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Lenore Skenazy
Lenore Skenazy
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4 Debates and a Seal, Ork Ork


After a week of negotiations so intense that sometimes the sandwich platter arrived and people didn't even noticed that they'd better grab the roast beef because the rest were vegetable hoagies, John McCain and Barack Obama and their running mates have agreed on the format of the four debates to come — three for the presidential contenders and one between the Republican vice presidential nominee, Sarah Palin, and the Democratic vice presidential nominee, Whatshisname.

Because the elephants won the coin toss — which raised some questions in and of itself, in that the coin was a euro ("Because at least it's worth something, unlike my 401(k)," a disgusted Bob Schieffer was said to have muttered) — the vice presidential debate will be conducted at 30 paces, with air rifles. Joe Biden is "incredibly psyched," according to his new spokesman/trainer, Chuck Norris. Nonetheless, lately the senator has been repeating his stump comment, "I really believe Hillary would be a better choice — really," in a higher and higher voice. To that end, he has offered her his debate slot.

Before the duel portion of the evening, the two candidates each will be given five-minute periods to discuss their views on everything from monetary policy to how America should respond to "that place with all the Commies and pierogi," a spokeswoman for Gov. Palin said. She later amended the comment: "I meant the place with the Commies and the borscht. The one that just invaded Atlanta." She amended herself again later.

The moderator, Schieffer, has demanded 90 seconds between each answer so he can laugh gently, shake his head in an avuncular manner, and eat some "wholesome, nutty" oatmeal, although he vehemently has denied any interest in endorsing "yummy, nummy" Quaker Oats when his contract with CBS ends in June.

Palin asked that in lieu of traditional podiums, the candidates perch on rough-hewed stumps they hew for themselves during a three-hour "pre-game show" (her words). Biden countered by suggesting they meet in his Senate office, where Palin could sit on the couch on which he prepared his remarks for the Robert Bork hearings in 1987. "No one has sat there since," he said.

Those details still were being ironed out, as was Schieffer's suit, which had to be emergency dry-cleaned because of a brown sugar-'n'-cinnamon incident.

Still up in the air remains the final formatting question. Though both vice presidential candidates agree they would like a real polar bear present to "play up" their strengths, Biden would prefer him in a cage.

Meanwhile, the format for the first and third presidential debates between Sens. Obama and McCain will differ from those in the past. Rather than giving each candidate two minutes to respond to a question and then another two minutes to pretend to respond to the response — which in itself was a well-oiled, prepackaged, pretend response — they will be given just one second to signal thumbs up or thumbs down. Or they can wave their hands around their heads to indicate, "I'll figure that out if and when I get the job."

The second debate will be "town hall"-style, the town being somewhere in Germany, France or Lichtenstein. (The McCain people are fighting this.) Another impasse developed when Obama wanted the event to air live on the Internet via streaming video. McCain angrily insisted he didn't "want to get his socks wet." Once his handlers explained what exactly Obama meant, McCain barked: "I get it. I get it. I'll go barefoot. Fine."

Audience members will be asked to fill out cards upon arrival but are discouraged from asking irrelevant questions, such as, "How am I going to eat?" and, "Are you going to finish that Danish?"

With Washington in turmoil over the Wall Street crisis, both candidates have agreed to devote at least half the debate to examining whether the government should intervene on behalf of not only banks and investment firms but also hedge funds deeply embroiled in credit default swaps. Knowing that this is ratings suicide, they also have agreed to have the polar bear onstage and will take turns feeding it live seals.

Moderator Gwen Ifill, who threatened to walk out unless PBS gives her 90 seconds on-air between exchanges to enjoy a "delicious, nutritious shake from the fine folks at Carnation," has warned both candidates that she will not tolerate any pandering to the doomed seals, including "high-fives and such."

At the debate's end, however, any uneaten seals will be welcome to meet the candidates' families and pose for photos. Board members from Quaker Oats and Carnation will be welcome, as well.

Lenore Skenazy is a columnist at The New York Sun and Advertising Age. To find out more about Lenore Skenazy ( and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at



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