Turn the debate into fight night

The Baltimore Sun

So that other debate is on TV tomorrow night.

You know, the one between those two guys running for president? What are their names again? The black guy and the old guy? Oh, yeah, Barack Obama and John McCain.

Funny, you don't seem that excited.

In fact, did I hear ... snoring?

Oh, sure, it's no Joe Biden vs. Sarah Palin, which was the Thrilla in Manilla of recent political debates.

Watching that one and then sitting through Obama-McCain II could be like seeing The Godfather followed by an infomercial on vacuum cleaners.

But that's what hype can do for a debate. And the Biden-Palin debate generated so much hype because the entire country wanted to see if Governor Palin could actually speak in complete sentences and correctly point to Russia on a map.

Would the aw-shucks hockey mom get it together and display more knowledge of the issues than she did in her disastrous conversations with Katie Couric, now known as the Hindenburg of all TV interviews?

People wanted to know, so more than 70 million of them tuned into the vice-presidential debate between Biden and Palin.

In fact, it was the second most-watched political debate since they started keeping track of these things, topped only by the Ronald Reagan-Jimmy Carter face-off in 1980.

And the Biden-Palin debate attracted almost 20 million more viewers than the first Obama-McCain debate.

Boy, did little old Baltimore eat it up, too.

According to the Nielsen ratings, Baltimore had the highest percentage of viewers (59.1) in the whole country tuned in to the VP debate.

Hey, it's nice to be No. 1 at something besides venereal diseases and unsolved shootings.

Look, even the Saturday Night Live sketches about the first Obama-McCain debate were boring - especially compared to this past weekend's hilarious send-up of the Biden-Palin dust-up, complete with Queen Latifah playing the role of book-hawking moderator Gwen Ifill.

Oh, people will be talking about this one for days. Tina Fey is so dead-on with her impersonation of Palin - with the winks, the accent, the mangled syntax, the Stepford Wives-smile - that she actually seems to morph into the Alaska governor each Saturday night at 11:30.

And Jason Sudeikis was exceptional as the slick, verbose, hair-plugged Biden, touting his middle-class cred by stressing that he grew up in the depressed hellhole of Scranton, Pa., and adding cheerfully "Wilmington, Del., isn't much better!"

It all makes you wish they'd schedule another Biden-Palin debate, for the entertainment factor alone, if no other reason.

Instead, tomorrow night, we get the second debate between Obama and McCain, and it would be nice if things were a little livelier this time.

Here's one suggestion: Put the candidates closer together.

I mean real close together. Maybe a foot or two apart.

And never mind looking at the cameras or the moderator - have the candidates face each other.

Look, when the other guy is literally in your face and you can feel his hot breath and he's accusing you of being wrong on Iraq, or saying condescendingly that you just don't understand the difference between a tactic and a strategy, well, who knows what'll happen?

That's when we could see some real fireworks.

With any luck, one of them could lose it and take a poke at the other guy.

Then the next day, instead of people gathering around the coffee machine at work and saying boring stuff like "I thought so-and-so was the more effective debater because of blah, blah, blah," people would be saying: "Did you see McCain throw that uppercut at Obama? He nearly took his head off!"

Now the viewers would really have something to look forward to in the next debate.

You wouldn't need to hype it at all. Because all these great story lines would already be in place.

Will Obama seek revenge for McCain's cheap shot?

Is he going into training? Is he taking boxing lessons?

Did he hire a karate instructor?

Is it true that Michelle Obama called out Cindy McCain and threatened to "whip her butt" on Oprah?

You talk about a ratings monster. Now you'd have a debate people want to see!

Instead, we're likely to get the same old re-hashed lines from the candidates tomorrow night, which won't exactly add spice to a presidential race that feels like it's been going on for years.

I remember before the first Obama-McCain debate, one of the cable talk-show hosts teased the event by asking his audience: "Is John McCain too hot? Is Barack Obama too cool?"

Well, one thing was certain.

When the TV cameras winked on, they were both too boring.

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