As the first debate looms, people are getting edgy. Bush supporters hope this will be the last hoop he has to leap through before victory. Kerry loyalists see it as his last chance before defeat.
Although presidential debates are a recent phenomenon, emerging at the beginning of politic's modern television age, there is something medieval about their presentation.
Two princes meet in a clearing surrounded by their courtly entourage -- to engage in single combat to the death. The winner's clan will gain the castle and all the riches therein. The loser's men will meekly wander off into the forest and await the coming of a new, stronger leader.
In the days leading up to the deadly joust, each champion's men have carefully sharpened their master's sword, and tested the flexibility and strength of his silver arrow-tipped lance. The strongest of his loyal soldiers have let him test his mettle against them in practice runs. They have sewn his garments with the finest golden threads and massaged exotic balms into his well-tanned body. On the morn of the deadly duel, each prince's lady offers to her consort a silken sash to wear for luck. (Wives have always been picking out their husbands' ties for special occasions.)
As the warriors enter the clearing, there is nothing left for their men than to clang their swords against their shields to hearten their lord and confound his adversary. Then, silence, as the battle tocsin's clang announces the start of a battle fought by ancient and complicated rules of engagement. Where to start, how far to advance, when a combatant may dismount to finish with sword what he started with lance-thrust. If the winner is to gain the rewards of victory, he must be seen to have fought according to the rules.
We can almost see Sir Joe of Lockhart sneaking into the opponent's stables the night before to cut the tendons of Prince George's stead. Or Dan, the Baronet Bartlett, craftily telling Black Prince John's men not to worry: "For my own good Lord hath barely ever ridden in such contests, and knows not the artifice of combat. Rest easy tonight, for tomorrow, you shall surely sleep in the castle's soft sheets."
It's all quite charming -- this drama of the first debate as presented by the courtly class of pundits, jesters and fools. But if history is any guide, Thursday night's joust will not be the decisive element in the presidential campaign -- because the voters are not the damned fools that journalists think they are.
Blankley, who had been suffering from stomach cancer, died Saturday night at Sibley Memorial Hospital in Washington, his wife, Lynda Davis, said Sunday.
In his long career as a political operative and pundit, his most visible role was as a spokesman for and adviser to Gingrich from 1990 to 1997. Gingrich became House Speaker when Republicans took control of the U.S. House of Representatives following the 1994 midterm elections.
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