Clouds Rearrange Like the Talk of the Town


The best previews of tonight's Obama-McCain town hall debate are John Dickerson's and Jack Shafer's over at Slate. Shafer makes the important point that strict rules are going to prevent tonight's slugfest into becoming a true town hall, the kind that both candidates have, alternately, excelled and gaffed at. Dickerson points out that the town halls can make a dumb campaign dumber by the inclusion of people who don't want to hear anything mean.

"Ponytail Guy" is the term some in political circles use to refer to Denton Walthall, who asked a question in the second presidential debate in 1992. A domestic mediator who worked with children, Walthall scolded President George H.W. Bush for running a mudslinging, character-based campaign against Bill Clinton in 1992. Referring to voters as "symbolically the children of the future president," he asked how voters could expect the candidates "to meet our needs, the needs in housing and in crime and you name it, as opposed to the wants of your political spin doctors and your political parties. … Could we cross our hearts? It sounds silly here but could we make a commitment? You know, we're not under oath at this point, but could you make a commitment to the citizens of the U.S. to meet our needs—and we have many—and not yours again?"

Since the McCain campaign wants us to be thinking about Billy Ayers right now, and the Obama campaign wants you to meditate on Charles Keating, there's a buzz in the air: Will one of the candidates go for a character attack? And the experience of the town hall debate is that, no, that stuff won't work. Here's what Bush said in 1992 that riled up Waithall.

The other night Governor Clinton raised my—I don't know if you saw the debate the other night. You did—suffered through that? Well, he raised the question of my father—it was a good line, well rehearsed and well delivered. But he raised the question of my father and said, well, your father, Prescott Bush, was against McCarthy, you should be ashamed of yourself, McCarthyism. I remember something my dad told me—I was 18 years old going to Penn Station to go on into the Navy, and he said write your mother—which I faithfully did; he said serve your country—my father was an honor, duty and country man; and he said tell the truth. And I've tried to do that in public life, all through it. That says something about character.

My argument with Governor Clinton—you can call it mud wrestling, but I think it's fair to put in focus is—I am deeply troubled by someone who demonstrates and organizes demonstration in a foreign land when his country's at war. Probably a lot of kids here disagree with me. But that's what I feel. That's what I feel passionately about. I'm thinking of Ross Perot's running mate sitting in the jail. How would he feel about it? But maybe that's generational. I don't know.

See? Just doesn't work in a format where sad-eyed, Jeff Koons-drawn voters are whimpering about how mean you are.

NEXT: Last Meals, Even for People Not on Death Row

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  1. Since the McCain campaign wants us to be thinking about Billy Ayers right now, and the Obama campaign wants you to meditate on Charles Keating, there’s a buzz in the air…

    Distinction: even if you aren’t thinking about Keating, Obama still wins.

    And as far as it goes, the Keating “hit piece” was a great deal softer than I expected.

  2. Charlie Gibson just used a”ponytail guy” video in a piece with the same basic premise. Great minds think alike and stuff

  3. It is certainly odd how Reason has not pushed for a far superior debate format, despite assuredly knowing about that and despite assuredly having the $10,000 or so it would take to put something like that on. In order to avoid antagonizing Weigel and having this comment disappear as others did, I’m not going to speculate on the reasons why they – like so many others – might want to whine about something at the same time as they do nothing about it. I will avoid the use of the word “Kochtopus”, only using it that one time and simply as an example of something I won’t use in this comment again.

    Further, I won’t spend too much discussing the fact that Reason hasn’t encouraged people to get involved in this proposal that would help reveal that both BHO and McCain aren’t qualified.

  4. I think he had an assist from George Snufalupicous

  5. I remember “Ponytail Guy” from that debate. I almost destroyed the television set in rage and fury.My recollection is him sobbing “we are your children..sob..heal us….sob.” Bush was at a total loss as to what to say to this miserable excuse for a human. Even Clinton looked like he was about to puke with disgust before biting his lip and segueing into mad political skillz.

  6. Mr. Wacko,
    Good to see you around ole chap. Hope you are having a real fine evening.

  7. Yeah I saw “Ponytail guy” on ABC news a fraction of a second before reading this.I still want to kick his ass on general principle.

  8. George H.W. Bush just looked totally out of gas in that debate. Like Bob Dole.

    If you see the Bush 41/Dole look on McCain tonight, it’s over.

  9. Please enumerate, Lonewacko…

    What would qualify a person to be president? I mean, if two senators, one of them a decorated soldier and the other an editor of a law review, don’t have it, who does?

  10. SIV,

    I think we all share your hatred of Ponytail Guy.

  11. Everyone thought Bob Dole would go after Clinton on character in the ’96 debates, but he just kind of sat there and died when push came to shove.

  12. I too hate that pussy. OH OUR CHILDREN *sob*

  13. If you see the Bush 41/Dole look on McCain tonight, it’s over.

    If I see the Bush 41/Dole look on McCain tonight I’ll wonder where he got the sudden burst of energy.

  14. The song that should be played as the candidates walk across the podium to shake hands is Primus’ -“My Name Is Mud”.

  15. SIV, when it comes to mad political SkilZ, Bill Clinton is God.

    By the time his re-election comes around, I expect Obama to be a modern Hercules.

  16. I’m sure Bill Clinton will be the first and less President to get impeached, and still leave office with a 68% approval rating.

