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No question, my willingness is beyond debate


No matter what you may have read or heard, there is still an excellent chance I will be asked to moderate one of the remaining presidential debates.

But unlike my colleagues Dan Rather and Tom Brokaw, who announced weeks in advance that because of journalistic ethics they would not take part in the debates if asked -- which, by the way, they weren't -- I have no such ethics.

Well, actually, what I meant to say was not that I don't have ethics but that I don't agree with their ethics; that is, making a public announcement that you won't take part in something you haven't been asked to take part in.

See, that's where my distinguished colleagues and I part company: I am announcing -- today, right now, right here -- that if asked to serve as a referee in Game 3 or Game 4 of the debates, I will do so. And I, unlike my good friend Hal Bruno, will allow the audience to cheer, clap and hiss.

Incidentally, am I the only one to notice that Dan Rather's left eye twitches?

But getting back to me, I know it would be an unexpected choice -- the choice of me as presidential-debate moderator -- but knowing me as well as I know me, I think I can honestly say I have no eye twitches. But then neither do Sam Donaldson and Ted Koppel. And they weren't asked either.

Which reminds me: Who, in your opinion, has the funnier hair? Sam or Ted? It's an interesting question.

But not as interesting, I might add, as the questions I am prepared to ask of the presidential debaters, should I be asked to ask them.

Excuse me, I hear the phone ringing. It could be them calling. Be back in a sec.

Hello. No, I already subscribe to Cats of the World Digest. But thanks anyway.

Well, as I was saying, I'm already working on the list of questions I intend to ask the candidates. And may I say they will not be cheap questions cunningly fashioned to put me in the best possible journalistic light in the hopes of furthering my career.

Not that if they should further my career I wouldn't accept the furtherance of my career.

No, the questions I plan to ask are simple, direct questions. Not "exotic hypotheticals" -- a la the Kitty Dukakis question -- designed to shock the audience. Which means I probably should lose the first question I planned to ask Bush. Which is -- or was:

"Mr. President, your wife Barbara Bush recently said to you on the 'Today' show, 'I'm going to go home and write my resignation, put it on your desk and see if you take it.' Sir, will you take that resignation? And if you do, would you rather date one of the Mandrell sisters or Margaret Thatcher?"

But I plan to keep the question that . . . Pardon me, I think Federal Express is at my door. Could be the invitation. Don't go away.

Sorry. They haven't lived here for years. Moved to Montana.

Let's see. Where was I? Oh, I know. Here are just a few of the questions I'm working on. See what you think.

To Governor Clinton: "Which Elvis Presley recording do you like best, "Don't Be Cruel" or "Jailhouse Rock"? And why?

Follow-up question to Clinton: "Why is your suit jacket too big?"

Oh-oh. I seem to recall that Ann Compton already asked that jacket question. Maybe I could just change the words "suit jacket" to "hair." Or is that plagiarism?

I have to say I really love the two questions I've come up with for Mr. Perot.

First question: "Mr. Perot, in the words of your vice presidential running mate, could you tell us who you are and why you are here?"

Second question: "How do you respond to Gloria Steinem's criticism that it is sexist to refer to the deficit as the 'crazy, old aunt in the basement?' Why are you letting uncles off the hook? Are we talking conspiracy here?"

And now for the Extra Points Question to all three candidates: "Name all the original members of the Supremes."

Oops! Fax coming in. Better just check it out.

I'm back. False alarm. Just a student faxing me to tell me he'd be late turning in an assignment because the dog ate his homework. Cats, incidentally, would never do that.

But I digress. Let's see. My next question -- and this is to all three candidates:

"If you could be psychoanalyzed by anyone in history, would you choose (a) Sigmund Freud (b) Dr. Ruth or (c) Phil Donahue?"

By the way, this last is a trick question. The right answer is: (d) Barbara Walters.

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