Fantasy debate line contest: several winners, but the real prize was the debate

Several lines would have been great (though impossible) zingers in the second Obama-Romney debate. But the possible debate was satisfying enough.

It’s a good thing that I stipulated that the main purpose of my fantasy debate line contest was catharsis—letting us put out there the best lines President Obama couldn’t speak, so that we’d be less dissatisfied with the ones he could—since if the purpose had been a timely contest, my announcing the winners today wouldn’t meet it.

Actually, I’m sure I speak for many in saying that catharsis wasn’t as necessary as I feared it might be. While the President couldn’t actually say that Romney was afraid to put forth his real plans because he knew he’d lose if he did (see MassDem’s entry below), he did find a great, viable way to say much the same thing: Romney’s plan was “sketchy” and shouldn’t be bought. While Obama could not (of course) fulfill my fantasy by calling the deaths in Benghazi small potatoes compared to the war in Iraq, his “I mean what I say” pivot ended up implying something very similar: you can trust the President on pisher-in-Chief Mitt Romney’s favorite little crisis, Benghazi, because he’s kept big promises regarding what really matters: Iraq, bin Laden. And so on.

That, of course, is the game: not fulfilling the friend-enemy fantasies of us partisans, but winning the point in a way that makes the President look both right on substance and, more important, worth supporting. And I’m confident—as I wasn’t, fully, week ago—that that’s what Obama will do, repeatedly, in the last debate tonight.

On to the winners:

Honorable mentions:

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.

(Dennis)

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!”

(MassDem)

Third Prize:

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.

(Ed Whitney)

Second Prize:

Your Vice-Presidential candidate, Congressman Ryan, was recently photographed keeping his manicured hands clean washing a spotless saucepan in a soup kitchen in Ohio. That’s your anti-poverty programme: all pan and no soup.

(James “Always a Bridesmaid” Wimberley)

And the Oscar the Grouch goes to Byomtov’s entry:

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

Byomtov will be the proud recipient of the previously announced grand prize: either a a mixed herd of hippogriffs, chimeras, and thestrals (in assorted colors), or a Republican budget plan with real numbers. His/her choice, with the warning that I’ll be a lot more likely to be able to deliver on the thestrals.

Congratulations to the winners and my thanks to all who competed.

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.

10 thoughts on “Fantasy debate line contest: several winners, but the real prize was the debate”

  1. 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.

    Surely there is an extra “not” in there.

  2. Thank you, Andrew.

    I am humbled by having my entry chosen from such an outstanding group.

    In my view, “everybody has won, and all must have prizes.” Since no one wants Romney’s budget, it’s Hippogriffs for all!!

  3. I wonder if the Cuban missile crisis will come up tonight, the fiftieth anniversary of the day JFK went on the air to announce the quarantine of Cuba.

    Since Romney is likely to take a hawkish approach to everything in sight, I hope that Obama is prepared to point out that nuclear war was avoided because of flexibility, not just toughness, on the part of Kennedy. Making concessions was opposed by the super-hawks like Gen. LeMay, but we are here today because they were made. Talks, not bombs, steered us away from war with Russia, and talking with Iran, not bombing it, is needed to avoid war today.

    If Romney again launches into his spiel about how we should be shaping the course of world history, I would like to see Obama look at him and say, “Governor, there is noting in the Constitution of the United States that authorizes the president to shape world history. That is not why the founding fathers created the office.”

    Fantasy, I know, but I still want it to happen. It is important to illustrate the difference between gravitas and bluster. This should come naturally to Obama.

  4. “Talks, not bombs, steered us away from war with Russia, and talking with Iran, not bombing it, is needed to avoid war today.”

    Why is it so hard for people here to understand the concept of “both”?

    Yes, talks were important in both the Cuban missile crisis and in the larger history of avoiding war with the Soviet Union (hint: There was no “Russia” at that time, nor for decades before or after). Bombs without talks would have been disasterous.

    But bombs also had a role. The talks were going nowhere until weapons were actually pointed at each other by both sides, and immediate use seemed likely. Does anybody believe that the outcome would have been the same if United State hadn’t acted to or wasn’t able to blockade Cuba? Talks failing because of a lack of bombs would have been disasterous too.

    The point I keep making, and am a little suprised to see so little engagement with, remains: What is it about learned community & the current election season that has pushed the discussion here _so_ _far_ to one side of the spectrum? To put a sharper point on it, why aren’t you people embarrassed by the over-simplistic thought & argument that’s taken over here?

    1. “Lack of bombs” was never a problem in the Cold War; the US had overwhelming superiority over its foes before and after 1962. The only difference today is that the superiority of firepower is even more overwhelming. There is a huge missile gap between us and Iran, and it is in our favor.

      The legend of the tense battle of wills between Kennedy and Khrushchev has endured for decades. Michael Dobbs’ “One Minute to Midnight” shows that Dean Rusk’s “eyeball to eyeball” image was perpetuated because it served the political interests of the Kennedy brothers; in fact, the Soviet ship Kimovsk, whose course reversal prompted the myth that the other guy blinked at eyeball distance, was 800 miles away from the Essex, which had orders to intercept it if it tried to run the quarantine; the Yuri Gagarin was over 500 miles away. “Thirteen Days” was a helluva movie, however.

      The restraint that averted war was greatly to the displeasure of the hawks at the Pentagon, where the chiefs reacted with dismay to the announcement that the missiles would be withdrawn from Cuba. General LeMay and Admiral Anderson both thought that Khrushchev was jerking Kennedy around. Dobbs quotes LeMay as saying after the crisis ended, “It’s the greatest defeat in our history. We should invade today.”

      The oversimplification came then and comes now from the war hawks. The myths that came out of the crisis, Dobbs argues, led our leaders to believe that the US could make the rest of the world do its bidding with the right combination of force and restraint. He proposes, with good reason, that the Iraq war planners succumbed to the conceit that the political will of the President of the United States is the single crucial element that determines the course of events. Dobbs gives JFK credit for having served in the Navy in WW Two, where he learned to expect SNAFUs from any military action.

      “Russia” was common figure of speech designating the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics back then, by the way. I think that “synecdoche” is the speech act in which the part stands for the whole.

      1. “in fact, the Soviet ship Kimovsk, whose course reversal prompted the myth that the other guy blinked at eyeball distance, was 800 miles away from the Essex, which had orders to intercept it if it tried to run the quarantine; the Yuri Gagarin was over 500 miles away” from which I guess I’m somehow to infer that American forces were never actually in close contact.

        So how do you explain this picture?

        http://www.britannica.com/bps/media-view/100062/1/0/0

Comments are closed.