This evening George Bush and John Kerry will square off in the first debate of the 2004 presidential campaign. I, for one, am giddy with anticipation. Yawn.
My liberal ideology burdens me with an obligation to help my fellow human regardless of his or her political affiliation. That being the case, here is my non-partisan advice to those wanting to witness an exciting battle of wills: Tonight at 7 p.m., tune your television to UPN and watch Kurt Angle square off against the Big Show on WWE “Smackdown!”
Both battles have been choreographed right down to the lighting and camera angles, and both sets of contestants have fine-tuned the image they will try to present to the public. Sure, one event has a predetermined winner and loser, but regardless of the outcomes, none of the four are likely to gain or lose many fans. Why not watch somebody get hit with a chair?
Seriously. Prior to this debate, Bush and Kerry agreed on a 32-page “memorandum of understanding” governing the contest’s rules and regulations. The memo provides for how far apart the candidates will be (so ol’ W. won’t look short standing next to Kerry’s chin), when cameras can and cannot show the candidates, room temperature and even the moderator’s pre-approval of pens and paper for taking notes.
Bush and Kerry will not be allowed to ask each other direct questions or demand pledges. There will be no opening statements. They will not be allowed to use charts. A strict time limit will be enforced.
In a Scripps-Howard article published Wednesday, Hans Riemer, political director of Rock the Vote, criticized the debate format.
“It’s just pathetic,” Reimer said of the scheduled debates, “Two guys who want to be president who are afraid to talk to one another … I want a sense that anything can happen, and that’s just not the direction we’re going.”
The reason why presidential debates have become so constricting over the years is, interestingly enough, the very reason for having them. A formal debate allows the candidates to face each other and engage in impromptu discussion and dissent. In a debate it is not the candidate’s slated policy, but rather his unrehearsed personality and presentation that often determine victory or defeat.
In years past it has been the little things that have elevated candidates to greatness or dug them into destitution. Nixon’s forehead, Reagan’s one-liners, George H.W’s impatience and Al Gore’s sigh all became the major determinants of that candidates’ victory or defeat in their debates.
The “memorandum of understanding” has sucked the opportunity for insight into candidates’ personalities out of the debate and turned it into what Riemer calls “television ads for the campaigns.”
This is wrong; as voters attempting to choose the leader of our country we have a right to see the two candidates engage in a real debate, not some processed and homogenized shell of a confrontation.
Until the men vying to lead our country gather the courage to really square off, these pseudo-debates should be avoided by the American public.
Vote with your remote; watch “Smackdown!” and wait for debate highlights on “The Daily Show” or “Saturday Night Live.”
Joe Marshall is a senior history major. His column runs every Thursday in the Collegian.