This is where the most infamous moment of this particular election cycle occurred, when Gore stupidly approached Bush’s debate podium in an effort to appear intimidating. Instead, it backfired stupendously and made Gore look like a complete idiot. I guess his handlers were pushing him to appear more tough or something, but it reminds me of that moment in Community where the guy’s like “Give me a winter doodle!” and Jeff’s like “if you’re trying to be menacing maybe don’t call the cookie by its name.” The fact that Gore’s trying to sound tough, barking “what about the Dingell-Norwood Bill?!!?!” is just too funny to not be satire…but somehow it’s real. WTF was he thinking? This is possibly the single worst self-inflicted wound in a general election debate. The only moments that might rival that honor are “please proceed, Governor” with Romney from 2012, and Ford’s “there is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe” in 1976.
ASIDE: And this is why it really pisses me off how people solely blame Ralph Nader and his supporters for Bush, and use that as historical precedent for why “Bernie Bros” (or any third party supporters) HAVE TO fall in line behind the Democrats no matter what. Otherwise, you’re literally Hitler at worst, a stupid naive imbecile at best. No. Fuck that. Sometimes the Democratic candidate is responsible for their own fate. If this one single moment had not happened, not to mention the obnoxious sighing in the first debate, and had Gore let Clinton campaign with him, Gore would have won this election. There’s no doubt about it. If you want to blame anyone for Bush’s victory, blame Gore for all that, blame the suspicious shenanigans in Florida, blame the people who specifically voted Bush, and blame the asinine First Past the Post voting method. To slander Nader and his supporters is to bully an easy bunch of scapegoats rather than take a long overdue look at your own party’s problems as well as our constitutional anachronisms.
Bush stumbles badly when wishing well to the family affected by some tragedy which had apparently occurred the night before. It’s obvious he had no idea who the afflicted were or cared, and its this kind of foot in mouth talking which would do us so much harm in the years to come, and which would have buried him if his opponent were more inspiring or charismatic. And while I strongly criticize Gore’s response to approach Bush’s podium, I understand his frustration when Bush deflects a specific question, in this case “do you support the Dingell-Norwood Bill” and spins it into “Well, I think the real issue is that I can get things done. I can get something positive done on behalf of the people. That’s what this campaign is about.” That is just such a ridiculous non-answer that it’d piss me off too. If anything, I think it’s moments like this which just shows why the current debate system itself is flawed. Nobody holds the candidates responsible when they give non-answers, or spin deflections into vague talking points, and if the opposing candidate tries to do so, somehow they get in trouble because “we need to move on!” and “by your own rules, you’re not allowed to ask questions!” It’s completely ridiculous and the ones who suffer for it are the best candidates who try to truthfully answer questions and make sure their opponent does the same. The American people are wrong too of course, considering we get cheated out of a fairer public forum, replaced by vacuous soundbites and ad hominems.
Even after the podium approach, Gore is obviously still pissed off when answering the next question (after Bush) with “alright, here we go again!” and proceeding to complain about Bush’s non-answers. It’s hard to blame him for getting worked up watching his opponent blatantly lie. But by not being completely calm, cool and calculated at every second, Gore ironically ends up looking bad and suffering for it. I’ve never been more convinced that the debate format has to be extensively reformed than after coming away from this specific debate. Still, this should serve as proof to everyone that no matter what happens in a public forum like this, ALWAYS KEEP YOUR COOL. Never let yourself appear flustered or unnerved because it only makes you look bad even if you’re totally justified in doing so. For the zillionth time, appearances matter. That’s ALL that matters. And you cannot afford to look unhinged or not in control for even a second or you’re done (unless your opponent is even worse at managing appearances than you, which at this level is usually unlikely.)
Another problem with the entire debate format is the selective enforcement of the rules. I think it terribly unfair and inappropriate how Gore can’t ask a simple “what grade do you teach?” to get the conversation going to a person from the audience without the moderator’s obnoxious “tut tut tut tut, that’s a violation for the rules, Vice President!” Like, come the fuck on. Nobody cares, and seriously, you’re really gonna shame him for that but then you don’t press Bush for a real answer when he weaves a string of lies and irrelevant platitudes every other round? That’s a complete failure on the debate itself, not Gore as a candidate.
At another moment, Bush claims Gore’s healthcare plan would be three times more expensive than Clinton’s, and Gore jumps in to say “That’s in an ad that was knocked down by an independent team of journalists as misleading.” Gore gets silenced by the moderator which again makes him look bad, and Bush is allowed to continue. “Forget the journalists,” he begins, and then proceeds to restate the apparent lie AGAIN with no recourse whatsoever. Once more, that little “forget the journalists” (and by extension, forget the truth, forget informing people, forget the fourth pillar of government) moment is pretty telling about Bush’s lack of respect for transparency in hindsight. It’s just as distasteful as his “screw the rules” moment in the previous debate. Both were small but significant windows into how unscrupulous his character truly was, and should have been heeded by the voters at the time.
There’s the token overprotective mother “what will you do to stop the moral depravity in our music and Hollywood?” question they both shamefully pander to. Ugh. I’d love it if just once a candidate shut down stupid non-issue, overprotective Karens like that with “You want me to destroy the constitution so your kid plays Call of Duty at the neighbors’ house instead of your own? It’s called ‘take a more proactive role in your kids life,’ lady. Don’t expect the government to baby your children for you.” I find it hypocritical that Conservatives attack Liberals for their “big gub’ament” programs then unironically turn around and support stupid morality policing like that. Government so small it can fit in your wife’s vagina (and your weed stash, and your children’s choice of entertainment, and…) That doesn’t let Gore off the hook either. Classical liberalism was all about personal liberty, not pandering to every authoritarian personality too lazy to parent their own damn kids.
Then they’re asked why young people are so skeptical of politicians and so unwilling to take part in the process. I think they both missed it by a mile. Young people don’t want to get involved because every time they do, their candidate of choice is given a raw deal in the election. JFK won in 1960, but he was mercilessly mocked for his religion. RFK was shot and Eugene McCarthy had the nomination stolen by Humphrey, a man who didn’t win a single primary. McGovern was attacked as a radical and was given hell by the DNC every step of the way. Bernie was completely ignored by the mainstream media, and the condescension, contempt and dismissive attitude directed at him and his supporters I’ve personally encountered both online and in person is some of the most shameful politics I think this country has ever engaged in. Everyone calling him a Communist, saying his supporters are naive lazy stupid kids who just want free stuff, shaming them to fall in line behind Hillary and be happy about it, it’s awful. It’s no wonder young people don’t get involved with a toxic atmosphere like that. If we don’t, we’re lazy kids who don’t appreciate MUH FREEDUM and if we do, we’re idiots too stupid to appreciate Mother Hillary (or whoever we’re “supposed” to love the next election) the Benevolent God(dess) of FREEDUM.
Final note: Bush swears he will defend the law of the land and bring dignity to the White House again in his closing statement. A final gut punch of the debates, considering we elected him and all he did with the power he was entrusted with. One of the worst moments in US history.