[2nd Presidential Debate, Princeton University, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Robertson Hall, Dodds Auditorium. Katie Couric moderating.]
Couric: Good evening and welcome to the second Presidential Debate live from Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. Tonight, we break with tradition as both candidates, Senator Geraldine Harrison and Senator John Blik, have requested to dispense with time limits and with candidate response separation, in order to have the debate feel more like an engaging conversation without the stiff formality. Tonight’s questions have also been mixed and are derived from a variety of sources, including the members of our live audience, prerecorded and live phone calls submitted to any of the stations covering tonight’s debate as well as emails and videos submitted to the various media and online sources. So, without further ado, let’s introduce tonight’s candidates, first the Democratic nominee, Senator Geraldine Harrison of Washington…. [Gerri enters to lots of respectful applause] …and the Republican nominee, Senator John Blik or Idaho… [Blik enters to the same, a little more respectful applause] Welcome, candidates. Before we begin, I just want to go over the rules. We will start with a question, which either candidate is free to answer unless it’s directed to a specific candidate. While there are no time limits on the length of time you speak, I’d like to remind you that you have requested a colloquial, friendly dialogue and therefore please try to stay within the bounds of courtesy and respect, not interrupting or speaking at undue length. If we are unable to maintain this type of debate, then the rules of formal debate will be instituted. Is that understood?
Both candidates: (non-simultaneously and nervously, but with a smile) Yes.
Couric: Now, before we begin, would the candidates please shake hands and then return to your spots. [they move toward each other cordially and greet each other with a smiling, friendly handshake, Blik’s face hidden slightly by Gerri’s so the camera doesn’t fully pick up.]
Blik: (very quietly so only Gerri hears—and the movie’s camera picks him up visually) I see the crazy lady is back.
Gerri: (with the most gracious smile) John, this is going to be a different kind of debate. I hope you’re prepared…
Blik: (with big smile) Try me…. [they return back.]
Couric: The first question tonight is a video submitted to YouTube. [On the video screen appears a semi-elderly thin man dressed in a suit and tie.]
Man in video: Esta pregunta es para el Senador Blik. Me llamo Enrique Rolado. Mi hermano Amador tiene linfoma. El fue a un hospital en Nueva Jersey para el tratamiento. Hace uno año, el médico dijo que él necesita un trasplante. Pero el seguro no pagará por ello porque él no es un ciudadano. Si puedo tener la prueba hecha, quizá yo puedo salvar su vida. ¿Qué hará usted como Presidente para salvar mi vida de hermano?
Couric: (looking flustered) I’m sorry, I thought translation work was already done. We’ll move on to the next question, I’m very sorry.
Gerri: I’m sorry to interrupt, but do you mean to tell me there isn’t a single speaker of Spanish present here? [silence. All of a sudden someone leans in Couric’s ear]
Person talking quietly to Couric: It’s Governor Parker. He says he wants to translate. I can patch him through.
Couric: (very quietly to her) All right, but that’s it… (then publicly) We have Governor Parker on the phone who offers to translate.
Blik: Isn’t that out of protocol?
Parker’s voice: Don’t worry, I’m just going to translate.
Blik: How do I know you’re translating faithfully?
Parker’s voice: Because if I don’t, there are millions of speakers of Spanish who will correct me.
Couric: It’s okay, I’ll vouch for him.
Parker’s voice: Thank you. The questioner has a brother who went to a hospital here in New Jersey because he has lymphoma. His brother can save his life as a stem cell donor but the insurance won’t approve this treatment because he’s not a U.S. citizen. He specifically asks you, Senator Blik, what you will do as President to save his brother’s life.
Blik: How do I know this is not a setup?
Gerri: Oh, come on, John, even if it were a setup, do you really believe there’s no one who’s not a U.S. citizen who gets a fatal disease which,…
- Blik: Second of all…
- Gerri: …if he were a citizen, he could get treatment to save his life?
- Blik: Second of all, shouldn’t we be restricting the questions to potential voters? U.S. citizens?
Gerri: John, if you want to say you would let a dying man die on account of his not being a U.S. citizen, just say so…
Blik: (slight pause, then) I think it needs to be made clear to everyone that it’s not just that the government would be paying for this man and every other man’s operation whose life would be saved. It would be [points directly into the camera though still looking at Gerri] the American people who would shoulder the bill, which is always the case when government foots the bill. Remember, these are people who don’t pay taxes and who already live here at the expense of the taxpayer.
Gerri: Oh, but you have no problem saving lives overseas in a war at the huge expense of the taxpayer.
