Friday, September 26, 2008

Great moments in debate history

Abraham Lincoln vs. Stephen Douglas, 1858
This was the big one, the benchmark for all future discussions of political debates. Lincoln and Douglas squared off seven times in less than two months in their campaign for the Illinois seat in the United States Senate. Lincoln lost the election, but used the accompanying publicity as a springboard to the Republican nomination for president two years later.

William Jennings Bryan vs. William Howard Taft, 1908
Losing three presidential elections hardly tarnished the legacy of William Jennings Bryan, who served in Congress, as Woodrow Wilson's Secretary of State, and famously argued against Clarence Darrow in the Scopes Trial. His debates with Taft were remarkable in that they were recorded for the phonograph and can be purchased still today.

John F. Kennedy vs. Richard Nixon, 1960
The first televised debate was scored a win by those who only heard it on radio, but Kennedy appeared far more comfortable and, let's face it, attractive in front of the camera than Nixon, whose career took eight years to recover.

Ronald Reagan vs. Walter Mondale, 1984
Every ounce of the Gipper's charm was on display in this brilliant reversal of a campaign issue that the Democrats strove so unsuccessfully to exploit. Reagan's line was so good and so expertly delivered, even Mondale had to chuckle, thinking all the while, "There's no way I can beat this guy, is there?"

Michael Dukakis vs. Bernard Shaw, 1988
Dukakis's opponent in the debate was actually George Bush, but his surpisingly unemotional reply to moderator Bernard Shaw's question of whether the candidate would support the death penalty in a hypothetical case where his wife was raped and murdered drew a flat response from viewers.

Lloyd Bentsen vs. Dan Quayle, 1988
When the Veep candidates took to the podium, Quayle gave Bentsen a belt-high fastball when he compared his own experience to that of John Kennedy, and Bentsen swatted it out of the park with perhaps the most famous putdown in debate history. You can almost see Quayle blink away the stinging tears.

Frank the Tank vs. James Carville, 2003
Okay, technically, this was not a political debate, not a real event, and not the funniest moment in this movie by a long shot, but still, how often do you see James Carville at a loss for words?


First he's in, then he's out, and now he's in. Really. He means it this time. John McCain will be at the presidential debate tonight in Oxford, Mississippi. Which is good, because otherwise I'd have to watch the end of the Orioles' game as the hometown team goes for nine straight losses.

Cornfield of Republican Dreams

The Cookie Polls are old news, forget about Obama Girl, let's get to the heartland of the matter. That's right, it's the amazeing Sara Palin corn maze, part of a 16-acre labyrinth at the Corn Maze at the Butterfly Farm in the presciently named town of Whitehouse Ohio.

Video available at

Will they or won't they?

Right now, the biggest question regarding tonight's presidential campaign debate is not about the war in Iraq or the economy, but rather the more existential query of whether it will happen at all. John McCain wants to delay until the financial crisis bailout legislation is finished, Barack Obama says there's no need to wait, and University of Mississippi officials say they are ready to go forward. Dan Balz of the Washington Post offers a nice little primer to get you ready.

We'll know for sure in a little less than 12 hours, but if it falls through, here are a few backup plans: Sweet Home Alabama with the lovely Academy Award-winning Reese Witherspoon on USA Network; What Not To Wear on the Learning Channel, where a former exotic dancer solves her "problem" of wearing shirts that are too short; Kelly's Heroes, a WWII classic starring Clint Eastwood, Don Rickles and Telly Savalas on Turner Classic Movies; or if you must have eloquent statements and dramatic posturing, WWE Smackdown, featuring Triple-H and his partner/rival Jeff Hardy in a tag-team battle with MVP and The Brian Kendrick. And of course random CSI and Law and Order episodes about every 10 channels or so depending on your cable provider.

Palin speaks!

Reporters covering Sarah Palin's tour of 9/11 memorial sites yesterday scored a major get when the Republican Vice Presidential candidate paused to answer a few questions on camera.

