She had become the star of the 1988 Democratic convention with a keynote speech that mocked the elder George Bush: "Poor George. He was born with a silver foot in his mouth." When she first ran for governor, in 1990, Richards made a fool of her Republican opponent, Clayton Williams, with barbs and repartee that provoked him into intemperate outbursts.As Richards prepared to run for re-election, she faced several obstacles.
Bush beat every one of them—in the election and, to judge by post-debate poll results, in the debates as well.
The contests between Bush and Kerry this year will be a political version of what the Pentagon calls "asymmetric warfare," or combat between opponents with dissimilar strengths and vulnerabilities.
Because the President so rarely exposes himself to live, unscripted questioning, and because he has expressed himself so poorly the few times he has risked such exposure this year, the political establishment assumes that John Kerry has a big advantage in this fall's debates. Bush has been far more skillful in his debating career than is generally appreciated, and his successes in that realm put his widely noted lack of eloquence in a different light.
During his career George Bush's speaking style has changed significantly, which is why the tape from 1994 was so intriguing.
Bush's achievement is the more surprising, because he has entered every debate at a presumed disadvantage and has had to be a giant-slayer. Garry Mauro, whom Bush trounced in his re-election campaign in 1998, was an experienced and knowledgeable Texas official.
Ann Richards was the most celebrated orator in Texas, having succeeded U. In 2000 Bush's main opponent in the presidential primaries, John Mc Cain, was beloved by the press for his mordant "straight talk." And in the general election Bush had to face Al Gore, who until then had manhandled a long series of debate opponents."To lay out my juvenile-justice plan in a minute and a half is a hard task, but I will try to do so," he said fluidly and with a smile midway through the debate, before beginning to list his principles.Richards's main line of attack—in fact, her only one—was that Bush had done so poorly in a series of businesses that he would be over his head as governor.So great was Richards's perceived rhetorical advantage that the Bush campaign stonewalled in debate negotiations and finally agreed to one debate only, to be held on a Friday night in October two weeks before the election.This spring I watched dozens of hours' worth of old videos of John Kerry and George W. But it was the hour in which Bush faced Ann Richards that I had to watch several times. He rattled off complicated sentences and brought them to the right grammatical conclusions.Newt Gingrich's "Contract With America" was about to help the Republicans take control of Congress.The growth of the suburbs was accelerating Texas's shift from a solidly Democratic to a solidly Republican state.Lakoff also emphasized that what had changed in Bush's style was less important than what had remained the same.Bush's ways of appealing to his electoral base, of demonstrating resolve and strength, of deflecting rather than rebutting criticism, had all worked against Ann Richards.Neither George Bush nor John Kerry has suffered more than an occasional lapse or setback in a debate.Neither has "lost" a contest in the only way that matters: a serious post-debate decline in the polls or an electoral defeat.