Blik: Those are American lives we’re saving back here at home.
Gerri: Oh, I’m sorry, I was under the mistaken impression that this was about saving Iraqi lives which was the reason we went in there. Which, I suppose, makes more sense, seeing how many of them have been destroyed.
+++Blik: No, they have been saved. Many of them who would have been at the mercy of Saddam Hussein or militant terrorists. But the main reason we went there was to fight the enemies that threaten our citizens back here in America. You can try to confuse the American people by mixing issues together like this, but they know what’s going on. They know what it means for our more able-bodied to make sacrifices so that those of us back home can remain safe and they also know that our citizens who pay taxes every day are the ones who we should be paying attention to, not people who are here illegally and have not paid their dues.
Gerri: Where’s your Christian mercy to save a man who’s dying?
Blik: Where’s your Christian humility to not judge and be high and mighty? [Gerri starts to respond, but Blik doesn’t let her and goes on.] No, I need to say something here. For the benefit of anyone who missed our debate during the primary, my running mate, Governor McBride, made a very astute comment about the real meaning of charity. It can only occur on the individual level. It is a voluntary action. You can’t legislate it and you can’t mandate it. Then, it’s just the law. It’s not an act of kindness. As a Christian, absolutely, I would do anything in my power to save a dying man…
Gerri: As President, your power to save lives multiplies manifold…
Blik: No, I’m sorry, it is completely inappropriate for you, me or anyone else to impose this kind of moral burden upon the American people unilaterally through taxes. Every American as a free individual with the right to practice his or her own religion has the right to do whatever they can to save that person’s life. Because that’s using their own money. But no American, even, and especially the one holding the highest office, has the right to impose, to force the taxpayers to fund the practice of the private religious values of a government official.
Gerri: Well, I’m relieved to hear you say that. Ladies, Senator Blik has just promised you that he will uphold your right to choose to terminate a pregnancy and to thereby not practice or fund the practice of his and my religion.
- Blik: Whoa, wait a minute… Not destroying a human life does not place a burden on taxpayers.
Gerri: Is an American woman with an unwanted pregnancy not a taxpayer?
Blik: You know what I mean. The taxpayers don’t have to fund her pregnancy.
Gerri: Oh, but they do. Although admittedly a huge lot less than since you passed all that legislation to cut off protection and assistance to Americans who need it, which, of course, includes unborn children.
+++Blik: Again, you’re going off on a tangent. The main issue where the unborn American child differs from an alien, whether unborn or post-birth is that the unborn child of an American citizen is automatically an American citizen and is entitled to the same protection under the law as any other American citizen. That is a matter of constitutional law, whereas the case of an alien is solely a matter of Christian kindness. That’s why a government official is obliged to protect American lives.
Gerri: Oh, that must also be why our war is justified.
- Blik: No, our war is justified as I said before because we’re fighting an enemy that threatens the lives of Americans. In fact, it’s even necessary. Not to protect American lives is a violation of the same law that having an abortion is—putting American citizens’ lives in jeopardy.
Gerri: But, of course, the unborn babies of the Iraqi mothers that bombs are being dropped on don’t matter because these unborn children—even though they are still unborn children—are the children of aliens. Now I get your thinking. I got it.
Blik: Don’t try to get cute. There’s a law. We’re legally bound to protect the lives of any and all Americans who have not committed a crime, whether they’re Americans who have not yet been born or whether they’re Americans whose lives are gravely threatened by a terrorist group in a particular country, which, in this case, is Iraq, or by a state that sponsors terrorism, which is the case of Iraq before we liberated it.
Gerri: I’ll get to your theories about Iraq in a minute, but getting back to your arbitrary definition of unborn children as American citizens—which technically is incorrect since none of them have social security numbers, but that’s a secondary issue. The main issue is that Roe v. Wade is currently the American law. Life doesn’t begin legally until birth. Therefore, John, you don’t have to worry about saving the lives of the unborn. They are just as unprotected by constitutional law as a native of El Salvador or Iraq.
Blik: I want the American people to pay careful attention to what you just said.
- Gerri: And they are likewise equally entitled to God’s mercy and the charity and protection from death of all Christian believers, whether they’re an unborn American or a Guatemalan man dying of leukemia whom we have the power to save. You see, John, unlike you, I don’t practice my religion like a business. I practice my religion from my heart. I don’t put things into categories and say, “I’m a Christian in my private life, but in my public life as a public servant, I turn my back on serving my Lord and my God.” Somehow, I fail to see how a real Christian is able to make such callous distinctions.
