In the Arena

There’s something almost gladitorial about watching a debate. Think about it—two grown men sparring with each other, using ideas, words, guestures, and makeup as weapons. OK, the analogy does break down, but there is something that excites one’s spirits when viewing this phenomenon.

Perhaps it’s watching the candidates sweat bullets when given a tough question—though admittedly the tough questions are few and far between. Or, maybe it’s the joy one receives in eliciting an “ahah!” when a candidate answers a different question than the one he was intitally asked. Seldom does a question’s answer even remotely resemble what was asked in a debate.

Or maybe it’s just the anticipation of the quotables that never fail to emerge from such venues. I think of an aging Ronald Reagan winning a debate with Mondale with a single joke:

“I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience.”

Then there was Lloyd Bentsen’s unseating of Dan Qualye with the words:

“Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy.”

The 2000 debates saw Al Gore talking about “lockboxes” and Bush accusing him of “fuzzy math.” Perhaps even better than the quips from the debates are the SNL parodies that come afterward.

What will come out of the arena of the 2004 debates? Will John Kerry talk endlessly about Vietnam? Will President Bush accuse Kerry of using “fuzzy English” in his answers? Time will answer these questions, and we, the people will give the gladiators the “thumbs up” or “thumbs down.”

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