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Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Beldar's take on the third presidential debate

Okay, I've got to admit that I'm so negative on John Kerry that I can't engage in much nuanced discussion of this debate.  The only thing I can say with lots of confidence is that at worst for Bush, this was a draw — and as with the prior debates, I think Kerry needed a Dubya screw-up to get a real surge. 

Trying to put aside my biases and be objective, I think it was a Dubya win.  My gosh, this man has grown in the presidency — and not just on foreign policy.  It's not so much that he's more polished than he was in 2000, but that there's more confidence and depth.  You may not agree with the decisions he's made and the priorities he's set, and you may hate him and his style.  But the debates confirm in spades what ought to be implicit from his performance in office, but what's more clearly on view in a setting like this — that this man is indeed up to the job of being President.  He's not a chimp; he's not a puppet of Karl Rove; he's not an accident of a Supreme Court vote.  He is the President of the United States.

The debates show that Kerry is up to debating.  I will certainly concede that the man talks a good game.  But it's almost all beautiful soap bubbles, and I'm not confident that I know what's at his core.  To the extent I think I know what's at his core, I dislike and distrust it.  He's a conflicted, blurry man — the only consistent bright gleam I see in his eyes is one of personal ambition, and around the edges of even that brightness is condescension and arrogance.  I do understand how my left-leaning friends can vote against Bush, for reasons of personality, policy, or both.  But I genuinely have trouble understanding how anyone can be enthusiastic about John Kerry.

Take-away lines from the transcript, one from Dubya, and one from Kerry that Dubya & Co. will exploit:  "A plan is not a litany of complaints."  And "I think it makes sense, I think most Americans in their guts know, that we ought to pass a sort of truth standard."  (Picture Chirac administering a lie detector test at the U.N., after he's graded the global test.)

CBS News should have just dropped any pretense of fairness and sent Dan Rather to moderate this damn thing.  The questions couldn't have been much more slanted if Michael Moore had been the moderator.

An aside, purely speculating, regarding Kerry's joke near the end: 

Well, I guess the president and you [referring to Bob Schieffer] and I are three examples of lucky people who married up. And some would say maybe me moreso than others. But I can take it.

In the next camera shot of Theresa, she looked like the furies of hell had swirled up inside her; she had the kind of grim smile a hungry tigress displays before she sinks a claw into a gazelle's liver.  And fer pete's sake, besides saying she was "strong," which Shieffer's question practically required him to say, and the crack about her being rich, Kerry couldn't come up with another thing to say specifically about THK, but instead transitioned into the story about his mother's deathbed.  As Roger L. Simon noted,

Why did Kerry's mother feel she had to remind him "Integrity! Integrity! Integrity!" from her hospital bed when he told her he was thinking of running for President? What did she know? My mother would have assumed I would have integrity in the same situation.

Looking at Kerry and THK together is like watching actors in an Edwardian stage play.  Looking at Dubya and Laura, you think, "Wow, what a lucky man he is to have her, and what a fabulous woman she is to believe in him so deeply."  I'm no psychologist, but my trial lawyer instincts, to the extent they operate in this weird context, tell me that a bunch of people who couldn't write three complete sentences on either candidate's domestic policies still came away from these debates with very strong impressions about their respective domestic households — and will only identify with, envy, or admire one of them.

Update (Wed Oct 13 @ 10:30pm):  Dave Kopel has a take similar to mine on NRO's The Corner:

With all due respect to my esteemed webmistress KJL, Kerry's "marrying up" line was a disaster. For the voters who are deciding on character rather than issues (many of the undecided and uninformed voters), the line was a stark reminder that Bush is still married to the girl of his youth, through all the ups and downs of his alcoholism and career. Bush did not "marry up"; he married down for the woman he loved. Kerry, in contrast, married up for his first wife, dropped her, and then married up big-time for his arrogant billionairess second wife. Which guy would you trust for steady leadership? ... Game, set, and match to GWB.

I agree, with the exception that I'd modify Dave's line about Laura to read "Bush did not 'marry up' in social class or wealth."  I suspect Dubya would be the first to agree that in terms of character and strength, he couldn't have made a better pick in the country than his blushing school librarian bride from Midland.