Blik: It’s not a callous distinction. It’s following the First Amendment. In fact, I’m quite surprised to see you adopting the very position that your fellow liberals have been screaming about as a violation of church and state separation for years. Now as far as your Roe v. Wade argument, Court interpretation is not a closed book. I have both the power and the right to enjoin upon the Court to revisit this issue to determine if there really is anything in the Constitution that clearly states or even implies that we must hold to the moment of birth or even to 3 months before to determine when an American is protected with the full rights of an American citizen. I think it’s clear to most Americans that there is absolutely no phrase in any part of the constitution or its amendments that even suggests such an arbitrary definition of the starting point of life, especially now that the very biological processes that are agreed upon by most scientists as defining life are there right from the moment of conception.
- Gerri: Life before birth is at the same level as non-human species.
Blik: But it’s life that has the potential to become a full human being and is thus the life of a human being as soon as the biological life process begins in this organism even when it’s no more developed than an amoeba. Hence this is a matter that goes far beyond the bounds of religious doctrine and is at the heart of constitutional interpretation and is something that every elected official should be thinking about.
Gerri: (pauses thoughtfully and then in a more conciliatory tone) That was good, John. That was actually very good. I appreciate the amount of thought you have given the matter. Unfortunately, as is the case with most men, you’re very good at spouting brilliant theories and brilliant legal theses. I carried two human beings to term. I watched over them with the kind of constant fear that only a mother knows. I think I’ve earned—along with every other mother on this earth—the right to say that I know what it means to really live to keep another human being from the grip of death simply because they’re another human being and not because of some legal definition of whether or not they’re entitled to it. I have learned that the battle between life and death is a terrible compromise and reality forces you often to choose between two competing human beings. There is not a single person—certainly neither you nor I—who can in our wildest dreams claim that we have the ability to save all lives. But the difference between your way of thinking, John, and mine is that I will do my darndest to keep as many people alive in the process as possible, whether we’re talking about war or the decision to terminate a pregnancy. That is why I have both mandated the four-pronged approach to dealing with the enemies of the U.S. that my running mate has formulated.
- Blik: Whoa, wait a minute. How does terminating a pregnancy save a life?
Gerri: My policy will limit abortion far more than simply banning it legally. It will equip our young people with as much knowledge as possible to protect them from engaging in acts which will lead them to become unintentionally pregnant as well as to come down hard on the corporations which push sexual imagery on our young people, which is a major reason they get into trouble in the first place. These two have been shown by statistical research to reduce the number of abortions on average that occur to a far greater degree than simply banning it legally. Just as prohibition did not eliminate drinking, neither will banning abortion prevent people from still undergoing abortions. We need to educate our children about the dangers of both sex and of drinking. We need to do so in a way that is neither heavy-handed nor punitive. They are young people who want to explore the experiences of both intoxication and intimacy. We need to educate them in such a way that they will understand that these are both desirable things if understood and participated in responsibly and maturely. Saying it’s wrong or you’ll be punished is the most ineffective way to stop it. We need to have a very comprehensive hands-on approach which must go way beyond the classroom, to especially the internet websites that our children spend a lot of time on receiving tons of misinformation mostly from their peers. That can only occur if the greedy heads of corporations and other billionaires instead of putting their millions into funding your campaigns put it into a fair tax that will give our children the quality comprehensive education and life-enriching education they desperately need and that we owe them. Parents should not have to work second jobs to make ends meet which leads to their children not getting the supervision and guidance their children need. After school programs which greatly fill the void now being filled with misinformation must be brought back. It’s time for your so-called freedom for people who need it the least be replaced with a caring community of Americans who help make this nation the greatest in the world by putting everything into our future.
Blik: Everything you just said is bureaucracy at its worse. More funding, more funding, more funding. More money coming out of people’s pockets, out of the economy and into the pockets of bureaucrats. And while all this is happening, you’re not only gambling on fixing the schools in America using an approach which failed abysmally in the past, but you actually hope that this whole complicated and expensive process, with children being exposed to and taught sexual acts on an official level, will decrease instead of increase the number of unwanted pregnancies, all this in a legal framework where it is still completely okay to terminate a pregnancy at any stage during almost all of the 3 trimesters. [Looks into TV camera] I ask you now, people, does this sound like a program you have any confidence in to work? How ‘bout among the people in the audience?
Couric: I’m sorry, Senator, but we can only take questions from them, not ask them questions.