  17. Here’s an idea: instead of a debate, how about a “Dunk The Candidate” special, where Obama and McCain get set up above a tank of water, like at one of those old county fairs . . . The moderator would ask questions, and allow them each to respond. A BS-meter could, once it hit a certain number/level, immediately plunge them into the waters below. Then voters would be allowed to ask questions and throw a ball to hit to the target for dunking at the end.

  18. I expect Obama to be a modern Hercules

    I’m expecting Jimmy Carter on some sort of debilitating drug.Unless a radical right congress is voted in 2010 save’s his bacon by straight-jacketing government action.

  19. I felt really sorry for Bob Dole in 96. I voted for Buchanan, but I felt that Dole was trapped between the slimy but effective Clinton and the idiots in Congress at the time with R’s beside their names. And the fundamentalist conservatives who could not understand the legislative process whipped him.

    I feel the same way about McCain. It is terrible to see him pay for Bush’s sins. In many ways he is the worst person to fill that role. But Jesus, SOMEONE has to…

  20. What do you bet noone gets to ask a question about the failure of the drug war?

  21. OK, I’m not going to watch the debate (of course), but I’m curious as to what people are on while watching, much like last Thursday.

  22. “I’m expecting Jimmy Carter”

    Compared to W, we can only hope so!

  23. Epi
    I am VERY drunk and will not watch the debate. I am finishing some work and listening to Faith No More. I will most certainly not be willing to listen to a Prez debate by 9. Just for the record…

    Are you still at work?

  24. The “debate” is on the same time as ESPN’s WSOP main event coverage. While I can’t stand ESPN’s coverage, I hear Phil “I can dodge bullets, baby” Hellmuth will be at one of the feature tables tonight. That I can’t miss.

  25. The ESPN people who pontificate on who won or will win and why are FAR worse than any political pundits. Blech.

  26. Are you still at work?

    No. I just cold water extracted some propoxyphene and took some of that and am sipping at a bottle of Chilean Cabernet.

  27. “OK, I’m not going to watch the debate (of course), but I’m curious as to what people are on while watching, much like last Thursday.”

    High quality cannabis & a six pack of Smithwick’s.

  28. Episi

    We are on the same page, except I’m watching the debate.
    I hear that fills your eyeballs with “sand” from the crap that does dissolve when you cold shake it. Can’t believe I’m wasting all this fine oxy syrup PO just ’cause I promised my EX-GF no iv.

  29. I filtered it pretty good, SIV.

  30. “”OK, I’m not going to watch the debate (of course), but I’m curious as to what people are on while watching, much like last Thursday.””

    Straight alcohol. Like Bukowski (my hero) I’m skeptical of weed. Painkillers? Great things if you can get them.

  31. SIV
    Just curious.

    If you go to your local GOP county meetings, and are very vocal about drug legalization as a value you have, and then go to your local Dem county meetings and do the same, you really find similar treatment?

    I would challenge anyone here on H&R to try this. If you find the GOP more congenial than the Dems I would be VERY surprised…Let me know…

  32. MNG, he lives in Georgia. I doubt either party there would be hospitable.

    In San Fran or Seattle or some place like that you might get the Dems to be sympathetic, though.

  33. SIV, Epi – just curious. Do you guys use coffee filters, or what.

  34. Wait , I was thinking meperidene. Propoxyphene is fucking darvon. That shit is dangerous taken as directed.I’d rather do stadol than darvon, and I don’t like stadol.

  35. SIV
    How is McCain on drug issues in your view?

  36. BDB
    Where do you think you could get the GOP to be sympathetic? lol (SIV willno doubtedly want to mention George Shultz!)

  37. “Where do you think you could get the GOP to be sympathetic?”


  38. Alaska, Wyoming, Colorado, Montana. Probably. Nevada, too.

  39. I’ve used a piece of marlboro filter before BP.
    I’m older and wiser now.The only undesirable filler in what I’ve done lately is awful artificially flavored syrup so there is no need to extract anything for PO use.I imagine coffee filters might be useful on that Canuck codeine aspirin.

  40. More sympathetic than the relative Dem parties in those states BDB?

  41. How is McCain on drug issues in your view?

    Terrible, I think Biden is even worse.

  42. C’mon SIV, you’ve posted several times since my question, quite pussing out. You go to a local GOP meeting and spout your pro-drug stuff, what happens?

  43. Cuz I’ve been to both in MD and Va and the GOP (who open their meetings with a prayer btw) would run you out of town on a rail.

  44. SIV – thx.

  45. BP,

    I think there is some extraction methods on erowid (sp?)

    I can’t comment on the debate thread.Doesn’t seem to work past 9:25

  46. MNG,

    Back in the 80s I found an expired bottle of demerol capsules in the bathroom medicine cabinet at a college Republican mixer.I “liberated” them.Didn’t want anyone else taking expired medication.I was hoping to meet some Paleo Right YAFer girls but it was just a bunch of Reaganite business majors.
    Nobody even knew who Karl Hess was!
    I stood out like a sore thumb in my ripped jeans, Chuck Taylors and Clash t-shirt.

  47. BP, I used a piece of t-shirt for the really particulate matter and then a coffee filter to get the smaller stuff. Propoxyphene is pretty weak shit in any case so I’m trying extraction to enable me to take a shitload of it without much, if any, APAP. Then I’ll see if enough of it does something.

  48. What I wanna know is, would Sarah P. look fantastic in her boots of Chinese plastic?


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