Update (Thu Oct 14 @ 1:20am):  Okay, if WaPo's Tom Shales says that Kerry won "very narrowly," and David Broder doesn't claim a Kerry win, and the LAT calls it a tie — that means Bush actually won.

Posted by Beldar at 10:06 PM in Politics (2006 & earlier) | Permalink


Other weblog posts, if any, whose authors have linked to Beldar's take on the third presidential debate and sent a trackback ping are listed here:

» Final Debate Wrap-Up from ~Neophyte Pundit~

Tracked on Oct 13, 2004 10:58:52 PM

» Bush, Passion & The American People from Truth, Lies & Common Sense

Tracked on Oct 13, 2004 11:17:57 PM

» Wrap-Up of the Third Presidential Debate (MSM, Conservatives and Liberals) from bLogicus

Tracked on Oct 14, 2004 3:26:58 AM

» The Thursday Morning Politics Roundup from Notes from the (Legal) Underground

Tracked on Oct 14, 2004 5:19:30 AM

» Last Debate, Thank You! from Pajama Pundits

Tracked on Oct 14, 2004 10:36:31 AM

» Don't Mess With Momma from Right on the Left Beach

Tracked on Oct 15, 2004 12:15:46 PM


(1) TC made the following comment | Oct 13, 2004 10:31:05 PM | Permalink

My newest favorite observation of Kerry is that he's a real tough guy at home and "will fight everyday" for this group and that, but he won't stand up to France - among the most impotent nations in the history of the world.

(2) Heavy B made the following comment | Oct 13, 2004 10:34:24 PM | Permalink

I only caught snatches on the radio but Bush hit it into the bay with the "listen to her" line in response to the question about power wives. I'm lukewarm on W; He has my vote but I'd feel a lot better if Laura were in charge of the free world, in accordance with the axiom to never imbue with power those who seek it.

Condi Rice in '08!!!


(3) David made the following comment | Oct 13, 2004 10:34:31 PM | Permalink

But tell us what you really think...


The pith of your comment seemed to be the paragraph that included the "I will certainly concede that the man talks a good game" comment, and your closing paragraph.

And all other issues aside—and despite my quarrels with some of President Bush's policies and decisions, my concerns about sKerry's flawed positions and past actions are many—th character issue you cite is the key for me. sKerry simply has no readily discernible integrity, no genuine humanity. he is the product of The Abolition of Man foreseen by C.S. Lewis. He is the embodiment of T.S. Eliot's "Hollow Men" writ in flesh before our eyes.

Too creepy by far to inhabit the Oval Office.

Linked your post in my blog for friends and family who once populated my e-logging distribution lists.

(4) Roofer made the following comment | Oct 13, 2004 10:38:55 PM | Permalink

Although I will freely admit to being a conservative, I do believe that, were my political philosophy different, I would still draw the same conclusion about Bob Schieffer's performance as moderator in tonight's debate: Schieffer clearly had an agenda, and fairness and objectivity played no part in it.

Couple that with Dan Rather's fraudulently derived hit piece on President Bush a few weeks ago, and it's even more clear that I cannot trust CBS to provide fair and balanced coverage.

CBS News has permanently, and KTVT has at least temporarily, lost a viewer. I know that you do not control or even necessarily endorse CBS News. But I also believe that the only way to let CBS know that I believe it has abandoned all pretense of journalistic integrity is to tell its affiliate stations my opinion AND to back up that opinion with action.

(5) MaDr made the following comment | Oct 13, 2004 10:40:28 PM | Permalink

Viewed from the perspective of an uninformed voter (I'm guessing) this was a tie. If you knew only a little this was a slight Bush win. From Team Kerry and the Left though, it must be very disappointing - this was Kerry's strong point afterall.

No major gaffes from either candidate, except maybe a small one (based upon population, not outrage by those offended). First Edwards, now Kerry have outted Cheney's daughter as a lesbian. This is probably just another example of the insensitivity of the Left - Kerry's never proved himself more as belonging by this outrageous outting.

Bush missed several opportunities to hit hard. First, by not explaing that the flu shot shortage was the fault of 1) trial lawyers, and 2) the Dems refusing to grant indemnity to US manufacturers for liability. Bush should also have pointed out that this was an excellent example of the Dems outsourcing US jobs by opposing tort refoem and having to ultimately rely on foreign manufacturers. Bush lost this question whereas he could have delivered a TKO.

