The Quick 10: 10 Interesting Political Debates


So, who will be watching the debate tonight? We're watching it with some friends, at least until one of us gets mad and hurls the T.V. to the floor. And then we'll switch to Army of Darkness. So hopefully the damage to the T.V. isn't too severe.

Here's a look at some notable debates, mostly from the last 30 years or so, with one very notable exception.

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1. The Year: 1984.

The Debate: Vice Presidential, Geraldine Ferraro vs. George H.W. Bush.

The Issues: Experience (sound familiar?), the Catholic Ferraro's pro-choice view of abortion, the Voting Rights Act.

Stitch? Barbara Bush said she thought Ferraro was something that rhymed with the word "rich", but said she couldn't say the word on television.

2. The Year: 1988.

The Debate: Vice Presidential, Lloyd Bentsen vs. Dan Quayle.

The Issues: Experience (ahem), Social Security, family, Nicaragua, the environment.

What People Remember: When Quayle compared himself to JFK and Bentsen responded with, "Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy: I knew Jack Kennedy; Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy."
Quayle: "That was really uncalled for, Senator."

What I find funny is that Ronald Reagan later made fun of himself and this quote when he said about Bill Clinton, "This fellow they've nominated claims he's the new Thomas Jefferson. Well, let me tell you something. I knew Thomas Jefferson. He was a friend of mine. And governor, you're no Thomas Jefferson."

3. The Year: 1858.

The Debate: Presidential, Abraham Lincoln vs. Stephen Douglas.

The Issues: Slavery, slavery, slavery.
Oh, Snap: Lincoln used his speech prowess to bash on Douglas and speak out against slavery: "I agree with Judge Douglas he is not my equal in many respects-certainly not in color, perhaps not in moral or intellectual endowment. But in the right to eat the bread, without the leave of anybody else, which his own hand earns, he is my equal and the equal of Judge Douglas, and the equal of every living man."

Watch Out, Dan Rather: He said that the Freeport Doctrine was "As thin as the homeopathic soup that was made by boiling the shadow of a pigeon that had starved to death," that Douglas evading a question was like a sepia cloud from a cuttlefish, and that one of Douglas' arguments was like making a horse chestnut into a chestnut horse. I bet Lincoln would have made a great sportscaster.

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4. The Year: 1960

The Debate: Presidential, JFK vs. Richard Nixon.

The Issues: Cuba, experience, foreign policy, the economy.

TKO: It's generally agreed that JFK nailed the first debate because it was televised. His relaxed demeanor, tan appearance, dark suite and proper debate etiquette (he looked at Nixon when Nixon spoke, for instance) was a stark contrast from Tricky Dick's first televised debate. Nixon was not feeling well because of knee injury, he refused to wear makeup and appeared to have an unhealthy pallor compared to Kennedy's glow, he wore a grey suit that blended in with the stage background and seemed very tense.

But WHY was Kennedy so Relaxed and Confident? Uhhh. Couple of answers, here. The official reason is that Kennedy and his family had taken a week to vacation in Florida prior to the debates. It's long been rumored, though, that JFK, famous for his womanizing, had enjoyed an, erm, "audience" with a young lady just prior to the debates.

5. The Year: 1976

The Debate: Presidential, Gerald Ford vs. Jimmy Carter

The Issues: Domestic and international policy, mainly.

The Faux Pas: Then-President Ford said, "There is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe." Panelist Max Frankel from the New York Times was so stunned by this comment, he said, "I'm sorry ... did I understand you to say, sir, that the Soviets are not using Eastern Europe as their own sphere of influence in occupying most of the countries there?"

The Candidates Were Stiffs: There was a 27-minute delay when the sound went dead. Remembering how badly Nixon fared on T.V., Carter and Ford just froze for the 27 minutes, fearful that they would be caught in some pose that would make them look bad.

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6. The Year: 1992

The Debate: Vice Presidential, Dan Quayle vs. Al Gore vs. Admiral Stockdale

The Issues: Taxes, the economy, the environment.

