US Presidential elections are just about the most complicated storytelling exercises humans have yet devised. As a result, they are often reduced to simpler narrative questions like ‘who won the debate?’ despite the fact that, most of the time, debates actually do little to determine the outcome of the election.
Notable exceptions include the night that Richard Nixon broke out in a flop sweat so severe viewers began to suspect that he’d hidden a body under his lectern (not entirely implausible, it turns out) and this doozy between President George H.W. Bush, young upstart/prolific pantsmachine Bill Clinton and incredibly well animated cartoon character Ross Perot.
When a nation’s economy heads south, most people find themselves thinking ‘I don’t know how we’re going to get out of this, but I sure hope the folks at the top do’. In the space of four minutes, Bush manages to seamlessly reinforce the suspicion that he doesn’t and Clinton gives every indication that he does. Ross Perot remains silent, so everyone gets what they want.
There are a few reasons why Clinton’s is about the best debate response you’ll ever see.
Firstly, when Clinton says he’s been touring around the country talking to people for 13 months, he may as well say ‘I’ve been hanging out in your head for 13 months, experiencing your thoughts, feelings, fears, hopes and dreams’.
Secondly, while all elections are a choice, he sets the exact parameters of what that choice is. In this case the choice is between ‘everything the other guy believes which is bullshit’ and ‘I’m an omniscient Elvis Presley from Arkansas, Georgetown, Oxford and Yale’.
And finally when Clinton says “this decision better be about what kind of economic theory you want” he somehow manages to tell the American people that, despite its complexities and the ramifications for the entire nation, he trusts them to make that decision. Sweet mercy, does this man know how to make a lady feel appreciated.
If you want some indication of how well Clinton is doing, just enjoy the Bush41 mouth-breathing moment at 3:45. If you watch closely, you can see the exact moment his mind moves from wondering if this debate is going as badly as he thinks to wondering if he remembers the number of a good removalist.