In the 1994 movie Stargate, director Roland Emmerich presented us with an interstellar portal leading to a planet populated by ancient Egyptian look-alikes. Two years later, with Independence Day, he offered a genocidal alien invasion that was overcome by two guys spreading a computer virus. And two years after that, his Godzilla featured a 200-foot-tall radioactive iguana running amuck in Manhattan.
Here is the simplest way to figure out who won the debate last night: When you went to bed, were you thinking more about Bush or Kerry? I was concentrating on the president. I kept thinking about the way he was yelling through the first half of the debate. I couldn't get the picture of him during the cutaway shots out of my head--that blinking blank face, obviously trying hard not to make any of those funny expressions from the first debate.
The splotch that appeared on satellite photos of North Korea two weeks ago was like a Rorschach blot for foreign policy wonks. A cloud of smoke that would have been considered benign in almost any other country (it being in actuality just a cloud) was immediately feared the result of a nuclear explosion, showing just how anxious national security types have become about Pyongyang's weapons program.
Presidential candidates often make statements on foreign policy that they ignore once they get into office. Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, for instance, both promised in their initial campaigns to get tough on China and then didn't. But incumbent presidents don't have this luxury. What they say becomes foreign policy. And in the case of a major issue like the Iraq war, the challenger must also be careful not to make promises he has no intention of keeping.
It looks like I'm wrong about which candidate benefited from tonight's debate. And, boy, am I glad.The commentators on television seem virtually unanimous. On CNN, Jeff Greenfield thinks Kerry looked "presidential"; on MSNBC, Joe Scarborough calls it "Kerry's best performance ever." But maybe the most telling verdict comes from the Fox News panel. When host Brit Hume asks his guests which candidate would gain in the polls after tonight, non-ideologue Ceci Connolly and centrist Morton Kondracke both say Kerry, while Bill Kristol refuses to register an opinion.
Even if you acknowledge the obvious drawbacks--the "debate" was not really a debate, a first-rate rhetorician like Tony Blair would have shredded both these guys, simultaneously--you have to be pleased with last night's proceedings. For once, nobody called anybody a traitor, and both sides used their inside voices. Issues may not have been argued in depth but at least they were aired. It begs a question: What does it say about the campaign that it only got serious when it took on the trappings of a TV game show?Contestant number one hails from Massachusetts.
There's a scene in the cult favorite The Big Lebowski in which Walter, the addled veteran, incensed over possibly losing a bowling match, seizes on a technicality to disqualify his opponent, screaming: "This is not 'Nam! There are rules! ... Am I the only one who gives a shit about the rules?"There's a bit of Walter in George W. Bush this week. Deathly afraid of being challenged on his unraveling Iraq policy, Bush demanded--and won--a series of bizarre rules governing tonight's debate. There will be no rebuttals allowed, for instance.
When I was growing up, my family would, on certain nights, put aside our regular activities to crowd around the living room TV. Sometimes the occasion was a cultural event like "Roots," but what I mainly remember was gathering during election seasons to watch as the presidential candidates stood side by side to debate each other. Scheduled infrequently, occurring live, aired on all the networks, and moderated by a distinguished host, these public contests always possessed a certain grandeur.
I was at the Kitty Kelley book party last week--don't ask--and an unpleasant character sidled up to me, with clammy hands and Gollum eyes, and asked, "So I hear you've got the goods on...?" It was one Michael Rogers, the new Robespierre of the gay rights movement, moving in on his latest attempt to "out" some traitor or other to the gay cause. I demurred.