The presidential debates are upon us. Wednesday night in Denver, President Barack Obama and his GOP challenger, Mitt Romney, will square off in Denver to talk about domestic issues. Romney has been preparing feverishly, working on zingers to fire at the president, and both campaigns have been working to lower expectations for their candidate.
Of course, in reality, the rest of us probably should lower our expectations; only once has a debate definitively changed the course of a presidential election. For all the zingers and gaffes, it’s exceedingly rare for a debate to be decisive.
Nevertheless, while debates may not alter the playing field much, they do produce great political theater — and sometimes, they have an impact beyond the election. Here’s a quick look at ten debate moments that stand the test of time.
Here are ten debate moments that are indelibly etched on the political consciousness — whether they swung their election or not.
10. “Who Am I? Why Am I Here?”
Admiral James Stockdale was a great man and a national hero. He endured seven years in a North Vietnamese prison camp, where he endured torture and deprivation. His service earned him the Congressional Medal of Honor. Stockdale would go on to lead the Naval War College and later, the Citadel. He was a bright man who did far more in service to his country than most of us could dream of.
Unfortunately for Stockdale, he accidentally became Ross Perot’s running-mate in 1992. Perot supporters had used Stockdale as a placeholder candidate for vice president as they worked to get the Texas billionaire onto the ballot. Then Perot dropped out, and then he got back into the race, and by the time it was all said and done, there was no time to replace Stockdale. Instead, the retired Admiral was thrust into a debate with Sen. Al Gore, D-Tenn., and Vice President Dan Quayle.
It did not go well.
Stockdale’s performance made him the butt of jokes. He was portrayed as a doddering fool, rather than what he was — a non-politician thrown onto the national stage with no preparation. Stockdale’s performance certainly didn’t cost Perot the election — Perot did more to damage his chances than anyone — but it did leave people with a completely backward impression of Stockdale.
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