Perhaps the best analogy for this exhaustingly long Presidential campaign is that of a boxing match–each man mercilessly attacking, and then fighting to get off the ropes. Following this logic, you could say that the man most likely to fall is the one on defense in the late rounds.
Going by this standard, clearly the President is in a lot of trouble. Despite the perception that Bush came up in the second debate, in terms of “defensiveness,” I would suggest he actually fell further. You might not reach that conclusion by reading Bush’s face. If you read his language, however, that’s where the picture looked bad.
Again, taking advantage of Overstated.net’s tool, the Debate Spotter (allowing you to count each candidate’s specific words and phrases …and the means by which I did an analysis of the Vice Presidential Debate), I wanted to get a sense of how defensive the President was in his second match up with John Kerry.
Without getting too scientific, I decided to measure how often Bush used five different words that might typically be used when making rationalizations or justifications — especially about the wisdom or popularity of one’s actions. The five words were: mistake; sure; decision; popular and unpopular. (Granted, these words could be applied in a variety of contexts. In comparing their occurrence across debates, however, the differences would tend to balance out.)
What I found was, in the first debate (when the President was more anxious than anything else), Bush used these “defensive” terms 21 times. In the second debate, however, when the Bush seemed more angry and retaliatory, he used the five words 65 times.
By the way, it’s also interesting to compare Bush with Cheney on defensiveness. (After all, a lot of people would argue that Cheney is more accountable for the administration’s problems than Bush is.) As it turns out, In the Vice Presidential debate, Dick Cheney–whose self-assuredness is considered his fatal flaw — only used these “defensive” terms a total of 7 times.