A wrestling match between the GEICO Gecko and a Keebler elf would have been more entertaining than the first 2012 presidential debate. To his credit, Mitt Romney came ready to rumble, as if fresh off a 5K jog; whereas Barack Obama appeared on the verge of drifting into some sort of post-Thanksgiving lunch nap.
Long ago we all came to expect predictable platitudes rather than substantive details during a presidential debate where candidates are frequently unencumbered by facts. Along these lines, the 2012 debates are proving to be nothing different.
So why do millions still watch?
In expectation of the odd witty comment, clever snappy comeback, or embarrassing gaff, of course. Unfortunately, in the first Romney verses Obama encounter, the potential YouTube viral gems were as scarce as oxygen at 5,000 feet – if you believe Al Gore, that is.
Well, here's an idea for future debates: allow the moderator to ask challenging questions where the candidates actually have to think on their feet before answering – heaven forbid!
To that end, here are some probing questions that the candidates could tackle:
"Mr. President, do you ever get muddled and take Joe for a walk in the Rose Garden and Bo to cabinet meetings?"
"Governor, is it true you wanted 'You're so Bain' for your campaign song?"
"Mr. President, if Obamacare is fully implemented in a second term, would you appoint Hugh Laurie as Surgeon General?"
"Governor, who would you prefer to play Twister with, Sarah Palin or Chris Christie?"
"Mr. President, if you had to choose the crew for a one-way trip to populate Mars, who would you send? FYI: If you answer 'producers, writers, and stars of current TV reality shows,' victory is certain."
"Governor, if elected, how would you achieve a fair and balanced Supreme Court – appoint Bill O'Reilly?"
"Mr. President, what are your thoughts about Cuba? And don't evade the question by discussing the 'Jerry Maguire' movie instead."
"Governor, how many Mormons does it take to change a light bulb?"
"Mr. President, you're stuck on a desert island alone, with only an iPod loaded with Rush Limbaugh radio shows. What would you do with the iPod?"
"Governor, name a resident at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, 4 Privet Drive, and 1313 Mockingbird Lane?" (Kudos if he answers: the president, Harry Potter, and Herman Munster, respectively; if he gets the order reversed, that's acceptable, too).
"Mr. President, why didn't you make 'Let's Barack and Roll!' your campaign slogan?"
"Governor, Knock Knock!" (Just curious whether the governor would stand there dumbfounded, or actually reply, "Who's there?")
"Mr. President, the pizza delivery girl arrives at your front door. Would she get a bigger tip if she reminded you of Oprah or Halle Berry?"
"Governor, who would you prefer to give you the 'kiss of life': Rosanne or Rosie O'Donnell? Remember, answering 'Just let me die!' might be a bigger vote getter."
"Mr. President, if you could be represented by any commercial product mascot, which would you select?" (Good choice: the Energizer Bunny; Not so good: Little Caesar).
"Governor, if you could be represented by any commercial product mascot, which would you select?" (Good choice: Mr. Clean; but if he chooses the fabric softener Snuggle Bear, we should be concerned, very concerned).
"Mr. President and Governor, one area where you have differences is the economy. Mr. President, you want to raise taxes on the very wealthy to increase revenue while, Governor, you want to lower taxes on everyone so they will spend more and stimulate growth. Perhaps both ideas have merit, but until you and your parties both learn the meaning of one word, nothing will get done. The word is 'compromise.' It's in the dictionary, between 'commonsense' and 'concession.' Will you pledge to look up its meaning?
The remaining presidential debates are in Hempstead, NY, and Boca Raton, Fla, both located near coastal areas. While no one anticipates fireworks, let's hope Mr. Obama performs better. If not, expect Al Gore to claim the president was startled before the debate, by a low flying seagull.
Thomas' features and columns have appeared in more than 200 magazines and newspapers, including the Washington Post, LA Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, San Francisco Chronicle, and Christian Science Monitor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.