night. Most Americans, who haven't been able to see through the media filter, saw something that hadn't seen before.
For Kerry's part, the media had done a superb job of joining hands with the Republican Media Masters to create a picture of Kerry as something he isn't. And again, in a situation where he couldn't be quoted out of context, or simply misquoted and tendentiously "defined" by the opposition, it came as a shock to many when they actually had the opportunity to see John Kerry with their own eyes instead of Karl Rove's, Rush's or Drudge's.
As a result, last night's Debate was a terrific victory for Democracy, even in light of the attempts made by the candidates (mostly the Bush camp according to reports) to squeeze as much reality out of the process as they could. Both reality --- and the American people --- won out in the end.
Mind you, when Reagan was running for re-election, he too lost the first debate in a big way, but came back to win. As well, the consensus after Gore's first debate in 2000 was also that he won. So there's still a long way to go here before the celebrations should begin. But with two more chances to see both candidates without the filter, Americans should have a much better chance of overcoming the obstacles that the Republicans have erected in order to keep Americans from learning the truth about both of these men.