Fantasy debate line contest

New reader contest: what line do you most wish President Obama could use in tomorrow night’s debate—though debate conventions or political reality prevent him from using it?

Following on the success of my snarky campaign slogan contest (winning entries here) I propose another:

List the line you most wish President Obama could use in the debate tomorrow night–but can’t, because it would be too “unpresidential”; or a gaffe in the Michael Kinsley sense (an instance of a politician telling the truth); or disallowed by the Swing Voter’s Code (a.k.a. Midwestern Nice, a.k.a. “why don’t these politicians just stop bickering—it’s not as if policy differences actually matter”); or contrary to the first rule of American racial politics, namely that all citizens are allowed, in fact encouraged, to act angry and to portray themselves as victimized—except those most likely to actually be victims of injustice, and to have reason for anger, namely African-Americans.

Entries are due before the start of the debate: 9 p.m. Eastern time on Tuesday October 16. One point of the exercise is catharsis: if we all get our favorite but impossible lines out of our systems before the debate, we’ll be less inclined to blame Obama for not using them.

Entries can be free-floating or can be put forth as the favored fantasy response to a likely question or line of attack. Here’s my entry:

“Y’ow [standard Obama regionalism for “you know”], I’m amazed at how riled up you Republicans are getting at the death of one brave man in Libya who needed to be there, given that your side caused the deaths of thousands of brave men and women in a war of choice in Iraq—a war which I promised to end, and did end. I mean, we all knew you neocons couldn’t think straight. Now we know you can’t even count.”

As before, if you can do better, please do. The winner will receive his or her choice of a mixed herd of hippogriffs, chimeras, and thestrals (in assorted colors), or a Republican budget plan with real numbers.

Update: we have winners.

Author: Andrew Sabl

I'm a political theorist and Visiting Professor (through 2017) in the Program on Ethics, Politics and Economics at Yale. My interests include the history of political thought, toleration, democratic theory, political ethics, problems of coordination and convention, the realist movement in political theory, and the thought of David Hume. My first book, Ruling Passions: Political Offices and Democratic Ethics (Princeton, 2002) covered many of these topics, with a special focus on the varieties of democratic politics and the disparate qualities of mind and character appropriate to those who practice each of them. My second book Hume's Politics: Coordination and Crisis in the History of England was published in 2012; I am currently finishing a book on toleration, with the working title The Virtues of Hypocrisy, under contract with Harvard University Press. A Los Angeles native, I got my B.A. and Ph.D. from Harvard. Before coming to Yale I taught at Vanderbilt and at UCLA, where I was an Assistant, Associate, and Full Professor; and held visiting positions at Williams, Harvard, and Princeton. I am married to Miriam Laugesen, who teaches health policy and the politics of health care at the Mailman School of public health at Columbia, and we have a twelve-year-old son.

69 thoughts on “Fantasy debate line contest”

  1. This would require Obama to tar Mitt as the standard-bearer for the Republican party. Which for some reason he’s unwilling to do. In the first debate he seemed to think that he was participating in a non-partisan election.

    And btw, I hate that “y’ow’ thing that he does. It sounds like he’s choking on a peppermint.

  2. “Y’ow, we all know that Mitt Romney will tell us whatever the polls or focus groups tell him we want to hear. So how are supposed to know what would happen under a Romney administration? Well, I’ll tell you. It would be the extremist Republicans in Congress calling the shots, the same extremist Republicans who want to voucherize Medicare and voted for Congressman Ryan’s budget that makes it mathematically impossible for the federal government to pay for anything except the Pentagon, Social Security and their Medicare-voucher program. I think Americans care about clean air and water, safe food and medicine, our national parks and good schools too much to allow that to happen.”

  3. I still like Ken Rhodes’ earlier suggestion, ‘I call bullshit on that.’ As he said, that will be the line people remember. It just has to be addressed to something easily identifiable as b/s by the low-information voter that won’t do much analysis to figure it out – and by the journalists who write about the debate as a self-contained contest without looking at its reflection of the real world, who might look up from their horse-race self-conversation and say ‘you know, he’s right.’

    I don’t think Kevin Elliott’s suggestion violates any of the debate standards that Andrew poses in his challenge.

    A pitch to the low information voter could be a help if delivered with respect to that voter, but disrespect (however polite) to Mr Romney. (How long can this snarky line be?)