Schieffer was as biased in his questions as Lehrer. He alos cut off several questions that if allowed to proceed Bush may have been able to knock it out - bias, yes. Very disappointing, but not surprising (CBS afterall). I noticed tonight that Kerry's left eye seemed sleepy. Did I miss before or was it just tonight? Bush was energetic and engaged from the beginning, but he looked older and tired too me - compared to 2nd debate.

Stem cell question was maybe a slight Kerry win because so many Americans seem to support. Bush blew a major hit by not jumping on Kerry's Bible quote - to the effect that faith without deeds is worthless. That perfectly paints Kerry. He has this personal faith/beliefs, but he's not going to impose them on anyone, ie no deeds. Bush missed a good opportunity here. I fault his staff. They should have started months ago, keeping him up later at night and sleeping later each day. His early to bed and early to rise does not work well for what was for him a late night debate(s).

Kerry intra-debate inconsistency. He mentioned both $9,000 and $13,000 amount less Americans are amking under Bush created jobs. Bush blew it by not pointing out, but worse, it's not true!

Draft & alliances - again Bush missed an opportunity to point out the draft was a Dem bill and France & Germany have said no way to troops.

Role of faith - big win for Bush. Most Americans consider themselves guided by the morals/principles gained from their faith. Kerry looked uncomfortable discussing.

Uniting the country. Why didn't Bush point the finger at the Dems for playing politics. From Homeland Security to obstructing judges, to filibustering an energy bill. Why energy wasn't a major topic I can only attribute to the fact that Bush could have hammered Kerry on his gas tax and more importantly obstructing Bush's energy bill, which if passed, we would already be receiving the benefits. I'm sure Schieffer knew this and purposely avoided.

Strong women question was an obviously biased question to let Kerry off the hook for all the outrageous things Tereza has said. It was also a powder puff question, not fitting a Presidential debate.

Closing arguements - Bush, solid win.

(6) Kate made the following comment | Oct 13, 2004 10:57:57 PM | Permalink

Will you marry me?

(7) Beldar made the following comment | Oct 13, 2004 11:04:34 PM | Permalink

Kate, assuming that comment was directed to me, I'm very flattered. But trust me on this one: Even Laura Bush wouldn't be able to put up with my crusty ways, nor be likely to be able to reform them.

(8) Allan Yackey made the following comment | Oct 13, 2004 11:50:15 PM | Permalink

I would give ten years off my life to see John Kerry in the same room for five minutes with the Swift Boat Vetrans or three minutes in a room with the POWs of Stolen Honor.

You would not need audio.

(9) Tom Maguire made the following comment | Oct 14, 2004 12:00:26 AM | Permalink

Re: "Marrying up" - I don't even need to look this up - in one of the 2000 debates, when each candidate was asked to say something nice about his opponent, Bush said of Gore something very like "Like me, he married up".

That is surely what Kerry was trying for. Unfortunately, it works for Bush (and Gore) since "up" in the case of Laura or Tipper pretty clearly means style, composure, grace, and so on.

When Tall John uses that with Teresa, his second wife, it flops. Especially if he then emphasizes the money thing himself with his ghastly "And some would say maybe me moreso than others."

Terrible answer for Kerry.

(10) Joe made the following comment | Oct 14, 2004 4:19:52 AM | Permalink

Dammit, I missed that bit when Kerry was making the joke that fell flat and Teresa's reaction - I was checking the livebloggers instead (that's how boring the debate was, overall). I did see Teresa's reaction shot at the very end and that was one unhappy woman.

Being in the D.C. area I'm very, very familiar with Tom Shales. He had to reach some last week to claim that Kerry won the second debate and if he's only claiming that Kerry won very narrowly, he must really, really be spinning this time - and if even the LA Times can't claim any better result for Kerry than a draw, well, there it is. Not ready by any means to say that's all she wrote, but Kerry needed a big win last night to keep his momentum (such as it was) going, and he definitely didn't get it. Even a draw works to help Bush.

(11) MOz made the following comment | Oct 14, 2004 4:31:14 AM | Permalink


"Just as I fought for our country as a young man, with the same passion I will fight to defend this nation that I love."

Hmmmmmm ... VietNam 4 months - early out - own choice - VVAW - Fullbright - Paris .....

God save America from such a passionate defender .........

