5 Great Presidential Debate Moments


Bentsen Goes Quayle Hunting

Lloyd Bentsen isn't exactly a household name, but back in 1988, the late senator from Texas delivered arguably the most devastating line in presidential debate history. To be accurate, this was a vice presidential debate between Bentsen, who shared the ticket with Democratic presidential hopeful Michael Dukakis, and Dan Quayle, the running mate of George H.W. Bush.

Quayle was yet to become the full-blown punch line of later years (remember "potatoe?"), but many Americans had already caught wind of the young senator's penchant for nonsensical statements and looked forward to his debate debut with great anticipation.

The crowning moment of the debate came after Quayle defended his qualifications for the office by stating that he had as much Congressional experience as John F. Kennedy when he ran for president [source: University of Chicago Press]. When you watch the clip, you can see the gray-haired Bentsen twitch with a mix of disgust and delight. Quayle was in his crosshairs. All he had to do was pull the trigger.

"Senator," Bentsen responds, fixing Quayle with a steely stare. "I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. [HUGE, AWESOME PAUSE] Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy." Boom!

The saddest part of the whole humiliating affair is that when the crowd finally calms down after going bananas for Bentsen, a deflated Quayle turns to Bentsen and whines, "That was really uncalled for, senator." You almost feel sorry for the guy. But then again, he got to be the vice president of the United States (with his own online information portal), while Lloyd Bentsen is only remembered as that old guy who ate Dan Quayle's soul on live TV.

For lots more information on effective and/or offensive campaign ads and political controversies, explore the related links below.

Author's Note: 5 Great Presidential Debate Moments

The 1988 election was the first election I can remember as a semi-politically conscious tween. And that exchange between Lloyd Bentsen and Dan Quayle was my first introduction to the brilliant embarrassment of the live presidential debate. Live TV is brutal. These poor guys and gals have nowhere to hide. I make fun of Rick Perry's inability to remember the names of the three federal agencies he'd destroy as president, but if I was standing behind a lectern on national TV with Jim Lehrer staring at me with his spooky black eyes, I'd be hard-pressed to remember the names of my children. Then again, no one forced these people to become political candidates, and most of them -- even the losers -- will go on to become rich and famous. So I take it all back. Bring the pain!

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  • Berke, Richard L.; Sack, Kevin. The New York Times. "The 2000 Campaign: The Debates; In Debate 2, Microscope Focuses on Gore." October 11, 2000 (June 18, 2012) http://www.nytimes.com/2000/10/11/us/the-2000-campaign-the-debates-in-debate-2-microscope-focuses-on-gore.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm
  • Cunningham, Sean. Esquire. "Biggest Blunders in Debate History." October 9, 2008 (June 18, 2012) http://www.esquire.com/the-side/feature/presidential-debate-mistakes-100808#ixzz1xnSi3dX6
  • Jamieson, Kathleen Hall. Packaging the Presidency: A History and Criticism of Presidential Campaign Advertising. Oxford University Press, 1996. (June 18m 2012) http://books.google.com/books?id=e4E-cStBa0AC&printsec=frontcover&dq=packaging+the+presidency&hl=en&src=bmrr&ei=OzHaT4_LFojO9QTpz_HqBQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=book-thumbnail&resnum=1&ved=0CDoQ6wEwAA#v=onepage&q=packaging%20the%20presidency&f=false
  • Miller Center. University of Virginia. "Debate With President Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter (Foreign and Defense Issues). October 6, 1976 (June 17, 2012) http://millercenter.org/president/speeches/detail/5538
  • Minow, Newton N.; LaMay, Craig L. Inside the Presidential Debates: Their Improbable Past and Promising Future. "Introduction." University of Chicago Press, 2008. (June 17, 2012) http://press.uchicago.edu/Misc/Chicago/530413_intro.html
  • NBC News. NBC Learn K-12. "'I paid for this microphone ': The Reagan v. Bush Debate Controversy." February 23, 1980 (June 18, 2012) http://archives.nbclearn.com/portal/site/k-12/flatview?cuecard=4511
  • University of Chicago Press. "Memorable Moments from Presidential Debates" (June 18, 2012) http://press.uchicago.edu/Misc/Chicago/530413.html


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