Clicking on banner ads enables JWR to constantly improve
Jewish World Review Dec. 6, 1999/27 Kislev, 5760

Tony Snow

Tony Snow
JWR's Pundits
World Editorial
Cartoon Showcase

Mallard Fillmore

Michael Barone
Mona Charen
Linda Chavez
David Corn
Greg Crosby
Larry Elder
Don Feder
Suzanne Fields
Paul Greenberg
Bob Greene
Betsy Hart
Nat Hentoff
David Horowitz
Arianna Huffington
Jeff Jacoby
Marianne Jennings
Michael Kelly
Mort Kondracke
Ch. Krauthammer
Lawrence Kudlow
Dr. Laura
David Limbaugh
Michelle Malkin
Chris Matthews
Michael Medved
Kathleen Parker
Robert Samuelson
Debbie Schlussel
Sam Schulman
Tony Snow
Thomas Sowell
Cal Thomas
Jonathan S. Tobin
Ben Wattenberg
George Will
Bruce Williams
Walter Williams
Mort Zuckerman

Consumer Reports
Weekly Standard



Commiting dullness rather than news -- THE BIG QUESTION before last Thursday's Republican presidential forum was whether George W. Bush, making his maiden voyage as a GOP debater, would step on his diction.

He did not. He remained mostly grammatical and even managed to cough out a soliloquy about Tier 2 sulfur standards for gasoline -- thus proving he could answer an obscure question nobody cared about.

Meanwhile, his competitors proved again that Republicans are different from Democrats. They kept their attacks polite, their answers tame and their demeanor gentlemanly. John McCain fired off a couple of stump-speech jokes about his ill temper and got in an unexpected plug for "Weekend at Bernie's." Steve Forbes excoriated "Washington politicians." And the rest of the crew behaved as expected: Alan Keyes, fiery; Gary Bauer, polished; Orrin Hatch, present.

"Dial groups" assembled by showed McCain a winner, followed by Forbes and Bush. (Dial groups measure people's instant reactions -- positive and negative -- to what they're seeing and hearing.) Alan Keyes meanwhile won an online poll conducted by -- proving that he is the most eloquent of the batch.

Despite all that, the event was a status-quo bit of political theater, not likely to prepare anybody for hand-to-hand combat with Al Gore or Bill Bradley. The key for the front-runners is that neither lost.

Still, the laggards in this campaign harbor a legitimate gripe about these public forums -- that they shed little light or heat. They are interesting only in flashes -- Ronald Reagan's burst of temper in Nashua, New Hampshire 20 years ago; Bob Dole demanding that George Bush "stop lying about my record!" or Gerald Ford's premature liberation of Poland in 1976.

Alan Keyes may excite some online viewers, but he can't speak in any depth during these forums about his misgivings with regard to global governance. Gary Bauer can't flesh out his complaint that the Republican Party tends to value big bucks more than the misfortunes of little people. Instead, these guys have to be content shooting off bottle rockets and hoping to ignite an electoral conflagration in the bargain.

Orrin Hatch, bless his heart, recommended a way to lift the level of the discourse -- only to be greeted by laughter. He suggested 1) that all six campaign together in New Hampshire and Iowa and duke it out in a series of public contests on the issues and 2) they hold real debates in which they control the content. Steve Forbes expressed his preference for Lincoln-Douglas debates, in which each participant gets a chance to cross examine the others.

These are great ideas, and thus certain never to happen. Television producers would hate them because they could prove unwieldy -- and difficult to interrupt with commercial messages. Journalists would resist any attack on their control of the content. And many candidates would hesitate to expose their intellectual, political or rhetorical shortcomings.

That said, consider the case for such debates. First, they are way more interesting than what we get now. Just as duels fell out of vogue after aristocrats decided to let their seconds do the shooting and dying, presidential "debates" have lost their luster because politicians increasingly have delegated the business of thinking and speaking to a coterie of advisers and pollsters.

Candidates have developed the ugly habit of lapsing into campaign-trail cant, hoping to fill their allotted time without blurting out something controversial or stupid. They would rather commit dullness than news. And they succeed.

Real debates would raise the stakes for all involved. Candidates would have to know the issues well enough to question each other, and would have to know their own views well enough to express them spontaneously -- and in response to unexpected questions or attacks.

A Lincoln-Douglas brawl would give viewers a true sense of how candidates react to pressure and stress. Would they go crazy? Would they demonstrate calm? Could they use humor to defuse potential confrontations?

A recent survey by the Shorenstein Center at Harvard University shows people are switching off Campaign 2000 even before it starts. They're bored by the extensive but shallow coverage. They're bored with the candidates. And they hate the cattle calls.

One way to spice up life would be to jettison the town-hall forums and ersatz press conferences and let the would-be leaders fight it out in the ring, all by themselves. After all, isn't that supposed to be the point of an election campaign?

Tony Snow Archives


©1999, Creators Syndicate