Niagara Gazette

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October 3, 2012

10 memorable moments in presidential debates

(Continued)

1992: James Stockdale asks: "Who am I? Why am I here?"

Stockdale, a decorated Vietnam veteran, was third-party candidate Ross Perot's running mate. His unique opening earned him some laughs, but in the long run, also made him the subject of jokes that undercut his aim of being a serious contender.

1988: Michael Dukakis and the death penalty

When asked whether he would favor an irrevocable death penalty for someone who raped and murdered his wife, Dukakis, the Democratic nominee, quickly answered that he wouldn't. While a calm and efficient response would seem befitting for most debate questions, Dukakis's automatic, technical answer to such an emotionally distressing question didn't sit will with voters looking for a more human response.

1988: Lloyd Bentsen tells Dan Quayle: "You're no Jack Kennedy"

Just about every political put-down has to be compared to this one from the vice presidential debate 24 years ago. Quayle defended his experience and readiness to be president by noting that he had "as much experience as Jack Kennedy did, when he sought the presidency." The Democratic vice presidential nominee replied curtly: "Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy."

1984: Ronald Reagan says he won't exploit Walter Mondale's "youth and inexperience"

Facing questions about this age, the incumbent turned the argument on its head, earning laughter from the audience when he delivered this line about Mondale. This debate was a reminder that humor holds the potential to defuse issues that are difficult to navigate.

1980: Reagan: "There you go again"

After Jimmy Carter cast him as an opponent of Medicare and expanding health insurance in debate No. 2, Reagan's memorable line was an effective jumping off point for a rebuttal. Taken together with his also memorable "are you better off?" closing argument, Reagan commanded the attention in this debate.

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