(12) GT made the following comment | Oct 14, 2004 7:16:06 AM | Permalink

Jeez, guys I would have thought after the two first debates, where conservatives claimed Bush won only to have reality contradict them, you would have changed the tune.

Every single post debate poll shows more peopel think Kerry won the debates. Gallup shows a win almost as big as that of the first debate.

(13) Deb made the following comment | Oct 14, 2004 7:26:17 AM | Permalink

Much as I dislike Kerry, I tried to just watch and listen to him last night. Tried. Very hard. You know, nothing exits his mouth without placing blame on W for something.

Win, lose or draw - I don't see him gaining anything in November except a seat in sore loserdom.

(14) Dave Schuler made the following comment | Oct 14, 2004 9:17:15 AM | Permalink

Looking at Kerry and THK together is like watching actors in an Edwardian stage play.

Beldar, it's funny you should mention that. I can't remember who I heard say this but someone said the GWB looks like someone who plays the president on TV and Kerry looks like someone who plays the president in a stage play.

(15) Porcell made the following comment | Oct 14, 2004 9:23:35 AM | Permalink


Thanks for the fine piece. I agree that the president has grown in office. Last night he struck me as poised and articulate, capable of handling a crushing responsibility with a certain grace. He is clearly a bright man of deep faith with strong backbone and a sense of humor.

Kerry is a phony war hero who slandered the Vietnam vets and is the possessor of a quite thin Senate record. In Massachusetts, my state, knowledgeable people have long regarded him as an impressive consort of wealthy ladies but essentially a hollow man and a transparent poseur.

This is my obviously unbiased take on the candidates.

(16) Mike Thomas made the following comment | Oct 14, 2004 10:12:56 AM | Permalink

Wow. This one was the biggest win for Kerry of the three debates according to the snap polls:

CNN/USA Today/Gallup: Kerry wins 53%-39%.
CBS News poll of uncommitted voters: Kerry wins 39%-25%
ABC News: Kerry wins 42%-41%, even though their audience leaned heavily Republican.
Democracy Corps: Kerry wins 41%-36%.

But I knew I could rely on Beldar to still say that Bush won. :)

By the way, are you still standing by your take on the first debate:

”Kerry needed a Bush screwup, a huge gaffe to change the dynamics of the race, and it didn’t happen. Thus in the big picture, Bush won.”

Since then here is what the polls have done (via Daily Kos)

ABC News (likely voters)
October 1-3: BC-51, KE-46
October 10-12: BC-48, KE-48
Net shift: +5 Kerry-Edwards

ABC News (registered voters)
October 1-3: BC-50, KE-45
October 10-12: BC-47, KE-47
Net shift: +5 Kerry-Edwards

Washington Post (likely voters)
October 1-3: BC-51, KE-46
October 10-12: BC-48, KE-49
Net shift: +6 Kerry-Edwards

Washington Post (registered voters)
October 1-3: BC-49, KE-46
October 10-12: BC-46, KE-48
Net shift: +5 Kerry-Edwards

I would say that Bush’s performance in the first debate was one big gaffe. So far it has been the key factor in turning the tide of this election.

(17) jay made the following comment | Oct 14, 2004 10:29:50 AM | Permalink

Beldar, I agree that this was a "win" for Bush, but DISAGREE strongly (thus, all caps) that Bob Shieffer was unfair. In fact, because of the CBS scandal, I think the moderator went out of his way to be fair--and as a result, Bush "won" on what was supposed to be Kerry's ground.

So we have an odd result, in my opinion: Kerry "won" the foreign policy debate, and Bush "won" the domestic debate. Go figure.

Oh, and by the way, you can stick a fork in Kerry. Because he didn't score last night he's done.

(18) Mark made the following comment | Oct 14, 2004 10:42:37 AM | Permalink

I agree with Mike regarding the debates. Even though to us, Bush clearly won on substance in all three debates, and probably fought to a draw in the last two debates on style, to the public (who are the ones that matter here), Bush's pathetic presentation in the first debate seems to be key. I don't expect to see any bumps in the polls happening as a result of any of the other debates.

It's very depressing that so many Americans will base their vote on presentation over substance, but that's the reality we're faced with. The initial debate was key.