Palin has conducted sit-down interviews with ABC, Fox, and CBS, but this was her first press conference, if answering four questions can be called a conference. No earth-shattering revelations in the video, but no laugh lines either. She stated standard party lines on 9/11 and the Bush Doctrine and neatly danced around a reporter's question about the reelection of Alaska Senator Ted Stevens, whose trial started yesterday. No pigs, pitbulls, lipstick, or Bridges to Nowhere. Let's see Tina Fey try to make this funny.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Huckabee TV show a reality

Former Arkansas governor and Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee will host a talk show on Fox News airing this Saturday at 8:00 Eastern Time. Huckabee made the announcement on his Huck PAC blog and Fox News confirmed the announcement. The show will be taped Saturday before a live audience and the first guest will be Elisabeth Hasselbeck. Other than that, precious few details about the show have emerged.

This move makes so much sense the only surprise is that it took so long to happen. Huckabee, who lost 100 pounds while governor, can do the obligatory diet and exercise segments himself. His band, Capitol Offense, can handle the musical entertainment. Throw in sports, weather and a goofy sidekick (Fred Grandy?), and you got yourself a show.

Still some unanswered questions here. Will "Huckabee" get big ratings in Iowa but tank in New Hampshire? Will Chuck Norris handle security? Will John McCain cancel an appearance on the show? Can't wait to find out.

Letterman livid over McCain bailout

Republican presidential nominee John McCain's suspension of his campaign in order to help address the nation's financial crisis included cancelling his appearance on David Letterman's Late Show last night, a decision that the notoriously cranky host received none too graciously.

Letterman made sure to acknowledge McCain's heroic service to his country before stomping him like so many bunches of Zinfandel. Dave's been known to hold a grudge (see Winfrey, Oprah), so don't be surprised if tonight's Late Show features the "Top 10 Real Reasons Why John McCain Cancelled." My version would be as follows:

10. Couldn't remember which house he left his car keys in.
9. Went lipstick shopping with Sarah Palin (favorite shade: Red State Red).
8. His wife, Cindy McCain, prefers Last Call with Carson Daly.
7. Straight Talk Express bus driver forgot his EZ Pass and got stuck in traffic.
6. Found out Paul Shaffer is Canadian and can't vote in the election.
5. Didn't want to miss "Dancing with the Stars" results show (rooting for Cloris Leachman, natch.)
4. Furious when he found out the trip would not include one last
game at Yankee Stadium.
3. Went over to Joe Biden's house to watch reruns of FDR's televised speeches.
2. Too stunned by Clay Aiken's coming out to appear in public.
1. Luke Russert told him that smart people watch Katie Couric, not David Letterman.

Barney Frank would prefer Superman?

Massachusetts' Representative Barney Frank, the Chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, criticized Senator John McCain yesterday, comparing him to Mighty Mouse. And not even the real Mighty Mouse, but rather this brilliant perfomance art sketch by the late American comic genius, Andy Kaufman.

After his obscure yet dismissive characterization of the Republican nominee for Commander in Chief's plan to assist in the federal government's $700 billion bailout of the financial industry, Frank went on to crush McCain in more unambiguous fashion, saying, "He hasn't been involved ... He doesn't know anything about it ... He doesn't bring anything to it." Straight Talk Express, indeed!

Note that Kaufman is not wearing a "Mighty Mouse costume" in the above clip. That detail appears to have been added by Rep. Frank. I'll forgive the slip, considering the stress that Frank has been under recently, but in the future, I hope he keeps his little fantasies to himself.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Whacko for Flacco!

Attention Greater Baltimore sporting goods retailers: you might want to increase your Joe Flacco jersey sales orders. The rookie quarterback didn't complete a pass longer than 15 yards, but he made a powerful love connection with the fans at M&T Bank Stadium with his poised play in the Ravens' 17-10 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals yesterday. The "Let's go, Flacco!" cheer could be heard throughout the game, but when the Ravens' first round draft choice rumbled 38 yards for a third quarter touchdown, the crowd noise nearly drowned out the radio broadcast (so did my car horn honking). For all the fuss about the Flacco, though, the story of this game was told in the trenches.

Baltimore dominated the line of scrimmage so completely in the second half that the Ravens held the ball for 23:43 to the Bengals' 6:17. And that's not because of Cincy's quick strike offense; the results of the visitors' four second-half offensive possessions were: three and out, turnover on downs at the Ravens' 36 yard line, three and out, and turnover on downs at the Ravens' 26. Their only touchdown of the day came on a 65-yard fumble recovery by Johnathan Joseph. The next time the Bengals come to Baltimore, Marvin Lewis might want to remind his offense where the end zone is because the Cincinnati O hasn't scored a TD at M&T since 2006.

