Gaffes and brimstone, as McCain, Obama proxies spar in Jerusalem
In comparison, the actual McCain-Obama faceoff was as flat and featureless as C-Span.
Question: What's the difference between a Presidential Debate and a pit bull?
Answer: A pit bull tends to stick to the subject.
As if to test this proposition, a parallel-universe mock debate was held in Jerusalem late last week between Jewish-American proxies for Barack Obama and John McCain.
Unlike the men-who-would-be-president, Marc Zell, co-chair of Republicans Abroad-Israel, and Sheldon Schorer, counsel to Democrats Abroad-Israel, attacked early and kept things personal. Though decidedly low-wattage in the charisma department, the two would find other ways to bring the heat. In comparison, the actual McCain-Obama faceoff was as flat and featureless as C-Span.
With a waft of brimstone circling in the air, Zell of the GOP warned that a President Obama would focus his diplomatic initiatives solely on Israel, and force the Jewish state to make a litany of painful concessions, presumably while handcuffed, under a hot light, with jumper cables tied to our collective fingertips.
Despite the average age of the crowd, which suggested the cutting-room floor of "Cocoon" and, as background, could have granted McCain a dashing air of youth, Democrat Abroad Schorer nearly sparked a riot by citing the widely published report that Sarah Palin had tried to have books banned at the Wasilla library when she was mayor of Wasilla shortly before becoming Governor of Alaska, America's largest state, smack dab on the front lines with Russia.
Zell, who had moments earlier defended Palin's candidacy by saying she was "much better-looking than Joe Biden," sprang to the moose-whisperer's defense, yelling: "That is a lie sir! Prove it! Prove it!" Schorer was only able to answer that he had read or heard it somewhere, only one step up from "I read it on Moveon.org."
As the Thursday debate, organized by the American Israel Action Coalition (AIAC - like AIPAC without the P), took place eight time zones and a full day ahead of the scheduled first encounter between McCain and Obama, it was entirely unclear whether the real debate would take place at all. Back in the Old Country (in this case, Ole Miss), onetime Navy pilot and former POW John McCain had called a campaign time-out, flying off to Washington to single-handedly save the United States from economic ruin, and leaving the Friday debate in Mississippi firmly in the lurch.
Far and away, the Jerusalem debate set the standard for gaffes, with Schorer using the unfortunate term "final solution" in front of a room full of elderly Jews when speaking on the issue of final status negotiations with the Palestinian Authority. Zell managed to hurl choice cuts of fine kosher republican red meat, and in his closing remarks managed to refer to the Democratic candidate by his full name, drawing up "Hussein" to sinister and foreboding effect. Schorer, for his part, seemed to hold back and fumble, at one point saying the U.S. and Israel must stop "Iraq from getting nuclear weapons" and later accidentally referring to Hezbollah as a country.
The entertainment factor of the Jerusalem debate was helped by a question and answer session at the end that gave it almost a dysfunctional town-hall vibe, if your town was full of American olim, jittery about a presidential election. Highlights included Zell brushing off one participant's fears of Sarah Palin's fundamental Christian worldview by mentioning how born-again Christians are good people and "hey, I'm an Orthodox Jew, I wrap these weird leather straps around my arm each day, people probably think that's weird." It's uncertain if he was able to convince the young woman who asked the question that banning abortion even in cases of rape or incest is no stranger than putting on phylacteries in the morning.
The definite high point of the question and answer session came when a young man in the back, annoyed that he wasn't called on, began screaming "Listen to the youth, a question from the youth, we are the future!" Unfortunately for the young man, despite his repeated protestations, he was not called on, which was met by loud boos by the crowd, who would never like to see their grandson treated that way. For the sake of hindsight, an investigation after the debate uncovered that the young man's dire, pressing question was about medical marijuana and state's rights, and how since he can't sleep without a joint, why can't he get medical marijuana if it's legal in California. Unfortunately, for this generation, and for the sake of the future, the standing of the presidential candidates on this issue will remain unknown.
By the time Friday evening rolled around and McCain had stormed northern Mississippi again putting country first, it was clear that the debates would go on as planned, reminding us all that the real thing isn't always preferable and to be careful what you wish for.
In Oxford, Mississippi, the world was treated to the real spectacle and as unfortunately, the genuine article paled in comparison. Though there was a striking contrast in appearance and generational background, for the most part, both candidates' performances seemed forced and altogether devoid of life.
On some level John McCain and Barack Obama seemed to mimic one another's phrasing, with both finding a way to mention 'Main Street' in the first minute of their opening remarks and both later displaying bracelets given to them by the families of fallen soldiers, like two kids at summer camp comparing lanyards or friendship bracelets, a move that left both candidates looking desperate, grasping at emotion over substance.
McCain to his credit, managed to get almost cinematic with some of his outbursts, channeling Emilio Estevez's Billy the Kid from 'Young Guns', saying that the first pork-laden bills he sees "I will make them famous and you will know their name." On two other occasions, he mentioned how he'd never "won Miss Congeniality" of the Senate, almost seeming to imply that Obama is a creampuff, a drag queen, or Sandra Bullock.
In a sense the Presidential debate in Mississippi was exceptional in that it somehow wrestled boredom from jaws of excitement. In the midst of one of the most heated elections in years, with two long-time media darlings on live TV face-to-face, one a speak-from-the-hip gunslinger and the other a charismatic orator the likes of which the U.S. hasn't seen in decades, the viewer was left underwhelmed. At the end of the day, this broadcasting dream team fell far short of two middle-aged Jewish American expatriates arguing in a 1,000-seat theater in Rehavia, Jerusalem.
Rest assured the vice presidential debates, assuming that Sarah Palin hasn't been replaced by the McCain campaign and Joe Biden hasn't had his vocal chords forcibly removed by the Obama campaign, will not disappoint.