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Gerrymander This- Great Political Debates

Updated on September 27, 2008

Political Debates: like the UFC, but meaner

The first of the 2008 presidential debates between John McCain and Barack Obama is set to take place this Friday in Oxford, Mississippi (briefly my alma mater), I thought it was time to take a look back on some of America's great debates and debaters

There's no set theme here, we'll cover some all around great debates, some zingers, and some big time blunders. All that matters is that they made for a great debate.

Check out this hot candidate-on-candidate action

Lincoln/Douglas- The debate so famous it became its own category

If you were paying attention earlier this year during the primary season, you might have heard Barack Obama challenging New York senator Hillary Clinton to a number of Lincoln-Douglas style debates. What exactly ARE these old-school duels and where did they come from? I don't care if you want to know, I asked the question and I'll answer it myself.

In 1858 another young would-be senator from Illinois was running for office. Abraham Lincoln was in a tight race with democrat Stephen Douglas for a seat in the United States Senate. The two agreed to seven grueling 3 hours debates across the state.

The debates allowed one candidate an hour long opening statement, with even longer rebuttals for their opponnet. They closed out with a half hour rejoinder from the original speaker. These debates were entirely long-form on a single topic. Abraham Lincoln earned himself a national reputation with surprisingly sassy quotes on Douglas' policies, such as "[Douglas' doctrine is] as thin as the homeopathic soup that was made by boiling the shadow of a pigeon that had starved to death."

Given the requirement for sprawling, policy intense speeches, it is no surprise politicians with a history of grand public speaking engagments such as Senator Obama would favor this style of debate.

FUN FACT: Lincoln lost the 1858 election anyways.

See how it happened

Dan Quayle is the Dan Quayliest guy I know

In 1988, the unexperienced Dan Quayle was chosen as the senior George Bush's running mate in the hope that he would bring the youth vote to his side. There was much controversy over whether he had the experience necesscary for the position (sound familiar?).

In the now infamous vice-presidential debate, Lloyd Bentsen responds to Quayle's assertion that he had as much experience as JFK did before taking office with the truly epic burn "Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy, I knew Jack Kennedy, Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine - Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy."

If you actually watch the video, you can see both the look of disbelief and joy on Bentsen's face right when Quayle makes the comparison. There is a man who knows he has been given the perfect chance to throw a punch.

FUN FACT: Vice-Presidential debates don't matter and Bush won anyways. Sorry Joe Biden.

One of them is not happy to be shaking hands

Ronald Reagan Soundbites Jimmy Carter Into Paste

In 1980, the hugely unpopular Jimmy Carter ran into a truck made soundbites and telegenics named Ronald Reagan. Already suffering from the hostage crisis and gas shortages, Carter was battered by the unflappable Reagan, a movie star who could talk his way out of anything.

Attacking Reagan's healthcare and Medicare plans, Carter was summarily dismissed with a scoffing "There you go again!" Carter could make nothing stick against the personable and smooth-talking Californian.

The final nail in the coffin came from Reagan's very simple question to the American public: Are you better off today than you were 4 years ago? This combined with Carter's unpopularity all but sealed the election for Ronald Reagan.

Fun Fact: There was nothing fun about a Reagan presidency.

Where IS Rudy when you need him?

Joe Biden- Best debater, worst candidate

Here's a fact for you: I love Joe Biden. The guy is the best person on the debate floor, period. He says a lot of impulsive, unwise, things, but he gets away with it because he's never presented himself as a guy who would do anything else.

During the recent 2008 democratic primaries, he wiped the floor with pretty much everyone. He brought the house down with his now-classic zinger aimed at Rudy Giuliani. "Rudy Giuliani- there's only three things he mentions in a sentence, a noun, a verb, and 9/11."

Still, he completely bombed out in the primaries. Already a long shot against Hillary Clinton, he was crushed under the gears of Barack Obama (his current running mate) and the senator from New York. Still, he did a great job, and Sarah Palin better put some lipstick on a pig and send it out, because no matter who goes out on that stage, their bacon is going to be put in the fire.

Fun Fact: Joe Biden did get more votes for president than Sarah Palin did for mayor.

So, now that you've had a little refresher course, get ready for this Friday's debate. If all goes well, maybe we'll have a new great debate for 2012's list.


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