Blik: That was rhetorical. Let’s go to another question.
Couric: Thank you. The next question is from our live audience, from Sharon Stromberg of Valhalla, New York.
Sharon: (a 30’ish woman, a little nervous but somewhat composed) Thank you, Senator Harrison and Senator Blik. This question is for Senator Harrison. You have said several times that if you are elected things will not get magically better. I know that neither you nor Senator Blik can perform magic, but you’ve also said that no matter who’s elected, things will get worse. You’re basically saying that you have little or no power to fix the many problems which you’re good at describing. What’s worse is, many people seem to feel that government is powerless to do anything effective anyway.
- Couric: I’m going to have to ask you to keep your question really short.
- Gerri: I think I know what you’re getting at, so if you don’t mind, let me try to respond, and you can let me know if that’s what you were asking. Okay?
Gerri: (stands poised with serious look) As I’ve said before, there’s time delay between (A) coming into office, (B) taking the time you need to get legislation passed, and (C) the American people feeling the effects of that legislation. That is why the good effects of the previous administration have been felt during the current one and the bad effects of the current administration—the mortgage crisis, the huge rise in prices as oil becomes scarce, terrorism is on the rise and the dollar declines—are only now starting to be felt. When I take office, they are not going to magically disappear, but, due to the time delay in getting legislation passed, we will need to understand that the good effects will be felt, but it will take time. Now, as for the second part of your question (gets poised again), the American people are very smart. I have more respect for them than most people in elite professions, such as government, to sense when something’s right and when something’s wrong. What they clearly feel is that something’s very wrong with who’s in power today. And I include myself among the people that the American people do not trust and who they feel deep in their hearts is part of the problem. Of course, I do not think I am a major part of the problem as I am in the Party out of power, but I am certainly not outside the problem because I made a decision long ago to work within the system, for better or for worse. I felt that some compromises that bring about good results are far better than refusal to compromise that brings about no result. But the American people are a people of integrity. They don’t like what they perceive as bargaining with the devil. In Washington today, there are big devils. You can’t avoid them. There is money. There are all kinds of promises made to lure elected officials far from the interests of their base. People feel unrepresented at all in any of the branches of our federal government. It’s only natural therefore that when a political Party starts saying that it will remove government and lessen it’s hold on your life, that seems like a very attractive alternative. But who steps in when government is taken away? Is it someone you can really trust? When our founders set up our constitutional republic, their main concern was finding and establishing through law that precarious balance between government as a protector against abuses by citizens against each other and government as a protector of each citizen’s right to exercise as much freedom as he or she wanted—only he at that time—and only white he. We’ve operated for most of our history as a two-Party nation, dividing these two things between the two Parties, which we set up to act in opposition to each other and thereby arrive at a balance, with one party assigned the function of upholding government protection of our citizens from the abuse of other citizens and the other Party of protecting our citizens’ freedom as much as possible from the encroachment by government. It seems that lately this system has broken down. But who’s the guilty party? Or is anyone guilty? About half the country—or half the electorate—seems to think government got too powerful and thereby led to the system degenerating into corruption and away from the people. The other half seems to feel the opposite—that freedom became excessive in the hands of those citizens who have large amounts of wealth, power and influence and thus Washington is now run by those people, not the people we sent to govern and serve our needs, the majority of the people. I believe the latter is closer to the truth. But I won’t deny that government became very encumbered by its largeness in past years—certainly not today, except in a very different sense. To go back a little, in 1932, when Roosevelt became President, America was very much back then like it is today—government exercised little control over the marketplace and there were no safeguards against economic disaster. So the Democrats instituted laws and measures to strengthen government to protect people from the disaster of hunger and poverty that too much freedom from government had caused during the roaring 20s, which, as we know now, roared way out of control. Those who had to default on a home recently are experiencing a very tiny infinitesimal taste that the devastation in American life this excessive freedom from government led to at that time. As America, thanks to these Democratic Party measures, became more prosperous, and naturally, as people, by and large, sent Democrats to Congress and to the White House, the Democrats in government extended the protections and assistance to those still marginalized and left out of the growing prosperity. But these additional measures to take care of Americans, while they obviously had the benefit of ensuring that no American would have to go hungry, unfortunately led to a situation in which people found ways to manipulate and abuse what had become a very overgrown system and bureaucracy. It is no surprise, therefore, that by 1980, the tide of public sentiment then turned in the other direction, supporting not the government