The Real Debate

Richard C. Harwood, President, The Harwood Institute for Public Innovation The pundits were proven wrong, the candidates did engage, and the people won. Now we have a genuine race and a clear choice.

What was so evident to me last night was a clash in narratives between certitude and competence.

President Bush offered the candidacy of certitude. Throughout the debate, he consistently used words and phrases such as: “liberty, tyranny, freedom, precious, change the world, duty, keep our word, stand with you, injustice, resolve, steadfast, going to win.” It was a language of a Bush religion of public affairs, as if he was reading from its very prayer book.

Senator Kerry, on the other hand, presented the vision of competence. He infused his answers with such words and terms as: “getting the job done, my plan, get it right, diplomacy, alliances, realities, change the dynamics, reaching out, make sense, look you in the eye.” This is a language of someone who derives hope from hard work.

The question for Americans increasingly is which vision best reflects your values and engenders your trust? Which approach do you believe will bring about results we can live with? What kinds of risks are you willing to take?

For once, the two men did all Americans a favor. They were last night, for the most part, straight, clear-headed, and forthright. You may not have agreed with them, but you can see where they stand.

Now, we Americans should applaud them. Notwithstanding the silliness that ensued after the political conventions, we still have five weeks to have a meaningful campaign. Let’s tell them that last night we finally got a peek of the campaign we deserve and seek.