That's right, we don't live in Gallagherstan. Our political parties have agreed that there will be no use of props by the candidates during the debates (which begin the evening of the day this issue appears, if the canary doesn't die.) So we won't have to see Bush draw Osama's face on a watermelon and then smash it. Kerry will not use ketchup in any way to "brand" his campaign. No one will stick his head in a rubber glove and blow. Both candidates will have to blow on their own.
And they will, if these debates go on. Thanks to the now infamous 32-page Memorandum of Understanding, the candidates are not allowed to do much else. As a result there is now general agreement throughout the country that these will not actually be debates. Critics have suggested various other characterizations, such as "scripted joint speeches" and "bi-partisan press conferences." I like the terms "un-debates" or "unbates" for short. "Planned verbal events" would be accurate.
Even the so-called Town Hall debate planned for October 8 doesn't allow for any spontaneous questioning. While the president's own rare press conferences have allowed follow-up questions from reporters, don't expect any of that at the Town Hall debate.
The questions asked in all the debates will be screened by the moderator, so might as well just be his or her questions. Neither candidate will be allowed to address the other. At the Town Hall event they've even gone so far as to ensure that the areas that Bush and Kerry move about in will not over-lap. No horseplay! No extended shots of Bush standing next to Kerry showing Kerry's five-inch height advantage!
There will be no imitations of Ed Sullivan introducing celebrities in the audience. You will not hear Bush say, "I want you all to give a warm round of applause to Donald Rumsfeld, that's him right there in the third row, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld take a bow…" because the Memorandum of Understanding explicitly makes that sort of thing Verboten.
The Memo of Understanding gets especially surreal where it grinds on about how the questions in the Town Hall debate will not be limited as to topic in any way, and then immediately adds that the number of questions on foreign policy and homeland security must equal the number on economics and domestic policy. So in the reality of our two major political parties "not limited" officially means "limited." Why am I not surprised?
I saved the worst rule of the Memorandum for last. That one states that the candidates who participate in the presidential debates may not only not debate each other in any other forums besides the three agreed upon, but they are also specifically forbidden to debate candidates of any other parties before the election. We all knew that neither Bush nor Kerry wanted to debate Nader, say, but now they have tried to make it look like they can't do it because their hands are tied – "Our campaigns had to agree to this Memorandum." Right, and their campaigns wrote the Memorandum.
Here's something to look for in the debates, especially the first one. Watch for the candidates to stretch the rules (the rules that they themselves insisted upon) in order to show what mavericks they are. When Bush shows how macho he is by breaking the rule against directly questioning Kerry, and Jim Lehrer tells him he can't do that, look for the smirk. When Kerry proves he has what it takes to be a leader by taking bold and decisive action to step briefly away from the podium, watch how he then shows his sun-shiny personable side when he steps back.
After all, the first debate is all about who's going to defeat the terrorists. Everybody knows we're not going to defeat the terrorists by playing by the rules, right?
Likewise, we're not ever going to have a democracy in America so long as the Democrats and the Republicans continue to evade real political debate this way.