To me, this is one of the decisive elements that led Kerry to a victory nobody expected. Dubya's people were there, but by the rules of engagement, they were muzzled until it was all over, unable to back up their guy's feeble points with partisan applause. So were Kerry's, of course. But we all know the difference. John Kerry can fight his own battles. Bush never has. His whole life, he's been aware of his own intrinsic weakness, and sought to correct for it by surrounding himself with yes-men, buddies, backers, attack dogs, flunkies, handlers, and hangers-on.
But you take all that away, and it's like Pinnochio's strings are cut. All you see is the scared little boy that somehow never figured out how to grow up--so he learned how to fake it, as a means of compensation. He looked baffled, out of sorts, because without the cheering section, even he had to listen to himself. And even he seemed to understand on some level how lame and empty his answers were. I don't know if this is the format for the next two debates (ie, no cheering 'til it's over), but I hope so. This is the part of Fahrenheit 9/11 that really worked, IMO--taking away all the bells and whistles Rove's people add on, and giving us George W. Bush, au natural. Dubya's people will say the President wasn't himself in this debate. But in fact, this really is the man behind the curtain.