December 28, 2006

Presidential Debating

Presidential Debates in American elections have assumed an importance over the years that makes them a key part of any campaign. Famous moments like Lyold Bentsen's I knew Jack Kennedy, you're no Jack Kennedy quip in the Vice Presidential Debate of 1988 or Ronald Reagan's "There you go again" in the Presidential Debate of 1980 have become part of American history. Not to mention of course the most famous debate of the lot- between Richard M. Nixon and John F. Kennedy in 1960 which supposedly won a tight election for JFK by showing him at his youthful best as opposed to what seemed to be a tired Vice President.

Its fascinating therefore to find this set of interviews from PBS with all the participants they could find in debates going back to 1976. There are lots of interesting moments, both Ronald Reagan and Dan Quayle thought they were over prepared for the debates. John Anderson, Admiral James Stockdale and Dan Quayle reflect on the difficulty of the debate format in accomodating a third party candidate. Perhaps the most surprising aspect is how some politicians, notably George Bush, recoil from the whole idea of a debate, Bush described the debates he was involved in thus

Its show business, Jim, its not really debating or getting into detail on issues or what your experience has been. Too much prompting, too much artificiality, and not really debates. They're rehearsed appearances.

It may be show business, but its extremely important show business, and very interesting to hear about it from the candidates themselves.


james higham said...

Unless, like Carter/Ford in my earlier post, they both look like Daleks or worse still - cardboard cutouts. It's a pity it has to be on TV. I've always felt a radio debate would cut out a lot of the hoopla.

Gracchi said...

Yeah they do look a bit odd- its the thing often said about the debates. It does seem a bit odd when George Bush loses votes for looking at his watch- but hey that's the way things go.

A. said...

due to the polarized state of affairs in american politics, debates are becoming less impt. i think very few undecided voters use debates to make a decision and even fewer loyalists change their minds after seeing them . . . they are great entertainment however! that's why people watch . . . in the hopes of the opposing candidate making a flib --Bill

Gracchi said...

Bill I agree with you about that- there is a sense in which it isn't an opportunity to find out about the candidates as much as a race they have to run, and in which you hope that the opposition to you is the person who makes the trip up. Bit convoluted but basically I agree with you- I think that's echoed in the way the pols on PBS describe it, as a ball game, or President Bush 1's frustration with it.