T here was a vice - presidential debate on TV Wednesday. The opponents were Sen. Dan Quayle of Indiana and Sen. Lloyd Bentsen of Texas. The moderator was Judy Woodruff of PBS. The questioners were Jon Margolis of the Chicago Tribune, Tom Brokaw of NBC and Brit Hume of ABC.
Here is how one viewer saw the debate.
Woodruff: Let me begin by carefully explaining the rules of the format that the candidates agreed on and will ignore as they posture in front of the camera and make wild charges that have no basis in fact.
Each candidate will have two minutes to evade a question and one minute to make an unresponsive reply to his opponent’s evasion. That is far more time than is allotted to me as moderator, which really ticks me off and which is why I’m dragging out explaining the rules that everyone will disregard.
And now the first question goes to Sen. Quayle. Senator, why have you failed to make a substantial impression on so many of your fellow Republicans?
Quayle: Thank you for asking a question that I despise you for asking and that I will respond to by answering a question you didn’t ask and telling you that the biggest issue facing Americans is how to tell a poignant story about their grandmothers without appearing to be insincere and manipulative.
Bentsen: And I will reply to that non-response by reciting the first of my replies to questions you didn’t ask as I play the genial Texan and display my sage smile while gently lecturing Sen. Quayle as if he were a schoolboy.
Woodward: And now it’s your turn, Sen. Bentsen, as I serve up the question about your serious policy and philosophical differences with Michael Dukakis, which you will refuse to address.
Bentsen: I’m delighted not to respond to that question by skillfully turning instead to the positions that Mike Dukakis and I share, such as blaming the Reagan Administration for the common cold, psoriasis, waxy yellow buildup and everything else that’s wrong in the world.
Quayle: And I will respond by predictably returning to Sen. Bentsen’s differences with Dukakis while ignoring my own with George Bush.
Margolis: Now it’s time for me to ask the first of my ponderous questions that are so long and confusing that neither I nor anyone else will recall what I’m talking about, which will make no difference inasmuch as the candidates will ignore what I’m asking anyway, even though this question about Sen. Bentsen’s heavy reliance on controversial PAC support is worth asking if I can just get through it without putting myself and everyone else to sleep.
Bentsen: I must say I’m delighted that you clumsily asked the embarrassing question that I am about to filibuster by making a prepared statement about campaign reform that is relevant only in that it gets me off the hook as I feign indignation without seeming to be shrill.
Quayle: And I will aggressively counterattack my opponent’s irrelevant response with data about campaign reform that I’m now trying to recall as I turn to the camera, hide my inner panic and try to show America how earnest and forthright I can be when I have absolutely nothing on my mind.
Brokaw: I believe it’s time for me to unleash my boyish brilliance on viewers by asking Sen. Quayle a question about America’s homeless while trying to appear as tough and profound as my competitor Peter Jennings appeared during the earlier presidential debate.
Quayle: Is this where I tell my story about Granny?
Brokaw: No, I believe this is the point at which you attempt to finesse my devastatingly clever question and display your deep concern for America’s homeless by challenging Michael Dukakis to clean up Boston Harbor and change his position on capital punishment.
Woodward: No, I believe that comes after I instruct the crowd to refrain from snickering at the charade they are watching.
Bentsen: Which gives me the opportunity to impress viewers by citing two books that I have read.
Hume: I’m sorry, senator, but I believe that comes later in the debate when you respond to Sen. Quayle’s response to my question about which movies or books have influenced him, which I hoped would reveal him to be a boob.
Margolis: Have I finished asking my question?
Woodruff: About 10 minutes ago, Jon.
Hume: It’s my turn now. And as you can see from my knowing smirk, I’m about to ask Sen. Quayle a question about assuming the presidency in a time of emergency that he will be unable to suitably answer because the question has no answer and is thus meaningless, but will make him stumble and look foolish.
Quayle: Thank you, Brit, for asking me a question that pleases me so much that I’d like to remove your tongue with an electric saw and would do so except that I’m busy turning to the camera in fear and repeating my own objective appraisal of my outstanding qualifications, which are beside the point but I hope will somehow get me through this agony.
Bentsen: And I will respond to that non-response with paternalistic bemusement while silently praying that I’m not asked the same question.
Margolis: I’d like to return to my previous marathon question during which I seem to have dozed off. Sen. Bentsen, you said that . . . you said . . . you . . . zzzzzzzzzzz.
Quayle: Is it time for Granny?
Brokaw: No, Sen. Quayle, it’s time for me to show that I’m more than merely an anchorman by pressing you on Brit’s impossible question concerning what your first steps would be upon assuming the presidency in an emergency.
Quayle: I thank you for following up on the question that I will still refuse to answer and instead blunder into a comparison of myself with Jack Kennedy.
Bentsen: Which will give me a chance to provide the debate’s highlight by declaring that you’re no Jack Kennedy.
Hume: As I smirk.
Brokaw: I smile boyishly.
Margolis: I snooze.
Woodruff: And I say goodnight.