Ghosts of VP Debates Past

Ransom Riggs

As the nation gets ready to hunker down in front of their TV sets tonight and watch the hotly anticipated Palin-Biden debate, I thought it was only appropriate to revisit a few notable moments from VP debates past. We may not remember all of their names (who was Dukakis' running mate again?), but their words -- a few of them, at least -- still ring in the halls of history.

Dukakis questions Quayle's readiness

OK, it's a presidential debate, not a VP debate, but the question sounds awfully familiar, as does its wording -- phrases like "a heartbeat away from the presidency" and "downright scary" have a pretty healthy shelf-life, it seems. (One interesting feature of last week's prez debate: Obama never asked this question.)

1984: Bush-Ferraro debate

Undoubtedly, this is a debate that's been watched and re-watched over the past few weeks by both campaigns, Biden certainly hoping to avoid an applause-getting tongue-lashing like the one Ferraro gives Bush at the end of this clip (for deigning to "teach her about foreign policy" -- sound familiar?)

1988: Senator, You're no Jack Kennedy

One of the most famous put-downs in a vice-presidential debate -- heck, in a debate period -- was in the 1988 Bentsen-Quayle matchup. After the moderators questioned Quayle several times about his readiness and the wisdom of Bush I choosing him, he came out with this:

1992: Stockdale's Unfortunate Trail-off

Admiral James Stockdale, Ross Perot's running mate, was one of the most decorated officers in the history of the US Navy. He was a war hero, and had been brutally tortured as a prisoner of war in Vietnam for seven years. But he was almost totally unprepared for the VP debate, and his poor performance in it cemented an image of him as a doddering old man. In a 1993 standup routine, Dennis Miller defends him vehemently:

Now I know (Stockdale's name has) become a buzzword in this culture for doddering old man, but let's look at the record, folks. The guy was the first guy in and the last guy out of Vietnam, a war that many Americans, including our present President, did not want to dirty their hands with. The reason he had to turn his hearing aid on at that debate is because those animals knocked his eardrums out when he wouldn't spill his guts. He teaches philosophy at Stanford University, he's a brilliant, sensitive, courageous man. And yet he committed the one unpardonable sin in our culture: he was bad on television.

Just how bad was he? This is the clip that's since become legendary:

I don't know about you, but I have a feeling that after tonight, there'll be a few more clips to add to this hall of fame.