Debates lack memorable moments
NEW YORK - Late in their debate, Sarah Palin looked over at Joe Biden and channeled the memory of Ronald Reagan's famed putdown of Jimmy Carter in 1980. "There you go again," she said.
Well, governor, we knew Ronald Reagan. Ronald Reagan was a friend of ours. And, governor, you're no Ronald Reagan.
Debate moments destined to linger in memory beyond the current campaign, like that last paragraph's playful co-opting of Lloyd Bentsen's withering 1988 insult of Dan Quayle, have been missing this year with three down and one to go. The power of the Internet in the YouTube era has gone largely untested.
"The Web has amplified a few moments in the debates, but not many, because there are very few moments worth being amplified so far," said Phil Noble, founder of Politicsonline.com, a company that follows how the Internet is used in politics. "There really haven't been any defining moments in the debates."
Reagan was a master at capturing a debate moment that everyone will remember. His "there you go again" line defused his opponent's attack. Four years later, when people wondered whether Reagan was getting too old for his job, he said he wouldn't make an issue of opponent Walter Mondale's youth and inexperience. Even Mondale had to smile at that one, and the issue essentially disappeared.
Bentsen's attack cemented Quayle's public image as a lightweight. President Gerald Ford was hurt in 1976 when he falsely declared that Poland was not under the domination of the Soviet Union, and Michael Dukakis was damaged in 1988 by his clinical answer to a question on how he'd respond to an attack on his wife.
There have been attempts, particularly from the McCain-Palin campaign, which is running behind in the polls and needs to capture news cycles and the public's imagination. Palin followed her "there you go again" quip with "say it ain't so, Joe," a reference to a 90-year-old baseball scandal.
Palin had asked Biden, as they shook hands before their debate, if she could call him Joe. In the "Saturday Night Live" debate version two nights later, Palin impersonator Tina Fey said it was because she had practiced some attack lines using "Joe."
McCain tried Tuesday night by suggesting that settling on an Obama tax policy was like nailing gelatin to a wall.
"It gets harder and harder with every election cycle to manufacture something that is so obviously a line," said Alan Schroeder, author of "The Presidential Debates: 50 Years of High-Risk TV." "At this point, we've been conditioned as an audience to listen for these things, and they come off as kind of bogus."
An odd McCain moment Tuesday night, when he referred to Obama as "that one" while standing next to him, was replayed on the "Today" show and "Good Morning America" on Wednesday. But the economy, not the debate, was the lead story on the morning shows.