October 12, 2000
Q: How to Fix the Debates? A: Hold them around a Jewish dinner table.
As I see it, the big problem with the political debates isn't, as everybody contends, the candidates; rather, it's the format. It's too polite, too genteel. You wind up with two men, who have spent months accusing each other of being treacherous fools, suddenly having to put on their company manners. They wind up acting as if they just might vote for the other guy. The whole thing is as phony as a bad amateur production; mediocre lines delivered by over-rehearsed robots who have been dressed by a wardrobe lady with way too many red neckties at her disposal.
At the end, you don't know either man any better than you did at the start. Personally, I would like to see a return to old-fashioned, bare-knuckle, last-man-standing showdowns. And I'm not referring to Kennedy-Nixon in 1960 either. The only things that came out of that televised affair: it let everyone know that the Catholic candidate didn't have horns and cloven hooves, and reminded us that Nixon had come to look exactly like the sewer rat that political cartoonist Herblock had been sketching for the previous dozen years. No, when I wish for a return to the good old days, I'm talking about the old days at the house in which I grew up. When my relatives congregated, you had the full spectrum of political opinion, and not just Democrats and Republicans. Predictably, the elderly cousins who worked for minimum wage in the shmatte business could be counted on to vote the straight Socialist ticket.
We even had a delusional Communist in our midst. Uncle Sidney was truly a screwball. He had made his fortune during World War II, wheeling and dealing in Chicago's black market. He then moved to L.A., where he invested his ill-gotten booty in parking lots and slum housing. I used to delight in pointing out to him that, card-carrying or not, with his record for greed and financial chicanery, come the revolution, he'd be among the first lined up against a wall and shot.
Political discussions in our house were as much like these televised cotillions as mud wrestling is like a tea party. A polite exchange would consist of "Shut up, you don't know what you're talking about!" followed by "You're full of it! You shut up!" I hate to think what would happen to a couple of preppie fellows like Bush and Gore if tossed into one of these family skirmishes. For all their alleged differences, these are two privileged peas from the very same pod; they're both rich sons of powerful fathers, graduates of the Ivy League. As babies, these two scions could have sucked on the same silver spoon. Hell, if they were any more similar, they'd have to be Siamese twins.
In my house, without a Jim Lehrer to keep the bullies at bay, you wouldn't have had a chance to hear Gore courageously confess that he's for Social Security or Bush take the bit in his teeth and announce to all the world that he thinks education is a really, really good thing. My relatives wouldn't have let these two hothouse orchids get a cliché in edgewise. They'd have had these two puppet boys for lunch. During election years, especially if you couldn't take the heat, you definitely stayed out of my mother's kitchen. When it comes to helping one make a decision about which candidate to support, I find the TV debates absolutely useless. Understand, I'm not saying that I would have voted for any of my relatives, but at least after an hour or two you knew that among the uncles, Irving was the loudest, Nathan was the rudest and Jake was the least informed.
You also knew one other thing: namely that should the Russkies, by some awful miracle, go on to win the Cold War, Uncle Sidney would have been in for a hell of a big surprise.