On offense, the Ravens stuck to a ground attack that churned out 226 yards on 46 carries. The sizzle came from Flacco's bootleg jaunt and a double-reverse by Mark Clayton that went for a 42 yard touchdown, but the steak was fullback Le'Ron McClain (19 carries for 86 yards and rookie tailback Ray Rice (22 for 64). Flacco was never sacked as he completed 15 of 29 passes and if he was pressured, he didn't seem flustered. Cincinnati is not known for defensive prowess, but Baltimore had a solid day and the imminent return of Willis McGahee along with improvement from Flacco bodes well for this unit.

Now, back to those jerseys. In a completely unofficial and unscientific poll, I did a quick phone survey of Baltimore area sporting goods retailers this morning. Shenk and Tittle in White Marsh seemed to be most on the ball with about 180 Flacco jerseys in stock and ready to move. Their preseason top seller was a surprise to me: Matt Stover. Flacco got hot when he was named as the starter and apparently, Ray Rice will be in demand once it becomes available. Modells in Reiserstown was out of stock in Flacco adult sizes but had plenty for kids. Champs in Eastpoint only had 10 in stock but expected them to go quickly, outselling previous favorites Ed Reed and Todd Heap. Sports Authority in Glen Burnie had about 50 and would be increasing its monthly order as Flacco overtook Ray Lewis, Stover, Kelly Gregg(?) and Heap. Finally, Dick's Sporting Goods' website lists the Flacco alternate black jersey as its top selling Ravens item.

Now, two names in the previous paragraph jump out at me: Matt Stover and Kelly Gregg. Stover has longevity (he's the only Cleveland Brown veteran on the team) consistent productivity and he is well-known as a good guy in the community, but how many NFL teams have the kicker as one of their top-selling jerseys? According to two salespeople I spoke with, Stover is hard to find, so perhaps its rarity makes it more desirable. As for Gregg, well, he was the fourth-leading tackler on the defense last year and he was tied or second in sacks with three. Hmm, I'm sure I'm missing something.

In any case, I'll be checking back with those stores in the coming weeks to track the Flacco sales. The Ravens' next home game is in two weeks against the Browns. Expect to see an influx of Flacco.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Apocalypse? Wow!

Happy Ramadan, everybody!

On Friday, I wrote a little bit about Barack Obama and, in the interest of equal time, said I would post something about John McCain's nomination of Sarah Palin later. I figured I'd wait out the long weekend and let things settle down a little bit, but now it seems we're going to need a few more days, weeks, maybe months. We'll know by November 5, anyway. Unless it ends up in the Supreme Court, again.

Talk about dominating the news cycle. Palin's story is Michael Phelps, Usain Bolt, and Nastia Liukin combined. Palin was all over the Internets all weekend long. Even the sports blogs were not immune as the kickoff of college football had to share time with Palin the basketball player, Palin the sports broadcaster and Palin the beauty queen, all of which engendered the quiet, observant and respectful commentary so synonymous with the blogosphere.

In fact, Palin's only competition was a story with a lot of similarities: Hurricane Gustav. Let's face it, the Palin Watch is a lot like a hurricane story. It forms at a distance, gathers strength, weakens, becomes more threatening as it approaches land and nobody knows what will happen until it happens. Meanwhile, we all prepare as we think we need to and the media whips everyone into a frenzy. Okay, so no one ordered an evacuation, and the political analysts aren't wearing rain gear on camera, but everybody talks about it, reports the slightest shred of news and/or speculation related to it, and compares it to past events of similar magnitude.

All of these stories end the same way though. Nobody has a definitive answer. Was Palin a good choice? They don't really know. Will the hurricane be Category 4? They don't know. Will there be something else to talk about a week from now? Of course. For instance, the NFL starts on Thursday.

None of this really matters, though, because the world is going to end in 2012, anyway. I learned this recently when I wrote an item for Fourth Place Medal about the 2012 Olympic Games in London. Many visitors to my story were very disappointed that it was not an analysis of the end of the world.

So, go ahead and vote however you want. None of these candidates will have a chance to serve a second term.