“Going to the Candidates’ Debate. Laugh about it, Shout about it, When you’ve Got to Choose, Every way you Look at It, You Lose” Paul Simon…or Not by Ivy Harper

August 25, 2012


WASHINGTON, D.C. –  (exclusive) by Ivy Harper

I cannot remember ever missing a televised Veep or Presidential debate. At least since 1976 when candidate Gerald Ford sunk his Commander-in-Chief chances by declaring that there was “no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe.”

I randomly saunter in and out of Super Bowl gatherings but I won’t miss a minute of a debate. And although the nuns growing up in Grand Island repeatedly counseled us not to brag, I must say that over the years, I’ve gotten really good at calling winners long before the pundits weigh in or the elections occur.

For example, I said right at the time of Al Gore’s second debate with George Bush that Gore’s obnoxious harumphing, disdainful sneers, and loud sighs were going to cost him the election.

OMG, and then when Gore angrily strode over to Bush’s lectern with a menacing look that said, “I’m gonna punch your lights out,” rather than give a mean, macho look back, George W. Bush just gently raised his eyebrows, did a smooth double take, and calmly telegraphed to everyone watching, “Al, you’ve got to chill out, man. This is a debate, not a fight club.” Bingo. Bush won at that precise moment. Later, a number of surveys showed that Bush’s deft handling of Gore’s obvious contempt for him probably made the difference in that close election.

Gore did not act like a gentleman. And while Americans may be many things, most voters want to believe that they’re fair. Gore being Gore and being a jerk offended Americans’ view that candidates – at least when millions are watching their every move – should be civil.

Al Gore despised George W. Bush and that fact jumped through the airwaves. It’s sad, too, because all he had to do was act magnanimously towards Bush for a couple of hours. But Gore couldn’t do it. His I-had-a-U.S. Senator-for-a Father/St. Alban’s sense of entitlement was so strong and his overarching belief in his intellectual prowess over Bush was so stratospheric that he simply could not even pretend – just for the debate – that they were equals.

My point: I’m writing this in the hopes that Bob Kerrey doesn’t go all Al Gore with Deb Fischer. Will someone in the Kerrey campaign please make sure that Kerrey reads this before tomorrow afternoon’s debate?

Please. No sneers, no smugness, no eye-rolling, no insufferable Al Gore moments. Just be Nebraska nice. Remember, Senator Kerrey, you wax poetic about ranchers. And Deb Fischer is a real rancher. In another Post, let me remind you of the reverence with which you’ve written about farmers and ranchers during your years as Governor.

Sure, you know The Ways of Washington. We get that. But how well has that worked out for America in the past couple of decades. Congress has created the United States of a Mess and you were once a sitting Member.

By contrast, Deb Fischer knows the way the land works. And that’s something you’ve always said impresses you. A whole lot. So, don’t forget that fact and make certain that the Nebraskans watching the debate get a genuine feeling that – despite your deep ideological differences with Deb – you appreciate her and understand that she is your equal.

Indisputably, men don’t have it easy in debates because the male/female dynamic is different – and dicier – for guys than it is for women. Recall that moment in one of the last GOP presidential debates when Mitt Romney reached out and placed his arm strongly on the shoulders of Rick Santorum. Had Romney done that to a woman, it would have come across as patronizing and off-putting.

Remember in the New York Senate debate when Hillary Clinton’s GOP opponent Rick Lazlo physically approached her and it came across on television as semi-threatening. His numbers tanked directly after that bone-headed, bully-like move.

My point: Kerrey must strike the perfect tone, literally and figuratively, throughout the entire State Fair debate. He cannot come across as crotchety or cocky about policy because Nebraskans know that the country’s best and brightest still brought us to the brink of bankruptcy.

Most of all, Kerrey cannot come across as dismissive; again, because the sub-text these days is this: for years, America has ostensibly had smart politicians running it and look where we are. Perhaps, it really is time for ranchers, mothers, nurses, educators, journalists, and hospital chaplains to take over the reins for a while.

On the other hand, Kerrey’s bid for a third term truly could be the charm if he can – without denigrating Senator Fischer or annoying her fans – convince Cornhuskers that the nation needs another George Norris and that He. Is. That. Man. The right man at the right place at the right time.

But Kerrey won’t be able to present that compelling case successfully if he acts – because of his prior Senate experience – all sanctimoniously superior towards the state’s first federal female GOP candidate since the long-gone days of the popular Congresswoman Virginia Smith.

Bottom line: I still wish that Senator Mike Johanns – who’s been on the government dole for more than twenty years straight – would step down so Nebraska could have both a rancher from the rural 3rd District – Senator Fischer – and an urban entrepreneur from Omaha and Lincoln – Senator Kerrey – in Congress. Talk about ideal; then, the state would have authentic representatives who are both native Nebraskans, Lincolnites, and NU grads. Wow, how awesome.

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