The Post-Debate Debate: Campaign Diary

By Justin Torres | July 7, 2008 | 8:25 PM EDT

( - Well, folks, Diary watched both debates, er, "town meetings" last week, and all we have to say is: Wake us up when this campaign is over. Bill Bradley's fabled thoughtfulness was revealed last Wednesday for what it's been all along: platitudinous pedantry. At least three times, Al Gore smarmily decided to thank the entire citizenry of New Hampshire, plus maybe Vermont for good measure, for "welcoming" him to their state. Indeed, they've welcomed him so warmly he's down eight percent in the polls. On the GOP side - except for Alan Keyes, whose eloquence and energy are exceeded only by his lack of electability - there is only one thing to say: We never thought we'd miss Pat Buchanan. For what it's worth, though, here are our picks for the best and worse moments of the New Hampshire "town hall meetings."

Best Performance: His lofty rhetoric can sometimes get away from him, and OK, he really has only one answer to everything, and well, yes, some of his ideas are a bit wacky - but still, for sheer star power, you can't beat Alan Keyes.

Worst Performance: Far and away, the stinker of the doubleheader was Bill Bradley. He looked like a teenager who'd been dragged to visit his great-aunt at her nursing home. Could he have been less interested? It's one thing to refuse to pander to the audience, another thing entirely to make your contempt for them obvious.

Best One-Liner: He's generally not a man thought to possess a rapier-sharp wit, but the best line of the evening was Steve Forbes's on no-show George W. Bush: "Perhaps in the future at a forum like this if we call it a fund-raiser he might show up."

Most Embarrassing Moment: Definitely Al Gore's joke about the doctor, the teacher, and the HMO administrator who go to Heaven. Generally, politicians shouldn't try to do stand-up comedy, and that goes doubly for the vice president.

Most Surprisingly Good Performance: Who would have thought that Gary Bauer had so many slick moves? The man was almost Clintonesque! Still, he'd better watch the I-grew-up-in-a-tough-town stuff: Somehow, he does not exude familiarity with the 'hood.

Most Audacious Answer: Al Gore on Bill Clinton: "I understand the disappointment and anger that you feel toward President Clinton, and I felt it myself." Was this before or after you called him one of America's greatest presidents, sir?

Most Surprisingly Bad Performance: Considering that's he's been a U.S. Senator for 23 years, one would think that Orrin Hatch could get out a comprehensible answer in a minute-and-a-half. Although, come to think of it, maybe being a U.S. Senator is the problem. . . .

Best Talking Head Comment: Actually, it's a tie. First, NBC's Lisa Myers on Al Gore: "He needed to prove that he is not a stiff, and I think he came across as relaxed. . . . He even slouched, which I assume took some practice, at the beginning." Maybe better is Jeff Greenfield on debates in general: "The problem sometimes with us journalists is we go to these debates and we wait for the great mistake, like somebody leaping up and yelling 'All power to Satan,' which tends not to happen too often." Too bad, though - that'd be great TV.

Worst Talking Head Comment: Former Texas Governor Ann Richards, on the Democratic debate: "It was more like walking past a really wonderful market and looking at the display and all of the things that might be available." One wonders if the market she's talking about was one of the open-air drug kinds, because she was obviously on something.

Best Suit: His jokes were bad, but without a doubt Al Gore had the best threads on either side.

Smartest Debater: Hands down, George W. Bush for choosing not to show up.