A Mr. Richard Feder of Fort Lee, N.J., writes to ask: How can I judge tonight's presidential debate? Who will win? What clothes will they wear? What signs are they? What is their favorite salad dressing? w
Hey, Mr. Feder, for a guy from New Jersey you sure ask a lot of questions.
Judging for tonight's debate between Jimmy (The Georgia Slasher) Carter and Ronald (Ol' Folks) Reagan will be done on the 10-point must system. The winner of each category must receive 10 points, while the loser may receive anywhere between zero ("The Big Goose" for those of you keeping score) and nine points. Counting for the knockdowns will be Joseph Califano, who probably could care less either way. The mandatory three-knockdown rule will be waived and neither fighter can be saved by the bell, not even Griffin Bell in the case of Mr. Carter or the Liberty Bell in the case of Mr. Reagan. The debate can be stopped early only by the release of the hostages.
Judging will be done in 10 categories. Originally it was to be nine categories, called "innings" because Reagan and Carter are both big fans of God and God is a big fan of baseball. (See Genesis where God says, "In the big inning.") But because baseball season is over the innings concept was dropped.
Don Pardo, the categories, please.
Tan. An underrated category. Americans won't elect a man president who looks like a walking advertisement for chalk. Since so much of our foreign policy in the '80s will have to be conducted in the Sahara, it behooves a president to be able to withstand a strong sun. Carter may have an edge here after all those years shucking peanuts, but don't count Reagan out yet. There are rumors that he has retained the services of George Hamilton for a pre-debate baby oil and cocoa butter quick fix.
Suit. There is some strong sentiment that since the debate is being held in Cleveland, both men should come on strong with what is known in the fashion trade as "The Full Cleveland" -- a John Travolta three-piece disco suit with a flowered shirt open at the neck, a white belt, white shoes and an Italian power horn necklace. It is unlikely that either will do so. We are likely to see both men come out in dark blue suits with either dark blue or dark red ties, the standard, pro-America vestments. There was a rumor that Reagan would appear in a leather fringe jacket to court the cowboy vote, and that Carter would come draped in the American flag. No one knows what will happen, but Reagan's suit adviser, Jimmy Stewart, was cautioning him yesterday that to wear a six-gun on his hip might offend tailors, maybe even Elizabeth Taylor. Just in from Billy G. (one of the Three Gs): "Anyone wearing corduroy can give up."
Teeth. Carter figures to win in a walk. His teeth are as large and as white as bowling pins. Reagan might sneak by on points with the Polident set, who are jealous of Carter, but Reagan might have made a mistake on his choice of tooth adviser, Leon Spinks. Cleveland was wild with rumors yesterday that Spinks would have a surprise (or even a set of dentures) up his sleeve for the debate, but veteran sportswriters countered by saying that Spinks' religion forbids him from wearing sleeves. Reagan's only hope may be to show off his gold fillings and complain that the Carter economy has made his teeth worth more than his ranch in California.
Hardware. Reagan can be expected to attack Carter's position on military hardware. Reagan has received coaching from his military adviser, George C. Scott, and he will say that Carter has cut far too much from the defense budget. Carter, however, will try to limit the debate to household hardware. He will quote Suzanne Somers ("Ace is the place for the helpful hardware man") and Pat Summerall ("Hi, Pat Summerall for Tru-Value Hardware") and go for the all-important plumbers vote that provided Richard Nixon's margin of victory against George McGovern.
Monkeys. A toss-up category. Reagan has Bonzo, but Carter has Billy. Reagan's much-sought-after national adviser on monkeys, J. Fred Muggs, is said to be holding his considerable appeal to the Republican.
Hand Signals. Reagan may be a favorite here because of his acting experience. His national adviser on gestures, Marcel Marceau, has told him (well, not exactly told him) to speak softly and carry a big audio visual aide. (Reagan at first thought that meant he should carry Walter Cronkite out there with him.) Carter has a tendency to keep his hands in his pockets in a classic Georgian awshucks pose. This will hurt him. But he can also be hurt if he goes on the offensive and points too much. Americans don't like to be pointed at. Carter's only hope might be to draw on his Navy experience and bring semaphore flags up onto the podium.
Physique. Smart money is on Reagan. After Carter's pitiful showing in that mini-marathon last summer he has all but dumped his physical conditioning program. However, his famous hemorrhoid condition could gain him votes, especially in Kansas City and at George Brett's house.
Reagan's muscle tone adviser, Clint Eastwood, has him jogging daily at Big Sur and literally punching cattle.
Lie Control. This is a fairly subtle category. People who know both candidates well say that when Carter is lying he gulps noticeably. This is known as The Georgia Gag. When Reagan is lying he says, "Golly" and starts drifting into lines from his old movies. Reagan's adviser on honesty, David Begelman, has told him that if he is going to quote old movies he should not quote his own because they were mostly awful; instead, he should quote from John Wayne movies. Watch out if Reagan ever lapses into -- "Get on your horse and ride on out of here."
Rip and Rep. Both men come in ripping and slashing like Jaws. Carter may be doing the better job cutting up his opponent, characterizing him as a Crazy Joey Gallo, who would make us go to the mattresses the day of his inauguration. Reagan has sought to counter this through the counsel of his national adviser on ripping, Charles Bronson, who put up a picture of Carter on Reagan's barn door and blew it full of machine-gun holes. As for rep. there has been so much mudslinging that both men have stocked up on Tide for the final week of the campaign. Reagan's national adviser on cleanliness, Pat Boone, has told him that drinking milk will do wonders for internal mud stains.
Misty Eyes. Reagan, big. Reagan is reliably reported to have wept over a particularly poignant episode of "Little House on the Prairie." When Reagan starts on his "Shining City on a Hill" speech he gets all choked up. rIt's enough to remind you of the famous "Win one for the Gipper" scene. His national adviser on crying, Jerry Lewis, has told him to go flat out on this one. Carter is at a big disadvantage here, unless he can successfully persuade Edmund Muskie to prep him. Carter is not much of a crier. Rosalynn has been rumored to be feeding him onion sandwiches lately.
Methods of Non-Response -- Actually a Non-Category. The main thing is to ignore the questions. After all, the questions are totally irrelevant. They are 25-minute filibusters by journalists who are milking this national exposure for all it's worth. ("Hey, this could get me national syndication.") Carter is particularly good at evasion, as opposed to Reagan who could be better at invasion. Look for Reagan to evade like crazy when someone asks him how it can be that our national forests are for air pollution. Look for him to explain that his national adviser on pollution, Smokey the Bear, was suffering from cabin fever when they had their little chat. Look for Carter to pull the old end run when someone asks about the state of the economy. Look for John Anderson to demand equal time and for Reagan's national advisers on sex education, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, to try and date the League of Women Voters.
Latest word from Vegas: Take Carter; give 3 points.