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Jan Brewer's Bad Night Conjures Up Other Memorable Debate Moments

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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 century.

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.
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What did she do that was so horrifying. When I first heard that something happened, before I saw the video I thought she passed out, or, did something so outrageous, she paused, she paused. She doesn't have to debate anyone, she speaks for all Americans. She will win with or without a debate.

September 05 2010 at 4:20 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

Should Governor Jan Brewer run for president in 2012, it will be my great pleasure to support her. For my part, I value good policy positions over a silver tongue.

September 04 2010 at 10:59 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

Governor Brewer is a GREAT AMERICAN.

September 04 2010 at 8:26 PM Report abuse +5 rate up rate down Reply

So the people of Arizona elected this moron and she now has a double digit lead for re-election? Either there are a lot of idiots in Arizona or....well, I guess there is no other explanation.

September 04 2010 at 2:38 AM Report abuse -7 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to bmanbry's comment

She wasn't actually elected but appointed as the next in the chain of command after Janet moved on to bigger and better things.

September 04 2010 at 3:19 PM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply

I think there is way too much emphasis placed on a candidates on air TV performances that seems to demand perfection and have a flawless command of every known topic. I think Governor Brewer did just fine and if I had been in her situation would probably have had the same momentary loss of words. People, even elected officials do have ackward moments in front of the camera and some are not very comfortable in the limelight to begin with. We can, however always count on someone in the media to be there to exploit the situation.

September 04 2010 at 1:53 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

Governor Brewer is OK in my book, she is standing up to a federal government that sometimes forgets that we are 50 soverign states with the right and responsibility to protect our citizens and enforce the law. I would much rather see a moment os silence, a gaffe if you will, in a debate, than all the smart mouth BS and lies that get many of the politicians elected.

September 04 2010 at 1:38 AM Report abuse +8 rate up rate down Reply

What is amazing about this is--where was the article about how embarrassingly horrible Barbara Boxer performed on Wednesday. At times she was babbling and sadly, it seemed as though she was incoherent. I looked on Thursday for comments, as several of us watching at a "debate party" almost felt sorry for her--almost, but because I still remember that "a child is not a person until its parents take him home.." comment by Boxer, I really don't have that much sympathy--wonder what she thinks about those of us in her generation who are getting up there in age--is there a standard as to what makes us people too?

September 04 2010 at 1:31 AM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply

As a member of the medical profession, my first reaction to her hesitancy, was that I hoped she wasn't having some kind of stroke.

September 04 2010 at 1:14 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I am paying for this microphone, leave legal Hispanics out of your political endeavor. I am a native Texan and please leave me out of your agenda, I pay 3000 dollars a year in property taxes. I have build a property tax apartment to keep up with you. What else do want from me....El Paso Texas.

September 04 2010 at 1:08 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

jan brewer is one of the best gov a one as the saying goes i am a hispanic man i belive more states to adopt laws like ariz i grew up around all the crime that she is talking about and a lot of other things to many to mention here any one can pause or even misspeak just listen to our current president all of a sudden we dont to bash anyone not even bush i wonder why cause i know someone how is making lots of mistakes like sideing with terriost just like carter not bashing telling the truth we are heading down the wrong path the blinders are on we want our country back please

September 04 2010 at 12:35 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

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