Wednesday 13 Oct 2021 | 22:08 | SYDNEY
Wednesday 13 Oct 2021 | 22:08 | SYDNEY

Great moments in US political debates


Sam Roggeveen


15 February 2012 14:10

Yesterday Nick Bryant argued that debating has resumed its important place in the selection of US presidential candidates. As examples of where debates had been decisive, Nick referred to Nixon's famous flop-sweat and Gerald Ford's odd claim that the Soviet Union did not dominate eastern Europe.

Here are a few other memorable moments in US presidential and vice-presidential debating history.

Let's start with George HW Bush's nemesis, Ross Perot, or more specifically, Perot's 1992 running mate, Admiral James Stockdale. Stockdale wasn't always 'on message', as they now say, and at other times he didn't even hear the message:

Ronald Reagan's sense of humour was always a political strength, and he used it in 1984 to defuse claims that he was too old to be president. Reagan's opponent Walter Mondale later said that when he heard this joke, he knew his campaign was over.

Back to 1992, and the simple gesture of George HW Bush checking his watch (first five seconds of this clip) suggested a lack of empathy with Americans suffering through a recession.

In the heat of an argument, few of us can summon the wit for a clever put-down. So what would it be like to express one of those devastating lines that utterly eviscerates your opponent? It would probably look a bit like this, I imagine:

This one is similar to the Bush wristwatch clip above, in that both moments revealed politicians seemingly lacking a touch of humanity. This is from 1988, and Democrat Michael Dukakis gives a technocratic answer to what was really a grossly inappropriate question:  

There are more examples of key US debate moments, but I'll save them for a later post.