protection side of our founders’ vision but the freedom from government side, and we sent into office people who worked to remove the vast network of government, to, as we’ve heard so often, “get government off our backs”. We tried that system for a while, but unfortunately, it showed its ugly face quite quickly, as more and more people were put out of work. What’s 10 times more sinister, however, was that a strict constructionist interpretation of the First Amendment’s freedom of the press clause led to a situation in which only those extremely powerful in our nation now have the ability to determine the news and programming you hear, see and read. The influence of this lack of protection against this abuse, this monopolizing of information and the proliferation of one-sided propaganda that we now have has resulted in a situation where those of opposing views are not outlawed—after all that would be clearly in violation of the constitution—but have been marginalized to the point that their views are now considered suspect not only in ordinary everyday conversation but even in academic circles. Now, an entire generation has grown up exposed to only one perspective in the news, while the many other perspectives are, if not all but hidden, presented as the views of unsavory people sympathetic to terrorism and enemies of the United States. Which is of course ridiculous since how can a thousand different points of view all be the views of terrorists and unsavory people. Especially since there is nothing violent or anti-American in them? The true enemies of the United States are the ones who have trampled on our founding spirit of maintaining balance between government and freedom by enacting this law in our land. (slight pause) That is why government is failing us today and unscrupulous and corrupt people have stolen it away from the people. Because once those—not in government—gained that ability to virtually drown out everyone else and present news in such a way that it gets politicians elected who will support them and not you, the American people, there goes our government. Now there are many who want to chuck the Two-Party thing out the window. But what do you replace it with? Now I’m going to say something which I say at the risk of appearing unpopular. I’m not going to simply say restore the protection aspect of the equation. I think everybody knows that I am a strong proponent of restoring that balance to our government. But the real crisis is within us. Each of us. I know some of you would like to hear from up here some magic promise of an untried solution. I’m sure others of you would like me to just shut up [Blik raises his hand humorously] because you think neither of us can do anything to fix the mess we’re in. But most of you in that group are probably not even watching his debate…sadly. But the reality is each one of us is the sovereign of this nation. And each one of us who is in government has to come to you once every 2 years, once every 4 years and once every 6 years to get back in. But you have to believe that you matter. Not just in the sense of having the government off your back. But in the sense of being able to make the government work for you. A car is a dangerous vehicle, but how many of you would walk? No, you’ll still get in that dangerous vehicle and on that road which has been statistically documented to be the leading cause of death in some locations, drive as carefully as you can and make that vehicle work for you. Now, why won’t you take the same attitude with respect to government, which is the only institution that can, if you exert careful control over it, both protect you and give you the greatest assurance of prosperity?
Blik: That’s got to be the worse analogy I’ve ever heard.
Gerri: Well that’s what you’ve been saying and drumming into people’s heads now for many years.
Blik: The analogy should be with a badly manufactured vehicle, not with any vehicle.
Gerri: Okay, there are bad governments and good governments. And governments that don’t ensure your safety and protection…
- Blik: Who’s the one here who wants to withdraw all our troops from this fight…
- Gerri: I mean safety and protection from billionaires who steal your money, the public’s money and sink it in slave labor in places like Thailand, not simply people who want to blow up buildings…
- Blik: Oh, you’re gonna tell me that…
- Couric: Excuse me! One at a time, please… (turns off her mike, then to herself quickly, while the candidates regroup) Diane Sawyer gets a normal debate and I have to play parent.
Gerri: This nation has progressed the most when the people were happiest, most optimistic. When we pioneered the frontiers and settled new land. When we built new technologies and brought in an economic boom. When we were happy to be working and contributing to our nation’s prosperity. When it wasn’t just about me, me and me but about us, the two letters that spell the word us, U-S. It was when it was about working together and for each other. Those men did not freeze in the winter snow at Valley Forge for their own selfish gain. What good would that have done them anyway? They were dead. They died because they had a larger vision in mind—the prosperity of their fellow citizens. It was at those times when all of us becoming prosperous together was more important than just me becoming prosperous that each of us became more prosperous than at any other time in our nation’s history. But, even more important, these were times when we were happy. Happy to be alive. Happy to be producing.
Happy to be contributing. Happy to be American. We believed we had something unique and we were proud of it. I know there’s almost nobody who feels that way today
- Blik: There are plenty of people…
- Gerri: (ignoring him) …as we all try to get as much as we can
- Blik: …who are proud of what…
- Gerri: (continuing to ignore him) …for ourselves because everyone else around us seems to be just in it for themselves.
- Blik: America means…
- Gerri: (continuing to ignore him) … We tell ourselves that times have changed and people just aren’t like they used to be.
