The final presidential debate takes place tonight.
If it holds to form, it will not be “must-see” TV, unless your idea of entertainment is watching traffic cams.
The problem has been the formats. They are so stilted that the closest we have come to an unrehearsed response was when John McCain had a senior moment last week and called Barack Obama “that one.”
Here's what I think they should do.
Have the last debate in a neighborhood bar, a real neighborhood bar, a joint, a gin mill, the kind of place where ordering Miller High Life is putting on airs.
The candidates want to relate to Joe Six-Pack? This is where he hangs out, along with Joe Twelve-Pack and Frankie Foreclosed, and Jimmy Jobless and all the rest of the blue-collar voters the candidates want to impress with their regularness.
There would not be a moderator for this debate. There would be a bartender, who not only would pour the shots but call them, too. I don't know if he is available, but Paulie Walnuts would be perfect.
Paulie would ask a lot of the questions. He would also be in charge of telling the candidates when it was their turn to talk and when it was their turn to put a sock in it. He wouldn't wussy-foot around like Tom Brokaw.
Questions from the bar
Questions also would come from a panel consisting of bar regulars. There might be some worry about representative demographics and cross-sections, but not as much as about whose turn it is to buy a round.
The debate would unfold like this:
The candidates would walk in and sit down.
Obama would bring Joe Biden, who would have come in by train.
Sarah Palin would bring McCain, and McCain would bring Joe Lieberman.
If Palin couldn't come, then Tina Fey would take her place. She would bring her flute.
A moose might also walk in. It would bring a pig. The pig, of course, would be wearing lipstick.
This being a neighborhood bar, the moose and the pig wouldn't faze anyone. Paulie probably would say to the moose, “Hey, why the long face?” The regulars would laugh and say, “Good one, Paulie.”
Before getting started, everyone would order drinks.
McCain would get vodka.
Biden would get a beer.
Palin would order whiskey and tell Paulie to leave the bottle.
Obama would request a white wine, “straight up, no spritz.”
Lieberman would order – what?
Lieberman would ask for a glass of ice water with a slice of lemon. He would drink it with a straw.
Paulie would start asking questions. There would be a lot of arguing and shouting. People would pound on the bar. Fights would break out.
Eventually, the candidates would drop their talking points and say things they really think but don't mean to say, like: “I haven't the faintest idea how to fix the economy other than to throw money at the problem. No one does.”
The debate would end when Paulie announced last call. The candidates would then be allowed to make closing statements, which would be hard to hear over the singing.
The regular playing the buzzword drinking game who had “my friends” would pass out and fall off his stool.
Paulie would close the debate by saying, “You don't have to go home, but you can't stay here.”
He would not have to read this off a teleprompter.