Debating the hook

Candidates will stand behind podiums exactly 50 inches tall. Candidates may not directly address each other or pose any questions to each other. Only the moderator may ask questions, and he will ask at least 16. Candidates have 2 minutes to respond, or 90 seconds to rebut. No props, notes or diagrams may be used. The candidates are not allowed to move from the designated area behind their podiums. Podia. Thingies.
Such are some of the myriad fussy little rules being forced upon the first so-called Presidential Debate, which sounds more like a very structured set of campaign speechlets rather than a conversation between two opposing speakers regarding the agreed-upon topic–in this case, American foreign policy.
I expect lots of simplistic, nonsense “speaking points” (flip-flop, activist judges, shadowy groups, turn the corner, etc.) and stump speech bromides (We can do better; Obama!) rather than substantive discussions about the state of the world today, but I’ll be happily surprised if I can TiVo something other than another one of Bush’s angry little dog beady-eyed stares or Kerry’s Frankensteinian profile staring into space. We’re a country at war with a foe who never declared war on us or, indeed, did anything directly to the U.S. How will the President defend his policy of pro-active warfare on Iraq when there’s no ties to al Qaeda and how will Kerry manage not to look stilted, confused and awkward rather than steadfast, resolved and Presidential?
Meanwhile, the Bush campaign has already prepared an online debate rebuttal that will do the attacking that Bush can’t do online. “Debate Facts” will feed into 5,000 conservative weblogs with the usual talking points regarding Kerry’s answers using a 150-page book called The John Kerry Attack Matrix, a handy alphabetized “ready-response” Bible that reduces every issue down to a non-issue spin cycle.

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