- Blik: …proud to be an American…
- Gerri: (continuing to ignore him) …But that’s also why we’re telling ourselves that the system is broke and can’t be fixed. It’s easy to point the finger at government and blame it for all our woes. And then we change political Parties and then point the finger at the new political Party in power. But that doesn’t seem to change anything. But the reality is that we’ve changed. And if we can change from a caring people to a self-concerned people, then we have just as much power to change back again. And I’m going to be the first to do it. Even if nobody else does. And I want you to be the first to do it too. And I want each of us to be part of this drive to build a new America, one free from either the encumbrances and oppression of big government or being at the mercy of the barracudas of the unregulated free market, especially now in this global economy where there are no laws and no protections to stop global capitalists from changing currency values and stealing from us all the money they can get out of us until that system obviously collapses in a much worse way than the one that collapsed in 1929. That’s why we all have to stand together equally as Americans, but as Americans on a global scale, walking hand in hand with our fellow citizens of Planet Earth to show them what it truly means to be an American, to take responsibility to work together in a world body, finding protections for all of our citizens of every nation so that this global marketplace can be an inclusive one and not the exclusive one it is today. But it can only change in the heart of each of us. I, for my part, will do my part, working together with Congress to undo the damage done in the last 8 and 14 and more years by a people out to take advantage of all of you for the sake of being out for themselves instead of the people they are obligated to be out for. But you must really believe that a better world can work. If you don’t believe it, it can’t happen.
Couric: I think you’ve had enough time to state your case and I just want to give Senator Blik that chance to respond that he asked for.
Blik: Thank you, Katie. I’ll try to keep it simple. Freedom. I’m not going to go into a big explanation. If you cherish freedom more than anything else, then I’m your man. You know, my opponent talked about each of us taking responsibility. That’s what freedom is. Freedom is each of us taking responsibility on our own. But I just want to warn you about the distortion in her statement about collective responsibility vs. being out for yourself. I know a great many of you saw through that ploy to make you feel bad if you want to take care of yourself or your family first, as though your obligation to someone in another city whom you’ve never met is equally as important as your own children and loved ones. That’s the difference. You ought to be proud to be out for yourself and for your own and not feel the least bit of guilt. That’s what America was built for. So that you can be free to do whatever you want. I agree with my opponent about taking responsibility for yourself. And that’s why I have consistently and unwaveringly stated my non-two-faced approach of being for complete freedom and self-responsibility by limiting the power of government to interfere and make a mess of things. Thank you. [There is a silence for a brief moment.]
Couric: This next question was submitted by email. It’s from Fred Grogan of Pierre, South Dakota. He writes, quote, “I’ve been listening to the two of you go back and forth and you’ve both stated your positions clearly even before tonight on where you stand on the issues, but what worries me most is how decisive either of you will be when the real crisis hits. You both seem like you’ve both been in a lawmaking body too long to understand what being under the gun means. I’m sorry to give you this poor evaluation but I’m really worried in these dangerous times whether either one of you has what it will take to deal with real economic disaster, a sudden attack, an unreliable group of people gaining access to weapons of mass destruction or simply navigating through the tough challenges that we’re facing now. What can you both tell me to assure me that you really are ready for this unbelievably tough challenge you want to take on?”
[silence, at first, then they both try to speak at once, Blik winning out.]
Blik: You can’t tell how ready a person will be for anything until it’s upon him. But you can get an idea about a person’s ability to take swift action by observing his or her resoluteness about his or her ideas, about the consistency of his or her statements, the straightforwardness and simplicity with which he or she answers a question…these are all cues. You’re right. Decisive action in a single moment is an absolute requisite for this job. In fact, that probably comes even before politics or ideological viewpoints. Can you count on that person to take the right action not a moment too late? That was an excellent question.
Gerri: The right action. It’s not just about taking action that looks like you’ve got it together when in fact, you have no idea what you’re doing.
Blik: Which you would be an expert in.
Gerri: Can we stop with the little jabs and digs, if you don’t mind?
Blik: You’ve gotta be ready for anything. Jabs and digs are nothing.
[the dialogue gets more and more heated and sounding like an angry couple having an argument or a fight as they continue]
Gerri: John, I’ve been through a bitter fight during the primaries that almost cost me a deep and trusted friendship, a key level staff shakeup, having to discover less than 2 months before the election that my husband cheated on me with a teenager, then to have my campaign manager and close friend hit by a drunk driver and lie comatose in the hospital…
- Blik: Didn’t you say that stuff was unimportant to you because the issues concerning the American people are what matter?
