The most important thing I heard was that Kerry will not abandon Iraq. This is very comforting, it is honorable, and it reflects well on Kerry's character.
Kerry won on points, Kerry lost on style, and Bush won on substance. Overall I score it a win for Bush, but only because Kerry lost so badly on style.
As far as points go, Kerry made more points than Bush. He was more focused, and spoke better. During the second half of the debate, Bush seemed tired, distracted, and stumbled through many of his answers. At times I was worried he would lapse into the version of Bush we saw in that one disasterous press conference, but he was always able to rally himself.
I can hardly believe that I am going to say Kerry lost on style, but I must. How could someone as tired and distracted as Bush was win on style? He didn't. Kerry had the wrong stuff. Kerry's problem was that he was prosecutorial, not presidential. Bush was warm, humble, plain-spoken and honest. Kerry was arrogant, accusatory, blaming and angry. He lacked candor. He was dismissive and condescending towards our military, our allies, the Iraqi people and the American people. A Presidential candidate can attack in these debates, but he must soften his tone with humility, humor, compassion and respect for his opponent, especially since somewhere near half the country will not vote for him. Kerry failed. We aren't electing a District Attorney. We aren't electing a Special Prosecutor. Kerry is going to have to work with his opponents in the Congress, among our allies and among our rivals. He cannot take this kind of superior tone with them. We could use Harry Truman. Kerry was giving us Johnny Cochran.
As far as substance goes, I have little to say. Bush won on substance because I agree more with him on substance then I do with Kerry. If you've read what I've written here and on comment threads this won't surprise you. It's very hard to say Kerry won on substance when every time he opened his mouth I said, "That's not true" or "That's a bad idea." It's even harder when every time Bush opened his mouth I said, "That's true" or "That's a good idea." I've been following the politics and the campaign closely for a long time. The debate format is unlikely to allow a candidate to change anyone's mind on the issues, especially someone who has studied enough to form an opinion. There simply isn't time. I would expect most Democrats to call the debate for Kerry on substance. Your Mileage Will Vary.
I will say that Kerry seems too eager for the United States to be popular abroad. If subordinating our national interests to others would pay off it might be worth it. When Rome was the sole superpower, it was hated. When Britain was the sole superpower, it was hated. When the Cowboys were 'America's Team' they were hated. Dare I mention the Yankees? The fastest way for the U.S. to be liked is for us to be the 1968 Mets. I'm not sure why Kerry thinks he can buck this basic part of human nature, but he does. I'm also not sure how denigrating our closest, strongest allies and rewarding our rivals is going to work. (And I'm really not sure why Kerry thinks he can buck a 95-0 vote in the U.S. Senate. Was he Rip Van Winkle during his twenty years there?) If Kerry wants us to have more friends he should advocate treating our friends better, and treating our best friends the best. Like creating a Super Favored Nation trading status for our allies who sent troops to Iraq originally (and Iraq itself), a Well Favored Nation trading status for people who sent troops to Iraq now, and a nice new 1% tariff on everyone else.
Mrs. Wince says that the desire to be liked gives too much power to other nations. Nations then gain power by disliking us, criticizing us and failing to help us. The key is to do what is right, not what is popular.