(19) jackson white made the following comment | Oct 14, 2004 11:09:25 AM | Permalink

Mark, as this has shaken out it appears Bush connected more with the general public on style last night. I, for one, was relieved with his performance and watched it quite objectively--I gave the first two debates to Kerry. Oddly, Bush has come off a lot better on the domestic issues and given his lead on the war on terror this probably means a win at this point.

(20) Kathy made the following comment | Oct 14, 2004 1:13:44 PM | Permalink

Kerry secured his base. Bush secured his base. And if most of the undecideds are women, Bush scored big there because of the way he spoke of his wife and daughters. In contrast, Kerry made his wife (and prime fundraiser) visably unhappy. If I was dying, I wouldn't be saying to my children "integrity, integrity, integrity" - they have it beyond any doubt. My favorite Bush lines: "...and he is on the far left bank" (french double entendre maybe) "litany of complaints isn't a plan" and "His rhetoric does not reflect his record." My favorite Kerry line: "I've passed 54 bills" (in 20 years even this seems puny, although adding an ammendment isn't authoring a bill so the number is obviously smaller). If winning a debate is winning over voters, IMHO Bush wins.
Beldar - Great blog!

(21) jcrue made the following comment | Oct 14, 2004 1:17:58 PM | Permalink

Jeez, guys I would have thought after the two first debates, where conservatives claimed Bush won only to have reality contradict them, you would have changed the tune.

Every single post debate poll shows more peopel think Kerry won the debates. Gallup shows a win almost as big as that of the first debate.

Gee, would that have anything to do with the obvious (D) effort to send their followers to every poll on-line or elsewhere in order to skew results in favor of a Kerry win?

"Vote early, and vote often" as the saying goes. . .

(22) MD made the following comment | Oct 14, 2004 2:10:50 PM | Permalink

Is it just me, or did Bob Schieffer look like a cadaver last night? Of course, a cadaver could have come up with better questions.

Kerry made his personal wealth an issue in the last 2 debates (strictly on his own initiative), while insisting he will "protect" and "fight for" the middle class. Not good.

Kerry took a jab at Cheney's daughter, and by extension, her parents, again unprovoked. Not good. Moms don't like that kind of stuff.

In the last 2 debates, Kerry consistently bumbled through questions on gay marriage, his own marriage, abortion, and faith (Do I hear Catholics running to vote for a Methodist?). Liberals don't even see this bumbling and are completely tone deaf to it, because they consider these issues to be non-issues, mere window-dressing for the masses, a ritualistic ornament of campaigning in America. However, the "masses" (that darn middle class again) don't necessarily agree with that assessment.

(23) Green made the following comment | Oct 14, 2004 2:23:06 PM | Permalink

Bush to voters - "Do not forsake me oh my darlin."

(24) GT made the following comment | Oct 14, 2004 3:54:12 PM | Permalink

No jcrue it would have NOTHING to do with that.

You are confusing online polls with telephone polls.

I'm sorry you don't like it but the polls are clear. Kerry won.

(25) Beldar made the following comment | Oct 14, 2004 3:57:51 PM | Permalink

Mr. Thomas, thanks for your thoughtful comment.

I do stand by my comment after the first debate. I think that to win the election, Kerry needed Bush to make a gaffe comparable to Jerry Ford's in 1976 about Poland. Over the course of the three debates, each candidate gave the other side some stuff to mock and highlight, but neither did anything remotely as damaging to their own campaigns as what Ford did.

I would agree with you that overall, the debates have been a boon to Kerry's candidacy. Debates put a premium on glibness, which is his strong point, and spending an aggregate of four and a half hours on national TV with the sitting President, whoever he is, helps a challenger. But I think Kerry's net gains will be marginal, and considerably offset by intangible negatives that have more to do with subjective perceptions of his character than the pundit/debate judges' scorecards. And even those marginal gains are likely to fade considerably over the next three weeks; glibness has a short half-life.

But my conclusions aren't based on polls. You may note that I've yet to write a single post on this blog about polls. I think they're all basically witchcraft, wishful thinking, and the worst kind of pseudo-science. I rue the fact that they have any power to themselves affect the election, and I don't intend to further their pernicious effect by blogging about them. (My commenters remain free to quote from, link to, and argue them if they so wish.)