Gerri: There you go again totally twisting the real issue out of context to make me look like I’m contradicting myself when in fact the point is that I’ve been assaulted by all these very real blows to my person, and yet I have pressed on with my campaign…
- Blik: Well, of course you will. Who doesn’t want the big prize?
Gerri: Aha! All right, you wanna play that game? I caught you in the act. You admitted that the Presidency is no more than a big prize to you.
Blik: No, to you! You’re the one trying to look like a hero, instead of breaking down like a normal person would and regrouping or just not talking about it if you want to conduct an honest campaign. You’re trying to use this to get the people to vote for you because they feel sorry for you.
Gerri: You mean all of a sudden I have to act like a martyr or a nun who’s taken a vow of silence simply because I’m running for President?
Blik: Well, that caller did say that he wanted the assurance that the person he sends to the White House would be a person of great character and ability…
Gerri: You mean emailer.
Blik: Fine. The point is, you won’t have time for personal tragedy once you’re elected. The leader of Iran isn’t going to not send a long-range missile to wipe out one or more of our cities because he feels sorry that the President of the United States’ husband cheated on her. And the fact that you did not have the sense to keep your campaign manager from being behind the wheel when he was in no condition to drive doesn’t give anyone the confidence that you’ll handle our military affairs competently either.
Gerri: No, but the fact that I know how to talk to and believe in talking to people effectively is what will make the leader of Iran not send a long-range missile here.
- Blik: Somebody pinch me, I think I’m dreaming again…
- Gerri: …And the fact that I put protecting and saving life before all other concerns is what will make me a much more effective commander-in-chief than someone who is trigger-happy and is ready to start a war just to appear tough, even though that might plunge this nation and world into one of the greatest tragedies that ever happened.
Blik: If you’re so good at protecting life, then why did you let Mr. Greenbaum get in his car that night in his condition?
Gerri: That’s…you know, that’s not even worth a response. How dumb do you think the American people are to not be able to separate a commitment to protecting life and an accident that could have happened to anyone?
Blik: Oh, excuse me. President Harrison has a commitment to protect life, so don’t worry. That long range missile that just took out Detroit was just an accident.
Gerri: Detroit? Why not Philadelphia or Miami? Michigan’s a blue state.
Blik: Oh, excuse me. I forgot I was supposed to be strategizing politically to get the votes that matter. Everyone else, you don’t matter to Gerri. But then I guess nobody matters to Gerri. If you’re in the city that gets hit, it’ll just be an accident.
Gerri: All right, then. If you’re gonna harp on this whole accident thing, you better let your friends in Milwaukee and St. Louis know that you intend on toughening up the drunk driving laws and that it’s going to be a lot tougher for them to sell alcohol than it was before. I’m glad to see you’re beginning to take seriously my program to make our highways safer.
Blik: What’s that got to do with the fact that you couldn’t keep Mike from getting rear-ended? It’s not just about drunk driving, it’s about anyone who is in no condition to drive. I think it’s clear to all Americans that you knew that Mike was in no condition to drive and still let him get in that vehicle, just as you know that your husband is not fit to serve on the high Court and yet refuse to state that you will unequivocally see to his removal, no ifs, ands or buts…
Gerri: Okay, John, just as long as we’re clear that you’re not here to talk about the issues the American people are facing, but want to get sidetracked onto my personal issues in order to waste this debate time away from allowing the American people to see how backward and how dangerous your agenda for them is.
Blik: No, it’s about sticking to that caller’s question. How will you react in a crisis? Moment to moment? I’m not talking about your personal life or the state of your campaign to take away from anything. Frankly, I could care less about either one of them. But we’re dealing with evaluating how a person will react in a crisis. When under the gun. That’s what the gentleman was talking about.
- Gerri: It was an emailer, not a caller.
Blik: I don’t know why you keep harping on that.
Gerri: Well, don’t you think that if you are to be trusted in making quick decisions at a moment’s notice, you would be someone who pays attention to details and doesn’t confuse one thing with another. It’s like, we need the army to go in, and you send the navy. Or we need to send the Secretary of State to Iraq immediately and instead you send her to Iran….
- Couric: (to herself) God, I wish I could shut these 2 up…
- Blik: Oh, come on, how dumb do you think the American people are?
- Gerri: You’re gonna talk to me about dumb when you bring in those incidents that have (pitch going up to yelling) nothing to do with governing…
- Couric: (smiling and clenching her fist, to herself:) Yes!
