Gypsy Rose Lee belted out the news:
“Curtain up, light the lights, you’ve got nothing to hit but the heights.”
Thus, on Oct. 13 did the first Demobate of the 2015-16 election season climax weeks of hoopla. Or, as the late Redd Foxx teased, “This is the big one, Elizabeth.”
Debate sponsor CNN blitzed it like the Super Bowl. Pundits predicted, then analyzed, every not-yet-spoken syllable as though tattling the pirated copy of a hot new cable series. The report that popcorn sales soared last week is as yet unconfirmed.
Vegas — the perfect venue for Madame Secretary to perform a Siegfried & Roy on wild-and-woolly Bernie Sanders of Vermont, as Wayne Newton looked on.
If conservative Republicans could send in a Trumped-up ringmaster to pillage and burn opponents, surely the liberals might sneak a few stink bombs through the metal detector.
Well, the audience was in for a pleasant disappointment. This go-round seemed more lively current events lesson than lurid soap opera, with many finger jabs but no saliva sprayed, no bones broken or blood shed.
After Cheryl Crow’s rasping rendition of the national anthem (I was so hoping for Billy Joel), out trotted the Fab Five — chins up, shoulders squared, proper dark suits, interesting ties. Only Sen. Jim Webb appeared frumpy: bad hair day, cranky as a bear with a toothache.
Odds on Hillary would wear red. But no, her navy blue tunic and slim pants reminded me of a nun channeling Nehru. Delicate jewelry, wrinkle-softening makeup, fresh root touch-up on her semi-bouffant locks completed the image. She looked good, almost like one of the boys.
Memo to handlers: Lose that mouth-wide-open cackle.
Moderator Anderson Cooper was “Gotcha!” from the get-go, spitting out questions like watermelon seeds. His inflammatory delivery inflamed no one because, as usual, the candidates ignored his questions (except for Hillary’s terse “no”) and rambled off in other directions. You can ask Bernie about the weather and he’ll work “the poor,” “billionaires” and “Wall Street” into the answer.
That noise you hear is the ghosts of Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas rattling their coffins.
This was America’s first opportunity to feel Bernie out and probe for specifics. I knew Bernie well; he was mayor of Burlington, Vt., where I lived and worked for 21 years. He became my congressman, then senator. I wrote about him many times, including in Washington, where I shadowed him and Vermont’s senators, each for a day.
I know his stump speech about the “working (now changed to “middle,” which sounds less socialistic) class” by heart — a heart that cried, realizing how radical he must sound to the average Joe, who takes his call for a “political revolution” to mean dust off the guillotines. As for his mixed message on gun control, I’d bet the farm that Bernie wants to prosecute gun manufacturers up the wazoo but must acknowledge the weapon-toting Vermonters who elected him.
Still, the thought of Bernie sitting across from Putin or Saudi sheiks gives me the willies. Couldn’t we have a co-presidency, Bernie for domestic matters, Hillary for foreign?
The saddest fun was watching Webb, Chaffee and O’Malley try to establish themselves as viable, which they are not. Thank you, Sen. Webb, for your service in Vietnam. Bravo, Gov. O’Malley, for tackling crime in Baltimore. Sen. Chaffee, you certainly are a block of granite, although not likely to be carved into Mount Rushmore. Now go home and tell the grandchildren that you ran for president.
At least this debate put meat back on the bones of a campaign long on frippery, short on gravitas.
Look at it this way: Unless Joe Biden runs, we’re taking a gamble, no matter who’s elected from either party. Hillary may be the fait accompli candidate, but slimming tunics and stylish coifs cannot forever hide her faults.
And the Republicans are in deep doo-doo (deeper than Sarah Palin) if The Donald doesn’t shoot himself in the foot, sooner the better, with a gun-show Glock so somebody with credentials better than three trophy wives and a real estate empire can come forward.
Because this time, what happened in Vegas definitely won’t stay there.