    “I know that some of you have not been paying close attention to the claims and policies of the candidates up to now. That’s not a surprise, or a criticism. People have busy lives and a lot of things to do with their time. But the election is in two weeks, and if you’re watching or listening now, you are now paying attention. So listen carefully: Governor Romney cannot be trusted. He says whatever he thinks from moment to moment people want to hear. In the last debate he came across at times as so reasonable he might even be a Democrat. But let me tell you this: that is NOT what his party stands for. The Republican platform is on its web site, and his website. It wants to * and to * and to *. These are the people who nearly destroyed the American economy from 2001 to 2008 (we still haven’t recovered, though we have created XX jobs over the past two years) and got us into wars have costs us billions of dollars and thousands of deaths and ruined lives. Nothing in the official program that Governor Romney is pledged to support suggests that they want to change a thing about how things were done under President Bush. Do not trust this man. Do not vote for this man.”

    (I know, too verbose – but maybe the points can be spread over the evening.)

    Punchier version: Governor Romney spent years and made billions of dollars personally by closing American businesses and sending the work to China. Why is that a qualification for being President?

    or less punchy:

    Now he and Congressman Ryan want to outsource your Medicare and Medicaid to the private sector with their voucher programs. No guaranteed coverage. No recourse when the money runs out. Do you know for a fact that you and the people you love will never be seriously ill or badly injured? Then you may be comfortable with the limited voucher system. Anyone who wants real insurance will not. The Romney/Ryan/Republican plan is heartless, inefficient and expensive. Do not vote for it, and do not vote for Romney and Ryan.

  4. “One thing we all have to hand to Mitt is that he’s a fabulous salesman. If he was peddling cars, he’d be able to walk into one room and tell a couple that leasing is always better than buying and go to the room next door and say that buying is always better than leasing and he would look just as sincere both times.

    My advice to those listening — if you’re not in the top 1% of wealth, whenever Mitt opens his mouth about the budget, you should watch your wallet.”

  5. There are three weeks to go in this campaign. Over the course of the last 100 weeks, Governor Romney has reinvented himself countless times. No, that’s incorrect: he has turned the wheel on the Romney kaleidoscope and shown you a different Romney. But just as a kaleidoscope is made of mirrors, Governor Romney is a mirror.

    He is telling you what he believes you want to hear. If he is elected, he will cede control to the most radical elements of the most radical version of the Republican Party this nation has ever seen. Equal pay, environmental protection, and a woman’s right to make decisions about her health care will be gone. Obamacare, the first step towards a universal health care finance system will be gone. With it, Medicare will be gone in everything but name. Medicaid will be gone, too. Social Security will be privatized. They will remove the social safety net and replace it with a States’ rights vacuum. Let me tell you something. States don’t have rights: people have rights, and it’s time you fought at the ballot box for yours.

  6. “Mitt Romney’s plan for the middle class is to strap them to the roof of his car while he and his rich friends ride up and down in his car elevators.”

  7. I can’t recall who suggested it for the bumper sticker, but it would fit in nicely in the debate:

    “Here’s the Republicans’ attitude in a nutshell – What has posterity ever done for us?” followed by explaining how the R solution to whatever is being discussed is shortsighted and will hurt the country long term.

  8. Mr. Romney, what you’ve just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever heard. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to it. May God have mercy on your soul.

  9. “The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the inequities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men. Blessed is he who, in the name of charity and good will, shepherds the weak through the valley of the darkness. For he is truly his brother’s keeper and the finder of lost children. And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who attempt to poison and destroy my brothers.”

  10. “Tell me, Governor Romney. Are you required to wear your magic underwear when you baptize Jews who died at Auschwitz?”

      1. I hate to be the one to tell you this, but to a lot of Christians, even if they understand why this is offensive, it will seem like a nice thing to do.

        Don’t shoot, I’m just the messenger.

  11. Alternatively, simply beginning a rebuttal with “Governor Romney, everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts” would be nice. (That’s mild enough that some people could get away with it on a debate stage, I think, but not the President, because he would immediately be branded a condescending elitist who manages to combine professorial aloofness with blatant racial resentment and class warfare populism.)

  12. “Governor, for months, there has been a man running around claiming to be Mitt Romney who has been espousing policies which directly contradict what you have recently been advocating. I want to reassure you that my administration takes identity theft very seriously, and I promise that the FBI will do whatever is necessary to find and arrest the perpetrator of this fraudulent impersonation.”