- Blik: (now raising his own voice) They’ve got everything to do with government. They’re about character!
- Couric: (smiling) Okay, guys, enough…back in your corners. Come on, this is no way to conduct a debate.
Blik: All I’m trying to do is answer the question intelligently.
Couric: Yes, but unfortunately, your intelligence and wisdom get lost when you lose track of how it comes across to the rest of us. Maybe we should follow the old rules. I think you’ll both do better that way. Gerri, you have one minute. Starting—now.
Gerri: (hesitating at first, unprepared) I’d like to use this minute to talk about Mike and how he inspired me with a vision. I remember the day he was appointed chairman of the DNC. He didn’t seem to have a clue as to what he was doing. He was from the other side of that invisible divide in Washington—staff. And yet that’s precisely why he had something much greater than the rest of us—he knew what the real America is like. But he had something greater—he refused to give up on his belief in what America could achieve. On what America was meant to be. He was willing to make a fool of himself to make a change in America for the better. To not hand our sovereignty over to the corporate elite on a silver platter but to fix Party politics and to make them work. And he never rested a minute. He put his health on the line to make little changes every day to create a vision, an alternative, a difference, for you so that, come Election Day, you really would feel it mattered. That audacity to care, to fight the system, is not only what endeared me to this unique individual but what it takes to be a person who is there at the crucial moment. May I give even half as much of my entire life at each moment for my country.
Couric: Senator Blik?
Blik: May we all give our all, not half, for our country at each moment. I have talked about and used the word freedom over and over again because without freedom, we can’t give anything. Communism was actually a perfect system with perfect solutions to make everything work. But it failed because it forced people to do things. We’ve proven that freedom is the crucial foundation upon which we are able to give our all, to be who we really want to be and to make the sacrifices we need to make to become strong and to make our nation strong. Not only having it but fighting to protect it. I’ve also been consistent and clear in my views, positions and policies. You can’t depend on a person who waffles. You can’t depend on a person who just has a vision. I’ve shown what real vision and commitment is through the resoluteness of my actions. People know I’ll be the one who’s there when the crucial moment comes. People know I’ll be the one who’s ready at each moment. And I don’t need to be inspired by anyone else to get it. And yet I’m inspired by all of you for showing your readiness and for standing firm to win the fight for freedom, both in Baghdad and in Washington.
* * *
[Gerri on phone in a room bustling with people]
Gerri: Oh, Alice, hi!
Voice of Alice: You were great.
Gerri: Thank you! That was the toughest debate I think I’ve ever been through.
Voice of Alice: Really?
Gerri: Let’s keep this between us, but no matter what anyone in Hollywood says, having your entire life on the line doesn’t make you do a better job. It just makes it a whole lot tougher.
Someone in background at place where Gerri is: I’m seeing movement in Jersey. And, wow, you’re starting to gain in Virginia…
Gerri: (to Alice) Sorry, did you say something? There’s a lot of background noise here. They say my numbers are starting to gain in some places.
Voice of Alice: No, actually…I was just calling, I guess, as a compatriot in our shared concern over Mike. I’m going to try to get over there tomorrow.
Gerri: Oh, thank you. I appreciate everybody who’s going. I hope I didn’t change your feelings in anyway. That wasn’t about that.
Voice of Alice: Oh, no…you just made me remember what made me fall for that crazy fool.
Gerri: Uh…I hope you don’t…you’re not…(pause)
Voice of Alice: What?
Gerri: Oh, nothing. Uh…let me get back to my campaign.
Voice of Alice: Okay. I’ll be here if you need me.
Gerri: Thank you. Just go take care of Mike. That’s plenty. Be there since I can’t.
Voice of Alice: Okay, I will…(hangs up)
Gerri: (to person who had spoken before) Now, what was that you were saying about the numbers?
Someone else monitoring a series of graphs on a screen: Unfortunately, while you’re gaining in some areas, there’s drop-off in others.
Gerri: And that means in plain English?
That person: That you’re about exactly where you were before the debate. Dead-even.
Gerri: So I’ve basically held on to what I have.
That person: That’s the problem. You’ve let go of what you had and picked up in other areas. In a worst-case scenario, that’s worse news.
Gerri: You mean because of volatility?
That person: Exactly. The electorate is very finicky and refuses to give us any indication of how they’ll decide.
Gerri: Thank you. That means we’ll go full-court press.
Someone else: Don’t forget to get sleep.
Another person: And don’t drive.