Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer's long and awkward pause
in her gubernatorial debate was the talk of political junkies this week. Why she froze was anybody's guess. The governor compounded her problems by preceding her uncomfortable interlude with an inaccurate claim (that she balanced the state's budget) and by following it with an ungrammatical sentence: "We have did what was right for Arizona."
The governor's lapse immediately took its place in the pantheon of memorable moments in political debates, a category full of gaffes, one-liners, whoppers, ill-advised gestures, zingers, and the occasional home run -- sometimes uttered inadvertently. Here are nine of them:
Ronald Reagan: "There You Go Again."
In their Oct. 28, 1980 debate
in Cleveland, President Carter was reiterating his assertion that Reagan would cut Medicare benefits if elected. Reagan, who has expressed irritation at oft-repeated Carter claims, dismissed Carter with a cock of the head and his "There you go again," line. This was also the debate in which Carter invoked the wisdom of his 13-year-old daughter, Amy, on the question of arms control and Reagan posed the question to Americans on which the election really hinged: "Are you better off than you were four years ago?"
Gerald R. Ford: No Soviet Domination of Europe
. If Jimmy Carter was Reagan's foil, four years earlier Carter was the beneficiary of a famous gaffe by President Ford. Asked by moderator Max Frankel about the influence of Russian communists in Europe, Ford inexplicably proclaimed (twice): "There is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe
." Incredulous, Frankel gave Ford a chance to amend his statement. Ford seemed to be trying to make a metaphysical point -- that that the people of Eastern Europe had an indomitable spirit that could not be conquered by Russian tyranny, but he never quite got there and in his follow up Ford just dug the hole deeper.
Lloyd Bentsen: "Senator, I Served with Jack Kennedy
." In their 1988 vice presidential debate, 41-year-old Republican Dan Quayle answered a question about his experience by saying that he'd had comparable political experience to John F. Kennedy when JFK became president. Quayle had been making the same comparison on the campaign trail, and the Democrats were prepared: Sen. Lloyd Bentsen of Texas, a 67-year-old World War II pilot and squadron leader who served in the House with Kennedy, let loose his well-rehearsed zinger
: "Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy. "I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you are no Jack Kennedy."
Ted Kennedy: If His Name was Edward Moore.
In Kennedy's first campaign for the Senate in 1962, he was challenged in the Democratic primary by Eddie McCormack
, an experienced Boston pol and the nephew of then-Speaker of the House John McCormack. The young Kennedy had never held public office and McCormack wanted to make sure everyone knew it. "... if his name was Edward Moore [Kennedy's middle name), with his qualifications -- with your qualifications, Teddy -- if it was Edward Moore, your candidacy would be a joke...But nobody is laughing because his name is not Edward Moore. It's Edward Moore Kennedy." Kennedy was angry but kept his poise, and McCormack's put-down eventually backfired. Kennedy won the primary and the general election.
President George H.W. Bush: What Time is It, Anyway
? In a three-way debate with H. Ross Perot and Bill Clinton in 1992, George H.W. Bush suddenly checked his watch in a town hall meeting. Perot by then was running solely against Bush. Debating superior talkers, it's understandable if the president wanted to be elsewhere. But to voters it served as an all-too-convenient symbol of the chief knock on Bush: That during the 1990-1991 recession his attention had not been focused on the economy. Bush later conceded that his involuntary gesture may actually have revealed the truth of his discomfort with that debate. "Was I glad when the damn thing was over?" he said to PBS Newshour anchor Jim Lehrer. "Yeah."
James Stockdale: "Who Am I? Why Am I Here?"
James B. Stockdale was the running mate chosen by Ross Perot after he reentered the 1992 presidential contest, and Stockdale sought to introduce himself to the American people with those two opening lines in the Oct. 13 debate held in Atlanta. The modest intro was met with applause by the audience, but Stockdale never really returned to this idea of telling his personal story. It was a tale worth hearing: Naval Academy, standout Navy test pilot, naval officer who figured in the Gulf of Tonkin incident, decorated combat flier, 7 ½ years in a North Vietnamese prisoner of war camp, four years of it in solitary confinement, Medal of Honor winner. Unfortunately, his uncertain performance in the 1992 debate -- coupled with Phil Hartman's devastating spoof of it on Saturday Night Live -- is all some Americans recall about one of the most decorated U.S. Navy officers of the 20th
Michael Dukakis, What If Your Wife Was Raped and Murdered?
This was the opening question posed to Dukakis on Oct. 13, 1988 by moderator Bernard Shaw of CNN. It may have been tasteless, but it shouldn't have been a surprise -- Dukakis was an outspoken opponent of capital punishment at a time public opinion ran about 4-1 in favor of it. Dukakis gave a wonkish, 363-word answer
, which was mostly about drug prevention programs. Worse, he showed no emotion about his wife -- and failed to express even a modicum of sympathy for victims of violent crime.
Rick Lazio, stalker?
In a Sept. 13, 2000 New York Senate debate
between then Republican Rep. Rick Lazio and Hillary Clinton, Lazio left his lectern
and walked toward the First Lady. Lazio was holding a piece of paper in his hand that he demanded she sign -- a pledge that Clinton would not accept any "soft money" campaign donations. Some thought his actions seemed menacing. Hillary didn't like it -- and neither did a lot of New York voters. She won the election.
Ronald Reagan: "I'm Paying For This Microphone"
: We started with Reagan, so will end with him. Reagan, the old thespian, actually bungled his line -- but it helped make him president anyway. In a dispute in the 1980 New Hampshire presidential primary over who would be allowed to participate in the GOP debate, Reagan wanted to allow other candidates to join in what had been billed as a one-on-one between him and George H.W. Bush. When Nashua Telegraph Editor Jon Breen ordered that Reagan's microphone be turned off, an angry Reagan shouted, "I'm paying for this microphone, Mr. Green."
Reagan had the wrong name, and anyway, he borrowed the line from a 1948 Hollywood film, "State of the Union."
A year later, Reagan was describing the state of the union to Congress in the first of eight such addresses.