There You Go Again (Opinion Column)


By: Paul Murano – October, 2012

Now that we are in the month of the popular reality series called ‘Presidential Debates’ we recall the spontaneous line, the rehearsed cry, and subtle movement of body language that won and lost elections in the past and altered the course of history. The first televised debate was Nixon vs. Kennedy in 1960 and then debates became a regular part of the presidential cycles from 1976 on. Television helped Kennedy win the 1960 election Since then TV has played a major role. Tthe following are 12 pivotal moments in campaign history that have altered elections and the course of the world:

“The Cry” #1

Edmund Muskie of Maine, frontrunner for the Democratic nomination in 1972 was reported to have cried on camera after someone attacked his wife. He claimed it was really melted snowflakes on his face, but soon after resigned from the running. Male politicians crying had not yet become fashionable as it is today, and was seen as a sign of weakness. George McGovern took the Democratic nomination that year and ended up losing to Richard Nixon in a landslide.

“There is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe.”

This gaff in his 1976 debate against Jimmy Carter did in President Ford, losing to Carter by an extremely slim margin.

“I am paying for this microphone, Mr. Green!!”

This one angry line from Ronald Reagan during a 1980 NH primary debate, when the moderator tried to turn his mic off, probably landed Reagan the Republican nomination. George H.W. Bush had just won the Iowa Caucus. Although this debate forum was paid for by the Reagan campaign there was confusion in the room as to who would be allowed to participate. After Reagan delivered this memorable line the crowd went wild; and he went on to win the NH primary and the Republican nomination.

“There you go again.”

When Reagan delivered this line to Jimmy Carter in the 1980 presidential debate he got laughs from the audience and it assured the American people he was not the Monster the Carter team had painted him to be. His poll numbers immediately surpassed Carter and he went on to become president.

“Where’s the beef?”

As a take-off on the Wendy’s Hamburger commercial, Walter Mondale delivered this line to Gary Hart, who was polling much better than Mondale at the time, for the 1984 Democratic nomination. The numbers quickly turned around and Mondale became the nominee.

“I will not make age an issue of this campaign; I am not going to exploit for political purposes my opponent’s youth and inexperience.”

In 1984 when people were considering voting for Walter Mondale because of Reagan’s age and poor debate performance in round one of Reagan vs. Mondale, he came out with this line. Doubts were erased and he won a second term by a wide margin.

Dukakis’ death penalty answer

In the first question of the Bush/Dukakis 1988 debate CNN’s Bernard Shaw asked Michael Dukakis if his wife Kitty were raped and murdered would he support the death penalty for the killer. Dukakis gave a non-emotive statistical response, which didn’t go over well with the electorate and earned him much negative press. As a result, after leading Bush by a substantial margin in October he lost to him in November.

“Read my lips, no new taxes.”

The famous line of George H.W. Bush in his 1988 acceptance speech at the RNC came back to haunt him. He lost to Bill Clinton in ‘92 largely because he raised taxes after making that promise.

Staring at his watch

While debating Bill Clinton in 1992 the cameras picked up George Bush 41 staring at his watch as if he had better things to do with his time. This seemingly aloof attitude was the headlines for a while afterward, leading to a Clinton victory.

“I served with Jack Kennedy; I knew Jack Kennedy; Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy.”

This line from Lloyd Bentsen directed at Dan Quayle during the 1988 vice-presidential debate was the talk of campaign. However, it wasn’t enough to catapult his running mate Mike Dukakis to the presidency.

The Nod

As if Al Gore’s sighs during the first 2000 presidential debate were not enough to seal the deal, when he got in the face of George W. Bush during a town hall style debate, Bush simply looked to his left, gave him a nod, and continued answering. Gore’s inconsistent debate performances cost him the election.

The Cry #2

This one was produced by Hillary Clinton right before the 2008 NH primary where she was down in the polls after losing to Obama in the Iowa caucus. Most of the press called it genuine but I have my doubts. During a televised interview her “cry” won her the sympathy vote and hence the NH primary. Without that cry there would not have been a long drawn-out race for the 2008 Democratic nomination.

After watching one debate in this 2012 presidential season I still await that one moment or that one line that will change the course of this election. So far the best line has come from outside the campaigns, from comedian Dennis Miller in a Tweet during the October 3rd debate: “Obama better hope a Kicked Ass is covered under Obamacare.”