Debatable politics

The first of the three presidential debates (October 3) between Vice President Al Gore and Texas Governor George W. Bush was as lacking in drama and clarifying disagreement as it was in humor. In short, a bore. Each candidate was carefully scripted, with both men determined to avoid launching the sort of personal attack that undecided voters appear to find objectionable. The artificiality of the situation was highlighted by the October 5 vice-presidential debate between Senator Joseph Lieberman and former Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney. Cheney and Lieberman seemed effortless where Gore and Bush were most mannered, and the calm and deliberative way in which the two older men laid out their differences made Gore and Bush look like not-ready-for-prime-time players.

As we go to press, the presidential candidates are about to debate a second time. The format for this exchange of views will be more informal, with greater opportunity to question each other directly. Bush thinks the setting will favor his more relaxed and likable personality. Gore hopes Bush’s frail grasp of policy details will become evident during cross-examination. However, thanks to the lackluster first encounter, the second debate (October 11) is likely to draw an even smaller television audience and have less of an impact on the race. Although some event or statement can still change the dynamic of the election, it is likely that each man will...

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