Where you stand on who did best in the first presidential debate depends on where you sit. Outlook picked a few key quotes to show how listeners with different perspectives might have absorbed different messages from the same statement.
PRESIDENT BUSH: What my opponent wants you to forget is that he voted to authorize the use of force, and now says it's the wrong war at the wrong time at the wrong place. I don't see how you can lead this country to succeed in Iraq if you say wrong war, wrong time, wrong place. What message does that send our troops? What message does that send to our allies? What message does that send the Iraqis?
Republican ears: That's John Kerry all right, flip-flopping again, not supporting our troops in the field and not showing respect for the other countries that have sent troops and aid to Iraq.
Democratic ears: Bush is trying to stifle criticism of his mistakes. He's the wrong guy, at the wrong time, in the wrong job. There's a difference between decisiveness and recklessness.
SEN. KERRY: I've had one position, one consistent position: that Saddam Hussein was a threat; there was a right way to disarm him, and a wrong way. And the president chose the wrong way.
Democratic ears: He's right. Bush rushed to war, and we're paying for it.
Republican ears: Oh, really, Sen. Kerry? So how come you voted for doing it the wrong way?
PRESIDENT BUSH: A free Iraq will be an ally in the war on terror, and that's essential. A free Iraq will set a powerful example in the part of the world that is desperate for freedom. A free Iraq will help secure Israel. A free Iraq will enforce the hopes and aspirations of the reformers in places like Iran. A free Iraq is essential for the security of this country.
Republican ears: He's got the vision thing!
Democratic ears: What is he talking about? Iraq isn't essential to our security and it's not an example of anything except poor planning.
SEN. KERRY: No president, through all of American history, has ever ceded, and nor would I, the right to preempt in any way necessary to protect the United States of America. But if and when you do it, you've got to do it in a way that passes the test, that passes the global test where your countrymen, your people understand fully why you're doing what you're doing, and you can prove to the world that you did it for legitimate reasons.
PRESIDENT BUSH: I'm not exactly sure what you mean "passes the global test." You take preemptive action if you pass a global test? My attitude is, you take preemptive action in order to protect the American people, that you act in order to make this country secure.
Democratic ears: Bush is always insinuating that the Democrats would let the United Nations tell us what to do. That's nonsense. Preemption is the really scary idea. What is he going to do? Invade every country we don't like?
Republican ears: Kerry's more concerned with being loved by foreign leaders than with making America secure. Bush is exactly right; leadership means making hard choices.