by Jeremy Young | 9/30/2008 08:10:00 PM
With the vice presidential debate coming up in just two days, I thought it worth taking a look at the two most famous moments in the history of vice presidential debates.

Here's the first one, from the very first vice presidential debate, in 1976, between Bob Dole and Walter Mondale. The AP's Walter Mears asks Dole about Ford's pardon of Richard Nixon -- and then watch Dole go off on an astonishing tirade about all the "Democrat wars in this century" whose killed and wounded were "enough to fill the city of Detroit":

Historian Leo Ribuffo offers a rather sympathetic perspective on this debate, but the truth is that to this day no one has any clue why Dole said what he did -- probably not even Dole himself.

Here's the other moment, which is better known today: Lloyd Bentsen's quip in 1988 about Dan Quayle being "no Jack Kennedy":

Will there be an equally memorable moment from Thursday's debate? With Sarah Palin and Joe Biden in the same room, anything's possible.



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Blogger mark on 9/30/2008 8:46 PM:

I don't think Dole's "attack dog" moment can be blamed for Ford's loss to Jimmy Carter. I'm pretty sure the GOP ticket carried the states where Dole was the primary campaigner ( Richard Ben Cramer covers Dole's career through 1988 in What It Takes).

Ford faced an uneviable task in 1976, being an unelected president after Richard Nixon, facing a restive conservative movement livid about detente and Kissinger, and the pardon issue but Ford himself simply blew it in the debate with Carter where a flustered Ford blurted out that "Poland was not under Soviet domination".

Jerry Ford, like Jimmy Carter, was a decent human being who lacked the egoistic pretensions to fill the Oval Office that Americans often crave in a president. On balance, Ford probably would have done a better job IMHO than did Carter but the current of the times and the problems the U.S. faced at the time were simply beyonbd the leadership abilities of either man.


Blogger Jeremy Young on 9/30/2008 8:55 PM:

I don't disagree, except in your value judgments on Ford and Carter. I don't think Dole's astonishing comments really had much effect on the race, any more than Bentsen's epic smackdown of Quayle helped his ticket win in 1988. It was still a hell of a thing to say though.

We're going to disagree strongly on Carter, but I'm pretty close to where you are on Ford -- or I was until I found out that he voted against the 1964 Civil Rights Act (as did Dole). I have a hard time explaining that one away.


Blogger mark on 9/30/2008 11:48 PM:

I think the explanation lies in simple shortsightedness and personal calculation above moral vision.

While neither Dole nor Ford were dopes, neither man was known for especially deep thinking. Most Northern white ethnic or rural protestant voters were bigoted against Black Americans to varying degrees ( but mostly a lot). The Harry Trumans who rose above background prejudice and in favor principle were few ( then there's weird contrast of Richard Nixon who never let his much more crudely expressed antisemitism or racism get in the way of ruthlessly advancing his own immediate interests).

While Michigan voters woud not have gone ape to the degree that Southerners would, Jerry Ford, young man on the make would have bought himself a lot of trouble by voting in the affirmative. I think if you look at voting patterns for the bill you get a lot of safe seat votes.