ANYBODY who says televised presidential debates don't mean anything weren't watching last night.
We learned so much.
We saw for instance that Bob Dole has the better tan.
That moderator Jim Lehrer's hair-dye job is even worse than Bob Dole's eyebrow-dye job.
That Bill Clinton can go an entire 90 minutes without once biting his lip.
But what we mostly learned was that Bob Dole is a funny. I mean, real funny. I don't know who won the debate. Bob Dole attacked. Bill Clinton played prevent defense. I'm not sure anybody pushed the ball into the end zone (OK, I promise, no more sports metaphors).
But if this was "Star Search," Bob Dole is coming back next week.
For a while, I wasn't sure if Dole was auditioning for president or to play Groucho Marx.
Did you watch? Are you holding your sides?
Asked if people were better off than they were four years ago, Dole said that Clinton was better off.
And he said Saddam Hussein was better off.
Asked whether he thought his 15-percent tax cut plan
was still he good idea, he told Jim Lehrer that he was eligible and so was the "former president."
If you didn't watch, it's funnier than it sounds.
When Dole wasn't attacking Clinton for being dishonest or being too soft of drugs or being too liberal, liberal, liberal, he was there to amuse the public.
He even tried some of the old jokes. Well, he's an old guy. He says that when he was in the Senate, he asked the members to tax their memory. And Ted Kennedy said, "Why didn't I think of that?"
Can we get a ba-dump-bump?
We saw a different Bob Dole. Everyone who knows Dole will tell you how funny he is. Here's the problem, and I wonder how you saw it on the TV screen -- a medium that doesn't lie if you don't count the pancake makeup.
Behind every great comic mind is a mean mind.
Dole has worked hard not to be Mr. Mean. Was he mean?
Does it matter to you?
When Clinton saw how the evening was going, he tried to be funny, too. He's the kind of guy who Actually, hehind every great comic mind is a mean
Apparently, C;liknton has a terrible temper. You watch himon television. He's the most mellow guy since Jim Anderson on Father Knows Best.
He looks calm.
He looks presidential. He's got gray hair, and
Clinton came in as the big favorite, not that, as a debater, he put you in mind of either Lincoln or Douglas. He's more like Ronald Reagan. He's relaxed. He seems natural. In the era of talk-show hosts, he's the president most likely to challenge Oprah after he's retired. He's qualified: He feels your pain. And he's comfortable around losers.
Bob Dole, on the other hand, has George Bush's gift for syntax. He has a problem ending sentences. He makes his point, if he has one, and then trails off with a concluding, "Whatever." You could see him straining last night not to say it. I'm going to lower your taxes and . . . whatever."
Instead, he would end thoughts with "And that's what America's all about." At one point, he was talking about being able to take vacations . . . and that's what America's all about. He almost got my vote right there.
There were no blunders.
And there were no great revelations either.
We pretty much knew what they stood for before the debates.
Dole wants to cut taxes.
Clinton wants to cut some people's taxes, but not by as much as Dole does.
Dole thinks Clinton is doing a bad job in foreign policy. Clinton thinks Clinton is doing a good job.
Dole thinks Clinton is a liberal.
Clinton points to the V-chip and asks how liberal that is.
Here's what TV debates do: They let us see the candidates toe to toe. We see them together and decide things, like we usually do, from the gut.
You look at them and decide. Which one do we trust with our futures? Which one would we rather coach our kids in soccer?
And, of course, which one do we want to emcee the awards ceremony at the Rotary Club?
Pub Date: 10/07/96