Well . . . there you go again, Washington Post. I know you are doing an in-depth feature on presidential debates, but why does it have to be at my expense? Please understand that for the past few weeks I have been besieged with requests from the national media to talk about my debate experiences in 1976. To tell you the truth, I'd rather talk about the last time I had a root canal job.
Of course, I'll never forget my debate with Walter Mondale -- and don't think I haven't tried. About halfway through, millions of viewers switched their dials to watch test patterns, and three empty chairs got up and walked out.
Liberals in the media say I lost the debate. I'm not sure what the real experts thought, but I know the reporters there were watching with a giant magnifying glass, ready to pounce on anything they considered to be a gaffe. They did some pouncing all right, but I doubt that many viewers or listeners joined them. You know, the podiums Fritz and I used that night have been on display at the Smithsonian. It's nice to be preserved as a piece of history, but I can understand why most visitors probably zip right by on their way to see the M*A*S*H exhibit or Archie Bunker's chair.
You might remember my opponent eight years ago. He now finds himself in the same position Jerry Ford and I were in -- behind, way behind. According to the polls at the time, our GOP ticket was about 20 points in the hole. And just as my Democrat friend is discovering, when you're running a distant second it's no time to hold hands with the opposition. As most viewers remember, there wasn't much hand-holding that night in Houston.
Back then our campaign and debate strategy was simple: President Ford stayed in the Rose Garden and I went into the briar patch. He took the highroad and I went for the jugular, occasionally my own!
We lost the election by a whisker. If we had won, the post mortems on the 1976 debates would have been different. Whatever the consensus, however, my opinion of vice presidential debates has not changed since then. In my view, they don't serve much purpose. I said so before the 1976 debate, and I say so now. Vice presidents do not make policy, it's that simple. Frankly, the voters would rather watch the potential presidents take each other on, and even then, only once or twice.
Because The Post tells me I'm an expert on the "don'ts" of debating, I thought it would be helpful to publish this Top Ten list before the Main Event tonight:
1.Don't answer the questions. Say yes or no, then talk about anything else.
2.Don't quote your kids. They may be more informed -- just don't admit it.
3.Don't perspire. You might not believe it, but millions of people will be watching your upper lip.
4.Don't let your opponent pay for the microphone.
5.Don't get rattled when you see the moderator nodding off.
6.Don't mention Poland unless you're talking about the pope.
7.Don't pay any attention to your briefing book. Your opponent has already memorized it.
8.Don't use a hatchet. Those things are kind of clumsy and could cause self-inflicted wounds.
9.Don't ever, ever promise to raise taxes. Of course, no candidate would ever stick his neck in that kind of noose.
10.Above all, don't debate anyone who happens to be called "The Great Communicator."