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"What effect must it have on a nation if it learns no foreign languages? Probably much the same as that which a total withdrawal from society has upon an individual."
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Friday, October 01, 2004
 
I've Seen His Soul, But I Can't Pronounce His Name

I did a double-take last night when I first heard Bush refer to Russian president Putin as "Vladimer" (rhymes with 'Lattimer'). Afterwards, I replayed that portion of the debate, and there it was, unmistakably wrong, twice in a row.

Many have put forth the argument that Bush's famous battles with his native tongue amount to simple misstatements, not failures of intellect or evidence of igorance, but that explanation just doesn't work on this one. Maybe that theory explains Bush's announcement that he was trying to "love [Iraq widow Missy Johnson] as best as I can," but not here.

Bush is supposedly good friends with the guy--he has to have heard it properly pronounced hundreds of times--and he can't even get his name right.

This tells us a couple of things. First off, Karen Hughes miscalculated when she assumed Bush knew how to pronounce the name, and so didn't bother to write it out phonetically for him. Second, maybe they're not such great friends, after all. Third, maybe he's even dumber than commonly believed; everyone knows how to pronounce 'Vladimir.' It's common knowledge. Does Bush know anything not specifically drilled into him by his handlers?

More generally, Kerry kicked Bush's butt. His performance put the lie to all the negatives Rove & Co. have been trying to stick him with. Flip-flopper? Weak? Irresolute? Not leadership material? He was as steady as an oak. He hammered Bush and his record again and again with substantive criticisms for which the latter had nothing resembling answers, much less excuses.

If there were a war, and you had to pick one of these two to lead it, the choice would be easy. Kerry went on the offensive, and stayed there. Bush couldn't figure out what direction to take with his answers. He hesitated and seemed to lose his train of thought. He seemed to strike out blindly, giving answers to questions that weren't asked. He looked irresolute and anxious and perturbed.

Imagine Bush giving orders to a platoon, talking like he did during the debate. It would be a wonder if half of them didn't desert. Kerry was at the other end of the spectrum. He positively oozed leadership. He was forceful without looking fanatical. He knew what he wanted to accomplish and how to go about doing it. And then he did it, not with platitudes and gimmicks, but with substance and force.

It's telling that Kerry convincingly won on the only topic where voters had consistently favored Bush. This is by no means a reason to be complacent, only to know that this race is very, very winnable.