Commentary: The gymnastics of presidential debates

The Miami HeraldOctober 21, 2012 

That binder full of (disaffected) women wouldn’t help my candidacy, of course. But mostly, I blame the debate process. I know now (sadly, because with that on my resume, it would have really helped my chances at getting on Survivor Season 26) that I can’t be president.

I just couldn’t do it — stand there in peevish discord for 90 minutes — without blurting some awful pun (the least appreciated of the great American art forms) or couching a debate point in sexual innuendo. Or both. Which is why any discussion of the Falklands would be off the table.

I couldn’t, during phony attempts at empathy, suppress a smirk. Or make any pretense that mindless questions from the audience deserve serious responses. “Raise your taxes? Never. Let me be perfectly clear, Jeremy, anybody who can show me photocopy of their absentee ballot with a checkmark next to my name, automatically gets a tax refund and a two-for-one coupon redeemable at any Taco Bell.”

“Deficit? Don’t worry, Melvin. My administration intends to close the deficit by levying taxes on Chinese factory workers, Iranian nuclear weapons and Syrian coffin makers.”

Just standing on stage for an hour and a half without a break would do me in. Given the dimensions of my prostate, at some point during the verbal cage fight I’d be forced to slink off and relieve myself behind the risers. (This would cut into my support from college-educated women who drink cosmos, but shoring up my natural constituency among the beer-addled-redneck-trailer-trash-with-tattoos-of-Carrie-Underwood-on-their-belly demographic.) It just wouldn’t look presidential.

Truth is, I can hardly stand to even watch presidential debates. They’re just too damn similar to the most discomfiting of Olympics sports, women’s gymnastics — a misnomer given that an actual fully formed adult woman couldn’t possibly compete with these barely pubescent midget contortionists.

Olympic gold medals are doled out to gymnasts by a subjective calculation of which performances had the least number of errors. Out there in the vast television audience, we wait, with considerable suspense, to see which teenie girl flops or wobbles or slips or forgets to smile the required perky, flirty smile at the moment of her dismount. The expert commentator marks each flub with a loud sigh and we all shake our heads in faux regret. But wasn’t that fun, watching a child’s humiliation before an international audience?

In the very same four-year cycle, we get presidential debates based on similar criteria. We watch to see who screws up, given that none of the content is particularly enlightening. Everything out of the candidates’ mouths has been thoroughly tested before focus groups. Every spontaneous rejoinder rehearsed. Every opening anticipated. Think of Mitt Romney getting ready for the debates by reprising Robert DeNiro in Taxi Driver. Mitt as Travis Bickle, standing before a mirror practicing his quick draw and demanding of his reflection, “You talkin’ to me? Then who the hell else....You talkin’ to me?”

So this is how we choose the most powerful leader in the world. By uttered rejoinders. “Obama just delivered the rare triple zinger,” sighed the breathless TV commentator. “But he just didn’t stick the landing.”

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