Sunday September 25, 2016
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There are few things that, when read or heard, are immediately understood as being of historic importance. Just say "Super Bowl" and, unless you live in a nation that does not include the words "United States of America" you know immediately what it means - in all its contexts, in all its textures, in all its colors, tones, and hues.
If you do live outside the United States then the equivalent is "World Cup." And that happens only once every four years.
Like "The Presidential Election;" also a quadrennial event.
During every Presidential Election cycle there are debates. This year's first debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump has simply become known as "The Debate" and is arousing the same sense of national breathlessness as "Super Bowl" or "World Cup."
After the two major parties select their nominees, the debates are usually between those two candidates. Occasionally, such as the 1992 cycle, third party candidate H. Ross Perot was polling well enough to get into the debates and turned out to be very good at them.
In that 1992 cycle, Ross Perot came up with his description of NAFTA - the trade agreement with Mexico - and its effect on moving jobs to Mexico from the U.S. as "that giant sucking sound."
Given the positions on trade that Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have been espousing, Perot's answer sounds very familiar. Very familiar.
You can watch the clip on the Secret Decoder Ring page.
Make no mistake. "The Debate" matters. It may matter a great deal because the two candidates don't meet again until Sunday, October 9 - after nearly two weeks of nattering and babbling about who won, and what the perceived loser has to do to regain his/her footing in the next debate.
In the first debate between President Ronald Reagan and challenger Walter Mondale in 1984, Reagan was seen has stumbling over his thoughts and words. The immediate reaction (CNN was only four years old and Fox News Channel was a dozen years from its birth) was that Reagan was showing his age (nearly 74) and might have been losing his grip.
Reporter Dave Weigel, wrote on Slate.com
"Reagan confessed to [adviser Stu] Spencer that he had flopped. According to Jack Germond and Jules Witcover, when Mondale left the stage, he confided to an aide that 'This guy is gone' -- as in mentally not all there."
A poll conducted by Gallup and Newsweek "found 54 percent of debate-watchers giving the victory to Mondale, and only 35 percent to Reagan." Reagan's 18-point pre-debate lead immediately dropped by seven points.
In the second debate, Reagan diffused the age issue very quickly with this famous line:
"I will not make age an issue in this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent's youth and inexperience"
Senator Mondale was 56 years old, had served two years in the U.S. Army, had been Jimmy Carter's Vice President.
If you watch the clip (also on the Secret Decoder Ring page) you will see Reagan delivered the line with such grace that even Mondale broke up with laughter.
Reagan went on to win 49 states (525 Electoral Votes to 13) in 1984 and won the popular vote by the fifth most lopsided margin in history: 58.8% to 40.6%. Ross Perot came in third in 1992 but may have tilted the election toward Bill Clinton and away from George H.W. Bush.
There are many such moments that have been produced by these debates and no one should be surprised if "The Debate" adds to that library. Nor, given the build up, should we be surprised if the whole thing comes off as a dud and the two candidates come out of "The Debate" more-or-less in a tie.
The most likely result is that Clinton supporters will passionately believe that she won; Trump supporters will be equally fervent in claiming he was the clear winner.
You and I can discuss that tomorrow night when "The Debate" is over.
On the Secret Decoder Ring page today: Promised video links to Ross Perot and Ronald Reagan, plus a pretty interesting (and sortable) Wikipedia chart of Presidential election results through the years.
The Mullfoto is of a very interesting train sitting at Union Station last week.
Note: This version corrects Mondale's bio.
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