(26) Tim made the following comment | Oct 14, 2004 4:13:07 PM | Permalink

Have to agree 100% with your post, but (as Kerry would say)the online polls were a wash with the massive DNC online campaign for all MSM outlets. Hardball post-debate segment continues to be orgasmic about Kerry's stiff and cookie-cutter performance. Worst camera shot of the night: Teressa's face as Kerry saying that he married upward, as in the Wizard of OZ throw water on her face and I bet she melts.

(27) jackson white made the following comment | Oct 14, 2004 4:42:00 PM | Permalink

It's odd, but the only significant gaffes were made last night by Kerry--the attack on Mary Cheney, and the "marrying up" line. Two weeks from now, those will be the only memorable things from any of the debates.

(28) Cap'n DOC made the following comment | Oct 14, 2004 5:25:00 PM | Permalink

"First, by not explaing that the flu shot shortage was the fault of 1) trial lawyers, and 2) the Dems refusing to grant indemnity to US manufacturers for liability."

Anybody know about Hillary's efforts on the part of vaccination/innoculations for school kids? My memory is failing me, but it seems like she had something to do with that type of a program whilst she was the First Lady.

(29) Drugstore Cowgirl made the following comment | Oct 14, 2004 8:21:27 PM | Permalink

What I have gleaned from the debates is that Kerry is basically a man without a country. He really does not, nor ever has it seems, any real respect, regard or love for his country. He is driven by power and ego and an extreme left wing ideology. He has no loyalty to anyone. I have no idea what his behavior was to those to whom it would have been natural to exhibit some fealty before he made himself known by his heinous behavior after he got himself removed from the Navy.All we can know is that he has shown a willingness to stab compatriots in the back, lie, slander,cheat and smarm (?) his way to whatever his objective is. He is Eddie Haskell...a total suck up to those in authority or his superiors or those he wants something from but scathing and disrespectful about them behind their backs. A creep. And it frightens me silly to think of him being the President of the United States of America.

(30) Todd made the following comment | Oct 14, 2004 9:07:02 PM | Permalink

I basically agree with Beldar's response to Mike Thomas regarding the effects of the debates upon the election, specifically that being onstage with the President for 90 minutes (and not looking like a complete goof in doing so) was bound to help Kerry a bit in the polls.

But, despite the closer national race (helped along by convenient manipulation of the numbers of Republicans and Democrats in each so as to create the illusion of a tightening race), Bush remains very much in command in the electoral college.

For example, Rasmussen Reports had Bush with a 213-169 lead in the electoral college on September 30; today, Bush leads 240-194. Over at electoral-vote.com, whose lefty owner has been spewing nonsense about a Kerry surge, Bush remains ahead as of today, 284-228.

The bottom line is that Bush appears likely to carry Florida and, if he also carries Ohio, which is very likely, the election is over. That's without Bush's winning Wisconsin, in which he leads, or states like Iowa which are rated toss-ups.

The real interesting - and unfortunate aspect -of the election will come afterwards when the Dems once again attempt to litigate their way to the Presidency. It didn't work last time and won't work this time, either. At some point the adults need to take back that party from the kids.

(31) VaJim -notalawyer made the following comment | Oct 16, 2004 8:48:18 AM | Permalink

As a trial lawyer (!) how should your presentation stack up in a month-long case? In Kerry v. Bush the defense had a lazy start, but beyond question finished much stronger in the end.

To extend the litigation analogy, the debates were an evidentiary portion, and we are now in a dizzying round of summations.

It seems Bush set up his presentation well in the third debate; the main follow-ups have been about Kerry's gay-baiting gaffe and Edwards' claim that stem-cells confer eternal life to those of his faith. Neither seems to have played well for them, they're appealing to the basest part of the jury.

(Kerry's reply about strong women in his life is inconsequential to the jury, but may be of consequence to him. After the audible audience groan at his 'lezbo' remark, he lost vibrancy. This was the final debate, the high point of presentations; unless Teresa is particularly forgiving, she may exact a similar toll.)

Simply taking the debates at their face value, Bush 'lost' two and 'won' the last one. But again, the real win is how well it sets up the closing arguments.

(32) chaizzilla made the following comment | Oct 19, 2004 2:15:05 AM | Permalink

- My mother would have assumed I would have integrity in the same situation.

too bad, it sounds like a reminder that no one would suffer for hearing, especially when it's about something important.

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