With President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney set for their first presidential debate in Denver tonight, I flash back to the presidential debate in which I had personal involvement. This debate also involved an incumbent (although as vice-president) and governor of Massachusetts – George H. W. Bush and Michael Dukakis, October 13, 1988 at UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion in Los Angeles.
The debate was originally scheduled for Los Angeles’ Shrine Auditorium to be hosted by the League of Women Voters. This was the second of two debates the presidential candidates had that year. However, a week before the debate was to go off, the League pulled its sponsorship of the debate citing interference by both campaigns. The complaints covered a range of issues from format to panelists to the height of the podiums.
The Commission on Presidential Debates asked UCLA to host the debates and the university agreed. However, the Commission was short funds and asked for donations. A number of corporate entities stepped up. The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Foundation also offered to help making a donation to the effort equal to some of the corporate donors. I was then president of the Jarvis group.
We received a couple of tickets to the event and recognition in the program … but the recognition extended to just the program.
Before the debates began, with audience and reporters seated and eagerly anticipating the event, the chairmen of the Democratic and Republican parties came out to say some introductory words. The Democratic chairman had the chore of thanking the donors who rallied at the last moment to make the debate feasible. He named all the major donors … except one.
He didn’t forget the Los Angeles Times or Arco. It was the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Foundation he did not mention.
Does anyone think that was done by accident?
The most memorable moment from that debate occurred with the first question from CNN anchor and debate moderator Bernard Shaw. He asked Dukakis, “Governor, if Kitty Dukakis were raped and murdered, would you favor an irrevocable death penalty for the killer?”
Dukakis’s answer was flat and without emotion. The way he answered the question would become the touchstone for commentators after the debate. While neither candidate did particularly well in the debate, Dukakis’s passionless response was the major news out of the debate.
We’ll see what newsworthy comment may come from tonight’s encounter.