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Wednesday, September 29, 2004

LET'S GET IT ON?
The trail has been relatively quiet this week as the candidates have sequestered themselves to prepare for tomorrow night's first debate in Coral Gables, Florida. Kerry chose to hole himself up at a "resort" (note to Kerry camp: don't ever use the word "resort," even if that's what it is) in Wisconsin where he has apparently been working on his tan. Meanwhile, Bush bunkered down in the brush of Crawford, Texas where he has spent the week working on those tricky, multi-syllabic words.

The media has labeled these debates as the one chance voters have to see the candidates in an unscripted, spontaneous light. That assertion is pretty much bullshit unfortunately. In pre-debate negotiations, both campaigns have done all they can to control each and every aspect of the debates, from the style of writing utensils allowed on the podiums to the size of each candidate's dressing room. For the Kerry camp, getting three debates instead of two, as Bush had hoped for, was a victory. For the Bush camp, raising the temperature in the hall and lowering the podiums were key.

Yes, the Bush team fought for, and won, the stipulation that the podiums be set ten feet apart and only 50 inches tall to minimize Kerry's 5-inch height advantage over the president. Call it the elimination of the "midget effect." The Kerry team also gave in to its insistence that the temperature of the hall not exceed 70 degrees, a request no doubt inspired by the notion that Richard Nixon lost his 1960 contest, the first-ever televised debate, with Kennedy because he perspired heavily under the hot lights. As one GOP operative said about Kerry, "He's a sweater, and women don't like sweaters." Thank god the important issues are finally rising to the surface. Never let 'em see you sweat.

Everyone has talked ad naseum about the importance of these debates, particularly this first one which focuses on foreign policy. There will be two more debates in the coming weeks, both of which will focus on domestic issues. But this is the one people will pay the most attention to. After the first debate, people tend to tune out. Apparently, for most of the population, 90 minutes of non-stop politics is about all they can tolerate in a single four-year span. That's why Bush and Kerry, particularly Kerry, need to shine tomorrow night. This is also why Kerry has been bombarded with advice from all ends of the political and media spectrum. The Nation suggests Kerry should hammer the president on Halliburton, while The Hill suggests Kerry challenge Bush to a windsurfing contest off the coast of Nantucket and the Boston Herald tells him to "Be Like Broccoli." Even former vice president and vanquished Bush foe Al Gore had some advice for John Kerry today. Sigh.

In his piece, Gore mentions the practice of "lowering expectations," a tried and true tactic of debate preparation. The idea here is that each candidate should set the bar particularly low so that even the most minor achievements will be seen as victory. For Bush, the expectations are exceptionally low. He pretty much just needs to get through the 90 minutes without forgetting his own name and he'll be declared the victor. For this reason, the Kerry camp has spent the last week attempting to raise the expectation bar of the incumbent by talking about how savvy a debater Bush is, pointing to the fact that he has never lost a head-to-head contest. Meanwhile, the Bush team has attempted to label the Kerry the greatest debater since Cicero. That's not an exaggeration, that's a quote. Of course, this statement from Gore is one to ponder: "If anyone truly has "low expectations" for an incumbent president, that in itself is an issue."

All this preparation and pre-debate analysis will be shoved aside at 9 pm tomorrow when "the sweater" and "the midget" take the stage. And what would a presidential debate be without some good 'ol fashioned drinking games thrown in? Yes, since these debates are really nothing but dual press conferences full of spin and scripted soundbites, we may as well lessen the torturous 90 minutes by getting absolutely schnockered while we watch. Thankfully, Wonkette has fulfilled her duty and provided us all with a few rules of the game, included among them:

Drink One Sip If:
- Anyone says "Halliburton"
- Anyone says "flip flop"

Drink Two Sips If:
- Anyone mentions blogs
- Anyone invokes the hurricane sympathy vote
- Every time you see anyone wearing the yellow "LiveSTRONG" bracelet

Finish Your Glass If:
- Bush mispronounces any word or name
- Anyone attempts to speak Spanish to pander to Latinos

Do a Shot If:
- Bush mentions the deficit
- Bush accuses Kerry of being "French on terrorism"
- Ralph Nader shows up insisting on airtime

Finish the Bottle If:
- Anyone challenges anyone to a duel
- The moderator rips off his mask to reveal his true identity is Karl Rove

I honestly don't know what to expect, but I do know my expectations have been lowered. Part of me hopes Kerry will just become unhinged, storm across the stage, grab Bush by the throat, lift him high into the air for all to see and then relentlessly pound his face until that smirk falls right to the floor. But that probably wouldn't help him in the swing states. Man, if only we had Howard Dean right now. He wouldn't give a shit. He'd just walk right over, kick Bush in the balls and give us all a victory scream to be proud of. Oh Howie, how we long for thee.

Enjoy the debate everyone. Drink up.



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