When did it begin? With Al Gore's sigh? With H.W.'s wristwatch-gazing? With "There you go again"? When did presidential debates begin shedding their cloak of broad, competitive competence and start wrapping themselves in the make-or-break "moment"? The NY Times:
Mr. Romney’s team has concluded that debates are about creating moments and has equipped him with a series of zingers that he has memorized and has been practicing on aides since August.
Pathetic. By Team Romney's standards, Henny Youngman would have made the perfect POTUS. (Well, at least we would have laughed our way to Armegeddon.)
There are, indisputably, certain "moments" to avoid, such as Gerald Ford's otherworldly declaration that there was "no Soviet domination" of the quite obviously, ruthlessly dominated. Others--sighs and wristwatches, for example--seemed harmless enough by comparison, but in reality they loomed just as damning. Why? I can only guess: They provided the media, I suppose, with a "hook"; something on which they could hang an analysis of an entire debate. The bastard sighed! Off with his head!
We left it to an aging actor, though, to begin "creating moments"--the perfect frame shot, the exquisitely well-rehearsed scene, the talk-of-the-town "zinger" of "There you go again" or "I won't exploit my opponent's youth and inexperience." That was it, I guess; the beginning of the end--the nascent span was rather brief--of the presidential debate, as a debate. Instead, it was showtime.