My Debate Prep Regimen

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Mr. Schieffer, whose debate will focus on foreign policy, keeps a three-ring binder on his desk that gets thicker every day with news clippings on subjects like Pakistan and Israel and lists of “smart people” he can call for guidance.

 Whenever he sits down with experts, he brings his assistant to take notes.

 “I’m a very slow writer,” he confessed.

 Jeremy M. Peters, “Playing Roles of Referee And, Increasingly, Target During Debates,” New York Times, Oct. 2, 2012.

First off, you want to check the remote to make sure the batteries are still working. You can’t watch a presidential debate on TV if you can’t turn the thing on. If the batteries aren’t working, I dispatch my assistant Alice (in her spare time, my teenage daughter) to pick up some double-As at CVS.

Next, give the Barcalounger a thorough going-over.  Is the footrest crooked? That sort of thing can take you right out of the flow, so I get down there with a screwdriver and a spirit level and I don’t come up until that baby’s completely horizontal.

Now it’s time to set the color-temperature control. You wanna go with “warm” here, I think. Set tint at midpoint, and lower contrast a little if you’re still on factory settings. I like volume set at three-quarters just in case one of the candidates happens to mumble. To eliminate interruptions cut the power to the doorbell. And of course you want to shut off the phone. Best to do that three days in advance to accustom yourself to silence. 

Sitting prep. Everybody thinks sitting is easy. Everybody is wrong. I prepare with a simple Simhasana exercise, three times a day starting in July, though of course I eliminate the lion’s roar at the end. Don’t want to end up doing that during the broadcast. 

Clothing. I can’t stress enough the importance of loose-fitting garments, though not so loose-fitting that they risk getting caught in the Barcalounger. Footy pajamas are best if you’ve got them. If not, sweatpants, t-shirt, and a machine-washable cotton blanket to guard against unexpected drafts. If it turns out to be an Indian summer night, loose clothing will allow you to strip quickly and quietly to your underwear. Some watch in the nude, but that’s a matter of personal taste.

Many a debate-watcher has mastered all these details only to run aground on the rocky shoals of snack food. Doritos and potato chips: unacceptably crunchy. Go with Pop-Secret Homestyle microwavable popcorn. Prepare it in advance and then soak it in Corman Liquid Butter for three hours prior to broadcast. Leave 20 minutes to dry, then sprinkle liberally with salt. Make sure you’re well-stocked with paper towels and baby wipes. Keep a pitcher of water handythe debaters always doand two Prevail PM adult-sized diapers. Wear one and switch to the second if saturation warrants.

I know what you’re wondering. What if the cable goes out? Keep a laptop handy. But preparation means thinking about the unthinkable. When the laptop doesn’t work you know what to do with that cyanide tablet. Here’s hoping you’ll never have to use it.

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