    1. I like that a lot. I’d add a short sentence in between those two:

      “He even put up a web site where he posted those absurd policies under your name.”

      1. I like it a lot too. And add ‘there are several videos of you debating yourself that have gone viral. Very funny, too.’

    2. Could there be some sort of “evil twin” formulation? Governor, do you have an identical twin? Because a guy who looks just like you has been going around saying x, y and z…?

  13. Governor Romney would like to offer dramatically lower tax rates, without either increasing the deficit or hurting the middle class. He’d like to offer you a triumphant, forceful foreign policy without getting into more wars. He’d like to offer you ways to cut medicare and medicaid without making the elderly miserable. I’d like to offer you all your own herds of hippogriffs, chimeras, and thestrals (in assorted colors). Delivered by Santa Claus. And the Easter Bunny.

    1. This is interesting too. He’s a man who says yes to all questions. No matter what you ask him, he’ll agree with you. (I feel like that’s already a saying?) If you don’t like something Mitt says, wait ten minutes (I know I’ve seen this one here before).

  14. “Here are the last ten years of my federal income tax returns. Mr. Romney: where are yours? Why won’t you release them, like every other presidential candidate of your party and mine for the last [check number] elections? What are you hiding from the American people?”

    1. Yes, yes, yes.

      But towards the end of the debate. First, he’s got to be winning the thing, and then pile on with this. I don’t think it’s a good opener.

    2. “And what would you like me to say to my Democratic colleague, Senate Majority Leader Reid, who said he had evidence that you’d ‘paid no taxes for ten years’, since we now know that’s not true?”

  15. Not a line so much as a theme. Biden opened up a great avenue with his “who are you going to trust” comment, which is applicable to pretty much any topic Romney has equivocated on (i.e. any topic at all). Obama should conclude every town hall question with some version of it.
    On social security: “…will you trust the party that introduced and fought for it over half a century, or the man on a very recent break from his campaign to privatize it?”
    On medicare: (same as above)
    On middle class tax cuts: “…do you trust the party that has always supported the middle class, or the man who believes half the country is composed of victims unwilling to take responsibility for their lives?”
    On abortion: “…or the man who Senator Kennedy once called neither pro-choice, nor anti-choice, but multiple-choice; and that before Governor Romney really started changing his positions.”
    On Israel: “…the man who, behind closed doors, declared that he had no intention to pursue a peaceful two-state solution”.

    And so on.

    1. and who said that the middle class starts at an income of $250,000 (which puts the recipient into the top 2% or so of US taxpayers). Reality/lie check # 25354

      1. Alas, Democrats have been saying it for a long time. Too many campaign contributors would be outside the “middle class” if one put it at a more realistic level.

  16. “Governor Romney, you and your friends talk a lot about being “pro-life”. I’m for life too, as well as choice. That is why I fought – against your party’s systematic obstruction in Congress – for a health care reform that you say you will repeal on Day 1 of your Administration, and follow up with slashing federal Medicaid funding and capping and privatizing Medicare with your voucher scheme. Experts from Harvard have estimated that 45,000 Americans die each year prematurely because they don’t have medical insurance. My plan isn’t perfect. It was based on your one big achievement as Governor of Massachusetts; that scheme wasn’t perfect either, but it worked. You should be proud of it, but for some reason you don’t stand by it any more. The Affordable Care Act lives up to its title: it will bring affordable health cover to most of our uninsured fellow-citizens. This will save tens of thousands of American lives. Your plan will shorten thousands of American lives, and condemn millions to anxiety and – you said it yourself last week – emergency-room care. Marie Antoinette could not have put it better. Why don’t you have any feeling for ordinary people?”

    1. Obama could actually say that, couldn’t he? It would certainly dominate the coverage for the following week. Can you send this to the president with an urgent suggestion that he use it tomorrow?

    2. Romney has left a huge opening for Obama on the emergency room issue, which in a just world would be a fatal campaign error.

      “Governor, millions of Americans have multiple medical problems which require coordinated care from teams of good doctors. Emergency rooms can only focus on the single acute problem that brought a patient to their care. Emergency rooms are no substitute for adequate, comprehensive medical care.”

