The Green Papers Commentary

The Presidential Debates of Election 2000 loom

Monday, October 2, 2000

"The Green Papers" Staff

No... they in fact have the nerve to call them "Debates"; yet, they are hardly debates. A true debate is where a proposition is put forward ("RESOLVED: that Light Blue should henceforth be known as 'Skye' ") and each side- Pro and Con- in turn defends its position vis-a-vis that proposition- and only that proposition- subject to things such as time limits and various (ofttimes arcane) rules enforced by a Moderator.

What the Nation (at least that part of the Nation not glued, instead, to Game 1 of the American League Division Series between the New York Yankees and the Oakland Athletics) and, indeed, the World will be witnessing roughly once a week over the two weeks beginning the evening of Tuesday 3 October will be a series of what are, in effect, Joint Press Conferences held by Governor George W. Bush and Vice-President Al Gore. The only difference between an actual joint Press Conference and these (alleged) Debates is that there will here be little yellow and red lights within the candidates' purview which will restrain the amount of time either candidate will be allotted in order to answer a given question put to them: however, there- apparently- will be NO restraints whatsoever regarding whether the candidate's answer will be required to have anything at all to do with the topic of the question itself; this is- in and of itself- the closest resemblance these (supposed) Debates will have to a Press Conference... or a joint appearance on Meet the Press !

Governor Bush was recently quoted- as he appealed to our own "soft bigotry" in order to lower all our expectations relative to his potential performance in these debates [there is nothing better than taking a potential dominating team and then arguing it would be lucky should the team finish 4th: this way, if the team ends up finishing 3rd, it can still be claimed as a "victory"... the sad fact is that expectations regarding how Mr. Bush will do in these (reputed) Debates are already so low that, if one reads the mainstream press, one gets the distinct impression that the Texas Governor would be considered lucky to have finished third in what is, after all, a two-man competition!]- as saying that the rest of this year's General Election campaign is all about "2 weeks of debates and 3 weeks of 'get out the vote'." The Texan is, of course, correct- to a point: in reality, however, these very Debates are as much about "get out the vote" as any other event during the course of the Fall campaign (why else would we so waste our time with VICE-Presidential Debates, which add absolutely nothing to our sense of where the presidential candidates [Americans are ostensibly voting for PRESIDENT, after all!] stand on the issues of the day [but, of course, I'll address this further in my next Commentary after the first Presidential Debate!]).

Like the National Party Conventions, these (putative) Debates are- for the most part- merely "preaching to the choir": they are not so much about convincing the Undecided voter to vote for a particular candidate (though, truth be told, they do accomplish this to a limited extent) as they are about making sure that candidate's base voter doesn't end up retching at the mere sight of his or her candidate's campaign handbills, buttons and posters by the time General Election Day rolls around. It is for this reason that gaffes and missteps by the candidate(s) become all the more magnified during these... well... circus performances; after all, it wasn't the Carter or Undecided voter who was the most moved (in the negative direction) by President Gerald Ford's rather incredible statement- during the 1976 Debates- that Eastern Europe did not then consider itself dominated by the Soviet Union: rather, it was the Ford voter who suddenly realized he would now have more than a tough enough time the next morning explaining to those standing around the office water cooler exactly how he could possibly be seriously supporting Mr. Ford!

The (reportedly) Debates, thus, give each candidate the opportunity to stand on the same stage as his opponent and then, after his opponent has had a chance to speak, make his own comments- ostensibly on the issue presented by the question originally asked of his opponent- but in reality (once one sorts through all the verbiage) saying little more than "you've just heard my opponent, you who would ordinarily be among my most loyal supporters: I know some of you might have your doubts about me as your favorite candidate- but see that guy over there? You wouldn't want THAT guy in the White House now, would you??!!" In short, both Governor Bush and Vice-President Gore will be using these Debates primarily to convince their base voters that stopping at their local polling place after work come 7 November might just be a little better and more important activity to engage in than rushing home to catch that basketball or hockey game on TV that same evening!

Don't expect to hear much more in these Debates than what you've already heard the candidates say on the Campaign Trail or seen in the candidates' respective Acceptance Speeches before their Party's National Conventions two months ago. If there is any "news" coming out of these (professed to be) Debates, chances are it will be news not particularly good for the candidate unfortunate (or, perhaps, stupid) enough to have actually made such news!

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