Notable quotes:
Admiral James Stockdale: "Who Am I? Why Am I Here?"

QUAYLE: But the question is -- the question is -- and which you have failed to address, and that is, why is Bill Clinton qualified to be president of the US. You've talked about --
GORE: Oh, I'll be happy to answer that question --
QUAYLE: You've talked about Jim Baker. You've talked about trickle down economics. You've talked about the worst economy-
BRUNO: Now, wait a minute. The question was about --
QUAYLE: -- in 50 years.
GORE: I'll be happy to answer those. May I answer --
QUAYLE: Why is he qualified to be president of the US?
GORE: I'll be happy to --
QUAYLE: I want to go back and make a point --
GORE: Well, you've asked me the question. If you won't answer my question I will answer yours.
QUAYLE: I have not asked you a question. I've made a statement, that you have not told us why Bill Clinton is qualified to be president of the US. I pointed out what he said about the Persian Gulf War. But let me repeat it for you. Here's what he said, Senator. You know full well what he said.
GORE: You want me to answer your question?
QUAYLE: I'm making a statement. Then you can answer it.

Random Fact: Admiral Stockdale's full name was James Bond Stockdale. Seriously.

7. The Year: 1980.

The Debate: Presidential, Then-President Jimmy Carter vs. Ronald Reagan.

The Issues: Hostages in Iran, the nuclear arms race

The Deciding Factor? The last debate of this series took place only a week before the election, and is thought by many to have swung the very close race over to Reagan.

Nixon vs. Kennedy, Part Deux. Carter was tense and didn't want to debate in the first place, Reagan was cheerful and humorous. Once, he likened Carter to "The Witch Doctor that gets made when a good doctor comes along with a cure that'll work" and when Carter tried to bring up Reagan's past voting record on issues such as Medicare, Reagan just grinned and said his famous line, "There you go again!"

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8. The Year: 2004

The Debate: Presidential, John Kerry vs. President George W. Bush

The Issues: Largely Iraq, terrorism, homeland security and nukes.

Audiogate/Bulgegate: Ever since Watergate, the press has a habit of tacking on "gate" to any political scandal. Perhaps you've noticed. This particular incident stemmed from the fact that there was some sort of very noticable bulge at the back of President Bush's jacket. Many thought it was an electronic device that allowed him to get answers from someone "“ possibly Karl Rove. Bush later explained that it was the result of a "poorly tailored shirt," and another explanation was that he started wearing a portable defibrillator after choking on a pretzel and passing out while watching a football game in 2002.

"He Forgot Poland." This debate is also remembered for the Poland remark (Polandgate??). Kerry said Bush didn't have international support for invading Iraq, and that his only allies were Australia and the U.K. Bush responded with, "Well, actually, he forgot Poland," and went on to say that now more than 30 nations were in agreement with the U.S. But it's the first sentence of the argument that people seem to remember.

9. The Year: 1984

The Debate: Democratic Primaries, Walter Mondale vs. Gary Hart.

Thank You, Dave Thomas: If you had no idea what year these debates took place, this would put you in the ballpark pretty much immediately "“ Mondale told Hart that whenever he talked about his ideas, he was reminded of the Wendy's ad campaign, "Where's the beef?" Although humorous, a lot of analysts say this remark seriously hurt Hart and his ability to prove that his ideas had some substance.

10. The Year: 1988.

The Debate: Presidential, George H.W. Bush vs. Michael Dukakis.

The Issues: Drugs, Taxes

No Shrimp on the Barbie for Bush: Again with the pop culture references. To address the war on drugs, Bush said, "You know, You know, I saw a movie "“ "˜Crocodile Dundee.' And I saw the cocaine scene treated with humor, as though this was a humorous little incident. And it's bad."

Now Appearing at the Apollo: BUSH: "Is this the time to unleash our one-liners? That answer was about as clear as Boston harbor."