      Some statistics from actual validated studies show that the uninsured do too die from lack of insurance. I am certain that Team Obama will have him committing these to memory. Romney’s blunder is so great that I have to wonder if he is afraid of winning the presidency, and is giving the incumbent a gigantic opportunity to clobber him and knock him out cold. He has to know that that statement is just not true, and that in this second debate, he can be confronted on it easily.

  17. In response to any ModerateMittism: “You do realize that I’m the Democrat in this race don’t you?”

  18. The classicist, ROMNEY used that line in the first debate, maybe to forestall Obama. I like

    “Fair and Balanced” Dave:
    There’s a perfect example of what the Vice President would call “malarkey”

    Would say that’s, not there’s.

    I’d love for him to say, Gov Romney, You made your fortune by pushing companies into bankruptcy, and raiding worker’s pension funds. Now you want to do the same for Social Security. 100,000 people (or whatever the number is) lost their retirement savings because of you. America, lets not make that 350 million. Mitt Romney doesn’t need another car elevator, but he’d be able to buy 50,000 with the money he’d get by raiding social security to give himself a tax cut..

    I’d also like Obama to never say he agrees with Romney.

  19. Let’s get serious…
    This is no game.

    This isn’t about Romney.
    At least not directly.
    In other words: what Robert Reich said…

    That doesn’t mean you have to “come out swinging” this time. You need to be yourself, and one of your qualities that the public finds reassuring is your steadiness and authenticity, by contrast to Romney’s unsteady flip-flopping and apparent willingness to say and be anything. But you will need to be more energetic and passionate.

    And although the “town meeting” style debate in which you’ll be answering audience questions isn’t conducive to sharp give-and-take with Romney, look for every opportunity to nail him. Indignance doesn’t come naturally to you, but you have every reason to be indignant on behalf of the American people.

    That totally nails it…

    Obama needs to think of this as a basketball game with a paunchy white guy who really doesn’t have any core skills to his game. Romney’s all mouth. Pure bluster. He’s no straight shooter. Obama needs to use that imagery to get his body language correct. If he allows Richie Rich to “alpha male” him again, to take him out of his natural game, he deserves to be yanked off the court.

    Obama of course knows this. He is practicing. He knows the stakes.
    I expect a solid stabilizing game two performance out of Mr. Obama.

    http://robertreich.org/post/33641033981

  20. It would also be nice for the president to be able to call out all the racist bullshit that’s been heaped on him. Must get old after a while. He does call it for what it is sometimes, but only if you have MLK’s writings memorized, like when he talks about piercing a boil, it’s out of Letter In a Birmigham Jail, and yes the first president who is a minority will have to put up with some stuff but I just wish that we didn’t have to see th ‘put the white back in White House’ crap.

  21. The reason Mitt will not try to avoid any specifics about his plans is that he knows you won’t vote for him if you know the specifics.

    Look at the decision he made on releasing only 2 years of his own taxes. He has taken some heat for that, but decided that he’d never get elected if he let the public see a full 10 years.

    This is the same calculation he makes when he evades specifics on his tax plans, his budget plans, and his health care plans. If he let the public know what he plans to do on this issues, he’ll never get elected. So, he won’t share his plans.

    As Mitt himself said — “I’m running for office, for Pete’s sake!”

    He wants to win. And, if he does, most of America will lose.

    1. Good theme.

      Tying those issues together that way, with the tax return business, could be pretty effective.

    2. Excellent! One suggestion though: I would replace “try to avoid” with “offer” or “provide.”
      It might be even more effective to work in somehow George Romney’s having released 12 years of his returns on the basis that only 1 year “could be a fluke.”

  22. “Governor Romney, you plan to cancel the tax credits for green energy it has enjoyed since George Bush’s administration, but you won’t touch the much bigger tax breaks for fossil fuels. Is there any logic to this apart from the greed and selfishness of the oil, gas and coal barons paying for your campaign? This summer the West has been parched and burning. The science is crystal clear: climate change is hurting us already and will drive us and the world over a cliff if we don’t act, not someday but now. America has the workers and the investors and the technology to lead the fight-back, not someday but now. Will you and your friends get out of the way?”

  23. “Mr. Obama: Is it true, as she says, that “The buck stops” with Hillary?” Or, “Mr. Obama, what did you mean when you told the Russian President, “This is my last election, after my election, I have more flexibility.”

