Tonawanda News

Columns

October 3, 2012

DUVALL: Debates are flub fodder, but not very much else

We have reached my absolute favorite stage in any political campaign: the debates!

This being a presidential year, it is especially amusing.

I’m not sure what I love more: the run-up to the debate when candidates do their best to convince people they’re blithering idiots in a cynical attempt to lower expectations for their performance, or when they actually fail to meet those lowered expectations.

Who am I kidding? I really love it when politicians screw up.

With the knowledge that any serious attempt to evaluate what the candidates should say is next to impossible, I propose we relive some of my favorite debate moments from this and previous presidential campaigns.

We have to start with the granddaddy of putdowns, delivered by an otherwise unmemorable vice presidential candidate, Texas Democrat Llyod Bentsen. 

In 1988, Bentsen was running with the equally forgettable Michael Dukakis against George Bush. As you remember, Bush’s vice president was Dan “PoTAYtoe-PoTAHtoe” Quayle. 

Quayle’s presence on the ticket was intended to bring some youthful balance because even in 1988 George Bush was really old. To explain away his youthful inexperience, Qualye had taken to reminding people he was the same age as President Kennedy when he ran for office. The rather obtuse comparison irked Bentsen, who had served in the Senate with Kennedy.

So when Quayle was asked about his inexperience, Bentsen was ready with this verbal two-by-four: “Senator, I knew Jack Kennedy. I served with Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. You, senator, are no Jack Kennedy.”

Quayle’s wimpy response didn’t help: “That was really uncalled for, senator.”

I also enjoy this example because it illustrates just how useless and overblown vice presidential candidates are. I mean, if Dan Quayle can do it ...

President Obama had a memorable exchange with Hillary Clinton during the 2008 primary that is probably cause for some awkward seat-shifting during national security meetings these days. 

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