The First Presidential Debate

If there were a movie with this many miscues, I'd receive dozens of e-mails demanding I attend and suffer through the entire thing.

I know we're all fed up with politics, but the first Kerry/Bush presidential debate last week was simply too stunning, too shocking, and at times too jaw-droppingly horrible to be ignored. If there were a movie with this many miscues, I'd receive dozens of e-mails demanding I attend and suffer through the entire thing.

I'm not going to follow the punditocracy and get bogged down in who "won" vs. who "snatched defeat from the jaws of victory with one of the worst debate performances in modern history." I don't do the horse race thing. Rather, let's treat last Thursday's debate as a learning experience, an opportunity to grow as we learn first-hand what not to do when you're in a presidential debate being watched by 60 million likely voters.

1. In response to a question, do not stand mute, blinking dumbly into the camera for a full 15 seconds.
2. Don't voice your opponent's point, e.g. "wrong war, wrong place, wrong time," for him. If you do this, at least try not to do it 20 times.
3. If your opponent excoriates you for being a unilateral tyrant on the world stage, and cites two examples such as an ill-advised war and your withdrawal from a global warming treaty, do not "retort" by bragging that you also refused to join the international criminal court.
4. Even though you're being directly challenged by another person for the first time in four years, try not to look acutely enraged. This scares the soccer moms.
5. Do not literally confuse Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden. Even if you catch yourself halfway, as in "Saddam Hussei - I mean Osama bin Laden," many people - especially those actively engaged in combat - will still find it deeply, deeply disturbing.
6. Do not bark, "Wait, let me finish," when no one seems to be interrupting you. This will lead to widespread speculation that you're talking back to a voice in your head called "God" or, alternately, "Karl Rove."
7. Try not to lean too heavily on Poland as a notable ally in a foreign war, just in case Poland responds by withdrawing from the alliance the following week.

Only four weeks and three debates to go. Then we can talk about something else for a while.


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