    Or, to make the WND people happy, “Mr. Obama, what does the inscription on that ring you wear say?” 😉

    1. I know I’ll probably be sorry I asked, but what is this ring business about? I don’t even know what you’re trying to imply.

  24. “I’m not sure where Joe Biden is right now, but I’m sure he’s chuckling at that um, [brief pause] malarkey.”

    “If Governor Romney is so proud of his business career, why is he ashamed of his income tax returns?”

    1. For the same reason Obama was ashamed of his birth certificate, I’m guessing: Drives the opposition crazy, and it’s nice to have your foes chasing off after a red herring, instead of looking somewhere they might actually find something.

    2. “If Governor Romney is so proud of his business career, why is he ashamed of his income tax returns?”

      That’s brilliant Byomtov…
      Succinct, sharp, and brilliant.

      Of course what makes this unsayable is that no one, not the black Reagan nor the White Wall Street Music man really wants to talk about wealth inequality. Imagine if this should escape into the American wild: 90% of Americans only have 10% of America’s wealth. Or if Romney’s income tax returns should reveal for popular consumption that one’s imagined winnings of the lottery gets taxed at a higher rate than Romney’s winnings on Wall Street. God forbid anybody wondering why Wall Street gambling is treated so kindly. The obedient and the docile might stir…

      So we won’t hear that from Obama. And definitely not from the guy worth a quarter of a billion…

      1. I hope you’re wrong on this. It’s to the point where it simply needs to be talked about. If we could handle a b.s. impeachment, I think we can handle a discussion on wealth. No one’s going to keel over.

  25. I just want to hear Obama say: “You’re really shaking the ol’ Etch-a-Sketch on that one Mitt.” You know it’s applicable to at least 90% of what Romney — so he can throw it there pretty much randomly and still be right.

  26. Mr. President, why are your supporters so intent on demonizing people with legitimate policy differences? Do they really so sure of their own purity and goodness, and so certain of everybody else’s inherent evil?

    1. “What legitimate policy differences? The GOP programme is about killing people or making their lives a misery: starting reckless wars, denying fellow-citizens health care, shutting their eyes to lethal climate breakdown, throwing good jobs by the factory-load under the bus, all to make multimillionaires like you richer. It’s the party of angry, racist, sexist, homophobic white trash and plutocrats, and the sooner it dies the better.”
      (That rejoinder really is fantasy. Obama is far too decent and conciliatory to say or even think it.)

      1. Yet, at the same time, for the same list of things, there are people who think that Obama’s policy is too likely to lead to eventual nuclear war with Iran (I think that’s what you’re referring to there), that who pays for health care isn’t the same as setting out to “deny[] fellow-citizens health care”, that there are reasonable differences about how to respond to climate change (“lethal climate breakdown” is _not_ an IPCC finding), that taxes and other Democrat-prefered policies reduce jobs (or more properly job growth) instead of increasing it, and that the purpose of these policies is to make life in general better not just for millionaires. I don’t expect to convince you of the correctness of these, but there are people who have thought about them and do agree with some of them. It’s unlikely all of those people are frauds, idiots and liars. It’s very unlikely they’re all ‘angry, racist, sexist, homophobic white trash and/(or) plutocrats’.

        So I come back to my earlier theme. Why all the anger? Why all the vitriol?

        If you live in a world where you believe that many people are so awful, it might seem likely that the cause of that is within you. But there are lots of people with similar view on this site. So perhaps it’s this site. But there are lots of people in the country with this view (Are you even in this country? A registered voter?). They’re both Republicans and Democrats, but it this particular election cycle it seems to be a vast majority of Democrats.

        If the world really is so much better because of Democratic governance, why all the anger?

    2. I agree, please be more specific about which GOP policy “differences” you consider legitimate. Supply side has failed, like, three times just within my lifetime. Who are you kidding?

  27. Romney won’t share the details of his tax plan. That’s because he knows he wouldn’t get any crossover votes from Democrats and Independents if he did. But he won’t show you his tax returns, either. Now that’s because he knows that even Republicans wouldn’t vote for him if he did.

    1. I have to say that for the Dems to drop the ball on this issue was stupid. We absolutely should have had those darned things weeks ago. He should not be allowed to get away with ducking.

  28. In my fantasy debate, he’d have a sound board and a Mitt hand puppet. Every time Mitt said something, Mitt saying the exact opposite would be queued up on the sound board, and all Obama would have to do is push a button and mime with the puppet.

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