As any political
novice who has been through even one campaign can tell you, debates
cannot help you; they can only hurt.
The objective in a debate is to not make any major mistakes
thus not giving people a reason to vote against you.
Since this policy works so well in local elections, there is no
reason to believe it wouldn’t work in a presidential election.
So why hasn’t Al Gore, after a lifetime in politics, learned this?
Either by design or
by default, the Bush team seemed to understand this.
They knew all Bush had to do was present a presidential image
– not too frat-boyish, informed on the issues, level headed.
By most accounts, even if it was relative in terms of
expectations, Bush did just that.
Gore, on the other
hand, kept trying to reinvent himself for each debate, looking for
that magic formula that would propel him to victory in the minds of
the debate watchers. Should
he be the aggressive Gore? Or
maybe the brainiac Gore? I
know, lets try the thoughtful, introspective Gore.
As people watched
each passing Gore, they gave him credit for knowing the “numbers,”
but began to question what kind of person Al Gore really was.
In essence, he won the battle, but voters began to question if
he was fighting on the right side.
The tide began to turn in the war.
One can almost
imagine the scene in Gore Headquarters.
After winning the first debate they probably expected an easy
coast through numbers 2 and 3. But a funny thing happened on the way to inauguration.
Post-debate spin. Gore’s aggressiveness caused him, in the heat of the moment
to say some things that weren’t exactly true - Even giving him the
benefit of the doubt and saying they weren’t intentional lies. Gore and his campaign knew this was his Achilles’ heel and
they should have been alert to it.
Instead, expecting the debate to help him achieve victory, Gore
blustered his way to a major mistake.
No apology, no amount of contriteness in Debate II could make up for it. (Let’s face it, we’ve seen all the lip biting and excuses we can stand in the last eight years.) The damage was done. Far from helping him, his performance in Debate 1 will be seen as the turning point in Campaign 2000. Ironically, a debate he won.
© Joseph M. Giardiello, 2000
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View expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Political USA.