With the presidential and vice presidential debates having been set and the moderators announced, debate fever is beginning to decend upon the nation. The debates, while not often major shapers of public opinion (no matter how much survey respondents like to tell pollsters they do), the debates are usually entertaining and informative political spectacles. Since the first televised presidential debate in 1960, there has been a major water cooler event in nearly every debate. But some moments shine more than others. Here is a list of 12 moments in presidential debate history that had people talking the next day.
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Kennedy Framing The Cold War
In 1960, the first and perhaps the most famous televised presidential debate,
John F. Kennedy framed what would be the enduring debate of the Cold War: “Whether the world will exist as half slave and half free.” Kennedy’s address helped reassure the nation that the inexperienced young senator could take the reins from President Dwight Eisenhower and effectively defend the West in a new era of Soviet aggression.
Ford's Eastern Europe Gaffe
“There is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe,” forcefully exclaimed by President
Gerald Ford during a 1976 presidential debate, directly contradicted decades of American security policy. New York Times reporter and debate moderator Max Frankel was so taken aback by this statement that he asked Ford if he understood him correctly. Ford reiterated the point.
Reagan Dismisses Carter
The 2012 election has drawn more than a few comparisons to the election of 1980, when embattled President
Jimmy Carter faced Ronald Reagan. In that election’s only presidential debate, Reagan uttered one of the most notable lines of debate history. In four words, Reagan showed how easily President Carter could be dismissed by responding to an attack with, “there you go again.”
Reagan Jokes About His Age
During the 1984 election, President
Ronald Reagan faced off against former Vice President Walter Mondale. Reagan was 73-years-old at the time of the election and the oldest sitting president in American history. The President's age was an issue during the ’84 campaign, and Reagan addressed the issue head-on in a comedic fashion that both disarmed the sting of the attack on his age and reaffirmed Reagan's wit was still intact.
Dukakis' Opposition To The Death Penalty
In the 1988 presidential debate, Massachusetts Gov.
Michael Dukakis was asked by CNN’s Bernard Shaw if he would drop his opposition to the death penalty if his wife was raped and murdered. Dukakis answered that he would not. The response did not play well with voters. His answer to an emotional question was to respond with statistics that reinforced his position. But, rather than appearing informed, Dukakis came off as robotic. He went on to won only 8 states on election night in 1988.
'Senator, You're No Jack Kennedy'
Vice presidential nominee
Dan Quayle faced off against Sen. Lloyd Bentsen in the 1988 vice presidential debate. Quayle, under attack for lack of experience and unsuitability to assume the office of presidency, attempted to make the case that his experience was equal to that of John F. Kennedy before he was elected president. Bentsen’s response is remembered as one of the strongest debate lines in American political history.
Clinton Finds His Stride
In the 1992 election, amid a painful recession,
Bill Clinton was regarded as the strongest of a weak field of Democrats who chose to run against an incumbent president. Clinton was a relative unknown who only became competitive in the polls after his party’s convention. His response in this town hall-style debate is remembered as lucid, articulate, competent and presidential. It went a long way to proving to a skeptical public that this small state governor could become commander-in-chief.
Ross Perot's 'Giant Sucking Sound'
The third party candidate
H. Ross Perot, running in 1992 and 1996, inspired millions of independent and moderate voters with his straight talking, populist message. Perot opposed free trade arrangements, particularly the proposed NAFTA agreement which would allow U.S. manufacturers to move jobs to Mexico without facing a penalty. He said the result of free trade would be a “giant sucking sound” of jobs moving south -- this line quickly became one of the most remembered lines in politics.
'Who Am I? Why Am I Here'
One of the most infamous moments in vice presidential debate history, providing endless fodder for
Saturday Night Live’s writers, was Ross Perot’s vice presidential nominee, Admiral James Stockdale. His opening line, while an attempt at joviality, reinforced a caricature of his lack of political acumen that stuck with him for the rest of the campaign:
If you thought that was just an attempt to be causal that came off clunky, the rest of the debate didn’t go so great for Adm. Stockdale either. Here, the Admiral attempts to make a point about Vietnam:
Al Gore Tries To Intimidate George W. Bush
The danger of the town hall-style debate cannot be better illustrated than by this particular incident when Vice President
Al Gore steps up to George W. Bush during one of this responses and invades is personal space. Some thought this might be an attempt to project masculinity. Some said it was an effort at intimidating Bush. Whatever the thinking behind the maneuver, Bush’s casual and somewhat contemptuous nod towards Gore deflated this tactic with lightning speed. Gore came off as neither masculine nor intimidating.
Bush Flips At Kerry
When Massachusetts Sen.
John Kerry used a casual stump speech line in a debate during the 2004 election, saying that the U.S. was “going it alone” in Iraq, President George W. Bush was none too happy. He jumped from his seat, shouted down moderator , and prompted to list the nations (and their leaders) that joined the U.S. in invading Iraq. The move confirmed the impression of Bush as a hothead and could have cost him dearly.
Charlie Gibson VIDEO
McCain Calls Obama 'That One'
Probably nothing could have helped Sen.
John McCain overcome the headwinds he faced in 2008 facing Barack Obama. But he did himself no favors in that year’s second presidential debate when he referred to Obama as “that one.” The gaffe prompted many to charge that McCain’s dismissal of Obama as “that one” carried racial connotations, but even as CNN’s noted following the debate, McCain’s apparent “disdain” for then-Sen. Obama was not well hidden.
Wolf Blitzer VIDEO
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