Al Gore's surprise offer to Bill Bradley yesterday on "Meet the Press" didn't go far enough. Gore dared Bradley to stop running TV and radio ads altogether, and instead debate twice a week. But I think they should take it to the next level: They should hold those debates IN A SEALED ROOM. No observers permitted. Total isolation. They should be locked in there for 24 hours at a time, with food slipped through a slot. When they emerge, the pundits can look them over and decide who's winning.
I watched some of the debate live, while also talking on the phone, and then watched it again, in dribs and drabs, later in the day on MSNBC while also watching the Cowboys-Jets game. My conclusion: Of the Jets, Cowboys, Bradley and Gore, Gore has the best offense.
But another, horrible thought kept popping up. I hesitate to mention it. I fear that the Gore-Bradley contest is becoming too substantive.
These candidates are teetering on the brink of excessively serious, thoughtful, nuanced discourse. I kept feeling guilty that I didn't have opinions on many of the things they were talking about. A terrifying question came to mind: DOES THIS MEAN I HAVE TO START READING THE NEW REPUBLIC AGAIN????
Gore and Bradley focused on experimental school vouchers, weapons inspections in Iraq, long-term Social Security and Medicare funding, and health care reform. Every American citizen should have an opinion about these issues, and ideally should have TWO opinions. Please e-mail me the spare.
The reality is that many of us are completely overloaded at the moment, with far more to do than we can possibly get accomplished. And that's just the shopping. I'm so busy lately I've had to inform my spouse that I'm no longer available for parenting. I've heard that, past the first six months, the personality and intelligence of a child is already a done deal anyway.
Plus, just in the category of important news, there's so much to keep track of. This morning the Vermont Supreme Court ruled that gay couples should have the same legal protections as married couples. LINK TO WIRE STORY. The Los Angeles Times printed a massive self-analysis LINK TO http://www.latimes.com/news/reports/line/ of how a business relationship with the Staples company spilled over into a laudatory magazine story about the new Staples Center. Plus there's the Desmond Llewelyn tragedy, which has got me all busted up. If you haven't heard, the actor, who played "Q," died Sunday from injuries in a car accident. "Q" was the lone connection between the great early Bond films and the current special-effects cartoons masquerading as movies.
Finally we are slightly preoccupied with the end of civilization as we know it, just 11 days from now. And there's that terrorism business. How do you focus on Gore and Bradley when there appear to be real-live terrorists getting arrested at the border with bomb-making materials? That's kind of distracting, isn't it?
This morning The Post is also reporting LINK TO OUR STORY that employers are cracking down on workers who surf the Internet on the job. This is bad news for the Rough Draft column. Our readership is entirely composed of goof-offs, idlers and slackers. We get these e-mails from people saying stuff like:
"Hi. I'm really bored. I work in the government, and my job is protecting the nuclear arsenal from terrorist computer hackers, but I decided instead to read your column about that smart guy named the Vonster who sits next to you in the office and constantly quotes T.S. Eliot and maybe needs to lighten up a little. Thanks for the amusing diversion!"
So, you see, we are busy people. To keep track of what's happening with Gore and Bradley, we need some kind of cheat sheet, some kind of distilled, concise, easily grasped primer on what each candidate wants. There is, in fact, a device for such information transfer:
The TV commercial.
Political TV commercials are great things. They are fun to watch. They have been an integral part of the story of modern presidential politics. We all treasure the memory of the anti-Goldwater commercial known in political lore as the Daisy commercial (which actually never aired, but that's a minor historical technicality). In it, a little girl is picking daisies in a field, and then you see a mushroom cloud from a nuclear explosion, implicitly the result of a Goldwater victory. So perhaps that was a bit heavy handed.
With no TV commercials, we'd never have seen Michael Dukakis in the Snoopy helmet riding in that tank. It was a photo-op that turned into an attack ad for Bush. It was a moment that told everyone: This isn't a president, this is a silly little man from Massachusetts.
The decision about what to put on a commercial is a good test of a campaign's thought process. Remember Willie Horton? Remember the Jesse Helms commercial with the white guy crumpling the rejection slip because he lost his job because of his race? TV commercials let you know a lot about where a candidate is coming from.
And finally, and this is the last thing I'm going to say about it because I think the Journalism Police are approaching at this very second to drag me away, TV commercials allow us to think about the presidential campaign WHILE WATCHING MORE INTERESTING SHOWS. Implicit in Gore's proposal is that, in lieu of watching commercials, people will watch the long-format debates and then make their informed decisions. The next thing you know we'll all be assigned term papers, due on the day of the New Hampshire primary.
If the Gore idea comes to fruition, the candidates need to have mercy on the public. There should be commercials during the debates -- starring Frasier, Seinfeld and Ally McBeal.
Rough Draft, a disgrace to intelligent discourse, appears Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 1 p.m. at washingtonpost.com