It's hard to take the presidential debates seriously given what they've become over the last 30 years.
Despite the hype from predictable quarters, let's not mince words: The presidential debates are hardly critical. They're hardly even debates.
They're so much closer to laughable they hardly even matter.
The nation's four-week quadrennial miniseries kicks off Wednesday night in Denver, and like reality shows currently crowding the TV bandwidth, the presidential debates are little more than matte-finish set pieces with quiz-show scripts and well-practiced answers from candidates hoping to land just the right zinger for an endowment-obsessed culture that believes size even of the sound bite variety triumphs over substance.
Indeed, the disheveled Romney campaign readily admits that their man has been practicing zingers and one-liners since August. It has hopes of creating another of those memorable debate moments akin to Ronald Reagan's 1984 quip about his age, or Lloyd Bentsen admonishing Dan Quayle, "You're no Jack Kennedy."
Of course, we like the zingers.
It's like NASCAR; we wait for the crash.
It's what we talk about the next morning: who had the best witticism, who tanked like a bag of hammers. It fits neatly with our short attention spans.
Sorry, but the data, well researched, are indisputable: Almost without exception, none of the lines and none of the gaffes we all recall made memorable changes to the races themselves.
So outside of the occasional high-five moment for your guy or theirs, instead of the grilling any worthy candidate would welcome, the debates are more like sleepy press conferences: candidates mouthing uncontested platitudes; supine moderators asking puffball questions like "Elvis or Johnny Cash?"
Blame it on the political parties. The League of Women Voters, which had long sponsored the presidential debates, pulled their backing in 1988, deciding the demands of the two campaign organizations would perpetrate a fraud on the American voter.
The campaigns have been controlling the sham ever since, with but one purpose in mind: To make their candidate look good.
Adding to this year's excitement, the highly formatted format is even more formatted this time because for the first time, the candidates have been issued lists of precisely which topics are on tap for each contest the economy, health care, the role of government and governing Wednesday night making preparation that much easier for the candidates. Yes, the old-fashioned cheat sheet.
Thus, in this spirit of elusion, here are some questions I, a cynic, would ask the candidates:
For Barack Obama:
Your thoughts on empty-chair Mitt and cardboard-cutout Mitt?
What are just three of the new corporate names being used by the congressionally defunded ACORN organization?
How about you change your slogan from "Yes We Can" to "Thought We Could"?
Are you the only president to come into office in a lousy economy? If no, who are the others and whom did they blame? If yes, what was the date of your last lobotomy?
Name just two things in your Occidental/Columbia/Harvard transcripts you've spent millions to hide from the media/public.
Have you ever eaten a ham sandwich?
Isn't it true that all Hawaiians were born in Kenya?
For Mitt Romney:
Define "flip/flop" and give an example of how you don't do that?
Do you always walk around saying you don't care about 47 percent of the country, or do you only say it when you're charging people $50,000 a plate to hear you speak?
If 13 percent is what you paid, and lower taxes on "job creators" means more jobs, how much lower do taxes need to be to incentivize you and your friends to bring money back from the Cayman Islands and Switzerland to create jobs?
Will Wall Street brokers and bankers still have as many opportunities to steal from gullible investors?
Would you consider Sarah Palin better informed on foreign policy than Paul Ryan because he can't see Russia from Wisconsin?
As a Mormon, will you trade the president's limo for a bicycle?
Are you willing to strongly support both sides of every issue?
Perhaps jousting with blimps
Slightly disrespectful? Hey, it's not like the political parties have any respect for the voter.
In truth, I did consider crafting a Presidential Debate Drinking Game but decided against it once I realized it would've induced a national alcoholic coma in the first 30 minutes.
At this point, we'd be better off arming the candidates with their own personal blimp and televising a midair jousting tournament. First person whose blimp gets punctured not only loses, but we get to see him fly away in serpentine retreat as all the hot air gets let out of the gasbag.
Blimp jousting. Might make for a new Olympic sport.