Presidential debates have changed considerably in style and substance over the years. In theory they should give us a good idea of where the candidates stand on various issues, but anyone who pays attention to politics already knows their positions. What debates really offer is an opportunity to see how the candidates handle themselves under pressure, and to give us a comparison of their style and demeanor.
This year the debates are stacked to insure they'll be dull and useless. The committee that hosts them has upped the ante so that no one with less than a 15% rating is invited. This cynical move is designed to squeeze out all of the third party candidates, and guarantees that the Bush-Gore debates will be the least watched in American history. There's simply no reason to watch a debate between two members of the same party: the Republicrats.
Nader, Buchanan, and Browne should be invited to the debates, if only for entertainment value,. Nader, to represent the country's growing nanny movement. Buchanan, to represent the paranoid xenophobe vote. And Browne, because that's who I'm voting for. Browne is just wishful thinking on my part. The Libertarian platform is based on logic and an insistence that the constitution means what it says, two things vehemently opposed by the country's largest voting block, the American Sheeple. (There's also the little matter of Libertarians being loath to join groups, including their own party. You can't organize Libertarians because they're so damn libertarian.)
A "bipartisan" committee of Republicrats insures the debates will never be opened up, so we can only speculate on what a debate that included Ralph and Pat would be like.
George Bush would tell us how he watched oil being pumped to run our cars. The Algore can tell us how he plans to eliminate cars, but that's why he invented the helicopter. Nader can tell us that all our cars are deadly and we should all be taking the bus. Buchanan can tell us how, just outside the debate hall, he made some nice tips parking cars.
Bush can tell us how proud he is to live in a country where anyone can get rich merely by having wealthy parents and friends. Gore can tell everyone who worked their tails off to get rich how lucky they are to win life's lottery. Nader can tell us how he's just a common, average guy who despises the rich so much he has kept his portfolio down to a mere four million dollars. Buchanan can ask if anyone has twenty bucks he can borrow until Tuesday.
Bush can duck the issue of his youthful drug use. Gore can admit he inhaled. Nader can vilify the pharmaceutical companies. Buchanan can tell us how long he's been off his meds.
Alas, none of that will happen, and we're going to be subjected to debates between the two Republicrats, if they can stop bickering about the format. Format and presentation are important. People who heard the first Nixon - Kennedy Debate on the radio thought Nixon was the clear winner, but people who watched it on TV thought Kennedy blew him away. Like it or not, style matters more than content.
Bush knows Gore will beat him in standard, stand-behind-the-podium debate. Gore thrives in that environment; it's an artificial atmosphere and he's a cyborg. If Bush makes a mistake in that venue, (and he will), he'll look foolish, while Gore is unlikely to make mistakes. Unencumbered by any need to work for a living, he has spent a lifetime memorizing trivia and becoming the perfect political wonk, with pat answers for everything. He'll not only know the name of the president of Yubetchia, he'll know the country's location, climate, and economy. He'll knows their primary export is boots, their national symbol is the three toed sloth, and that the Yubetchian sloth has a rectal temperature of 94.2. Bush, on the other hand, won't know which hemisphere it's in. Viewers are likely to mistake Gore's vast store of trivia for ability and experience, never realizing that Yubetchaia is a fictional country from an old Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoon. ("You've never heard of Yubetchia Boots?") Gore, of course, would know that, but won't mention it in a debate.
Bush wants a talk show format, a venue that would make his less polished approach an asset and Gore's robotic demeanor a liability. If he screws up talking to Larry King, well, it was just conversation. (Maybe, if we're lucky, he'll pretend he thinks the microphone is off and call Gore an asshole.) We'd get to see the two of them as real people, not dull, posturing politicians.
In the end, it doesn't matter much, because either way debates will be so dull most citizens will spend them watching Seinfeld reruns, hopefully the one where they are trying to get seated in a Chinese restaurant. The debates will have be much more interesting before we'll bother with them.
First, let's make each of the candidates happy by giving them one debate in the format of their choosing. We'll start with the formal debate and get it out of the way. Gore will win. Then they'll do a talk show together and call it a debate. Bush will win that one.
Then we need two more debates, debates that people will pay attention to, because they'll be able to participate. The third debate will be an online chat, where anyone can ask any question they like. We'll need some kind of drawing to keep the numbers manageable, but nothing should be done to limit the participants to people who are friendly or intelligent. People will be able to ask anything they want: "How would you handle a flare up in the relationship between Pakistan and India?" "How would you strike a balance between the health of the economy and the health of local ecosystems in economically depressed areas?" "When you're doing your wife doggy style, do you ever pretend she's Brittany Spears?" There would be no time limit. The debate would be allowed to degenerate into a flame war, and the loser will be the first person to make a reference to Nazis.
For the final debate there will be no moderator. Instead, we'll have a bartender. George and Al will take turns doing Jell-O Shots until one of them falls down. And most of the country will be playing along, delighted that there is finally a debate that allows them to actively participate.
Play Rock'em Sock'em Robots
An earlier THMC Article, The Frog and Peach, discuses just how rotten our choices are.
© 2000 Dave Hitt