More than 200 substance-starved spectators squeezed into the Kennedy School's Town Hall last night to watch Vice President George Bush and Massachusetts Gov. Michael S. Dukakis do battle in their first television debate.
The heavily partisan crowd applauded Dukakis's attacks on the vice president's connections to the Ayatollah Khomeini, Manuel Noriega and Ferdinand Marcos. The crowd erupted for many of the Duke's one-liners, including his reference to Bush's 1964 characterization of Medicare as "socialized medicine" and his description of Bush as the "Joe Isuzu of American politics."
But the crowd, straining for a view of the one small screen, was bipartisan in its disapproval of both candidates' cliches. Dukakis's references to his immigrant origins and Little League drew as many groans as Bush's "Thank God for America."
Both Dukakis and Bush supporters at the Institue of Politics-sponsored event said the debate, in which a panel of journalists questioned the two presidential nominees, clarified many issues for undecided voters.
"[The debate] brought out the strengths of each," said Joseph H. Cice '89-90, a Dukakis supporter. "Bush came across as the traditional, conservative, strength-minded candidate he is. Dukakis showed idealism, compassion, hope and concern."
David R. Ackley '91, the assistant youth coordinator for Students for Bush in Massachusetts, said that while Dukakis was at times "pretty evasive," Bush had "clarified the difference between the left wing and America's political mainstream."
Several spectators at the standing-room-only event said the questions were substantive, citing issues of AIDS, the deficit and health insurance.
Dukakis and Bush supporters alike said the governor appeared the more seasoned, more composed, more experienced public speaker. But they were divided over who won.
Ackley said that Bush surpassed low expectations, emerging as "personable and presidential."
Rick Louie '90, chairman of Harvard Students for Bush, said Dukakis's frequent attacks on the vice president had revealed a "dark side."
Proclaiming Dukakis the clear victor, Linda Rottenberg '90, chairman of Harvard Students for Dukakis, accused Bush of pandering to the public on issues such as education, welfare and the environment. Criticizing Bush for what she called his "unrealistic domestic policy," Rottenberg said Bush does not "put his money where his mouth is."