Want a preview of Thursday's veepstakes debate between running mates Joe Biden and Sarah Palin? Pick up a copy of Christopher Buckley's latest satirical novel, "Supreme Courtship," that begins when a very unpopular American president decides to tweak Senate solons by nominating to the U.S. Supreme Court America's most popular TV judge, the "sassy, flippant, sexy," no-nonsense, gun-toting hottie from Texas, Pepper Cartwright. As the president explained, Cartwright was not a traditional pick, but "a hands-on, commonsense, workaday judge" who "calls them as she sees them."
Cartwright's nemesis? Senate Judiciary Committee windbag Dexter Mitchell, whose "campaign 'listening tours' were occasions of mirth among political reporters, since it was the people he met who did the listening."
Yes, Buckley told me over the phone Monday, Mitchell is "absolutely based on Joe Biden." As for Palin, Buckley was not even aware she existed when he handed the manuscript in last January.
On television, Palin also has been the stuff of parody. "Saturday Night Live" saw fit to lampoon CBS News anchor Katie Couric's interview with Palin this weekend. You know that the world is changing when "SNL" portrays Couric as a serious journalist. Not long ago, she was late-night comedy's current-events lightweight. Now she's Walter Cronkite.
Apparently, "SNL" writers found no humor in Couric's also-recent interview with Biden. Even though Biden said, "When the stock market crashed, Franklin Roosevelt got on television and didn't just talk about the, you know, princes of greed. He said, 'Look, here's what happened.'"
Maybe "SNL's" writers figured their viewers would not have a clue that Herbert Hoover was president in 1929, or that there was no commercial TV during the Great Depression. Or maybe the writers don't know.
Democrats are hoping Thursday night's running-mate debate will provide new fodder for comedy shows. Buckley does not envision Palin walking into the debate, a la Pepper Cartwright, and knocking them dead as she announces, "They gave me these briefing books. Great big pile of 'em. Looked like a back-to-school sale at Wal-Mart. You need a forklift to carry 'em all. Anyway, I memorized all the answers. I warn you, though, senator. They're pretty darn dull."
Buckley told me that his heart goes out to Palin, but he doubts she has the gravitas for the job: "It's starting to feel uncomfortably like a (Dan) Quayle moment."
If so, it doesn't help that Palin has to perform at peak efficiency and make no mistakes while all of Washington expects Biden to give rambling answers.
Buckley's advice to Biden: "Just be Katie Couric. Don't try to be Lloyd Bentsen." (For you "SNL" fans, Bentsen was the 1988 Democratic vice presidential nominee who famously quipped to Quayle, "Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy; Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy.")
Perhaps Buckley should have warned Biden not to be Quayle. Besides the FDR-TV gaffe, Biden recently announced his ticket would not support clean-coal projects -- from coal country. Wrong, according to Team Obama. Biden also admitted that Hillary Clinton "might have been a better (veep) pick."
You think? Buckley's character runs for president three times, each time raising more money but winning fewer votes in Iowa. In January, the real Biden placed fifth in the Iowa caucus. Apparently, Iowa voters were not wowed by Biden on the stump.
Buckley wrote of Mitchell's "tendency to laugh unpleasantly. It came out as a high-pitched staccato burst, a sort of cackle. One observer likened it to the sound geese make when being force-fed. He had done it once or twice during the presidential debates, causing some in the audience to wonder if they really wanted to hear four years of it in the White House."
Will truth be stranger than fiction?