(As usual, the agreement with the syndicators means that this column appears here a week after its newspaper release)
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DEBATE AND SWITCH
BY BOB FRANKEN
Whether it's the ardent admirers of Rick Perry or those who consider him a dangerous buffoon, everyone needs to take seriously what is behind his campaign's announcement that he might bag some of the upcoming GOP debates.
Oh sure, it's easy for the haters to conclude that his performance in past encounters has been an embarrassment that nearly pulled the props out from under his pulpit. However, his spokesman, Ray Sullivan, of course had a much more elegant spin.
Sullivan told CNN, “The candidates need to spend time in Iowa.” On Fox, he elaborated: “These debates are set up for nothing more than to tear down the candidates.” Translation: Gov. Perry is challenged when he's challenged.
Once he floated his trial balloon and it attracted some flak, he erected the usual candidate “Let Me Explain” mantra and immediately tiptoed back a little. He's now saying that he hadn't really decided.
Notwithstanding his story behind the story (I've always wanted to use that expression), he does have a point. We've already had eight TV debates, and there are scads more scheduled. After all, they are good theater and get good ratings, but they also get in the way of more traditional events.
They take huge chunks of time away from town halls and other photo-op contrivances, to say nothing of the valuable behind-the-scenes meetings to grovel for money from fat cats who want to buy influence.
Even so -- and even though some of the other contenders complain about how these encounters get in the way -- the bad-mouthers have it all wrong.
We need MORE debates, not fewer. There should be so many that we set aside a TV slot for them ... let's call it “D-Span.”
This could be a boon to the economy, because the network would have to hire a staff, and that would mean employment for some of those who were laid off by broadcasting companies trying to maintain their obscene profits.
Another possibility: Simply commandeer an outlet from the huge sports cluster. How many rugby channels do we need? Or curling? Instead of a traditional moderator, all the gamesmanship is perfect for a play-by-play announcer.
Perhaps we can do with one less cooking network. Let's reserve it for the presidential food fight, so we can see why electing them would be a recipe for disaster.
How about some really big thinking? Does international diplomacy have to be so secret? You know where this is going: Instead of back-channel negotiations with, say, Iran, let's put Mr. Ahmadinejad on the Debate Channel. He could ramble on for hours, defending his nation's strict theocratic government. It would soon become obvious how similar he is to some of the U.S. candidates.
I'll leave it to others to decide how that segues back to Perry. He must determine whether the debates are too hazardous to his political health. And Mitt Romney can decide whether to use a small part of his funding from the “corporations are people” people to simply purchase the entire Debate Channel.
As for the rest, these forums are the best opportunity to pull out of the depths. That explains why the likes of Rick Santorum and Michele Bachmann made it clear they have no intention of ignoring any free exposure any more than Newt Gingrich, who sniffed at Perry's reluctance: “Why would any Republican want to nominate someone who couldn't stand on the same platform with us?”
It's always a possibility that he and the other also-rans actually will get noticed on the platform. This is America, after all. If not, they can take their washed-up fancy footwork to “Dancing With the Stars.” Nobody would notice the difference.
© 2011 Bob Franken
Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.