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Carl Hiaasen
Debate? What debate? You mean me?
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An absolutely true news item: The first presidential debate is set for Sept. 30 at the University of Miami, but as of late last week President Bush still had not confirmed his attendance.

“Aw, do I have to go?”

“Sir, it’ll look bad if you don’t.”

“But Florida’s a disaster area. The humane thing to do is postpone the debate until the hurricane season is over.”

“Mr. President, hurricane season doesn’t end until four weeks after the election.”


“Sir, we need to RSVP as soon as possible. Sen. Kerry will be at the debate, rain or shine.”

“He’s taller than me, isn’t he? Can’t we do something about that?”

“Yes, Mr. President, that’s one of our key negotiating points. Either you get to stand on a Miami phone book, or the senator has to speak from a kneeling position behind his podium.”

“What about two phone books? Just to be sure.”

“All right, sir, I’ll run that by the Kerry people.”

“Say I agree to do this thing. Isn’t there a way to arrange it so I can make up my own questions?”

“Not likely, sir. It would be somewhat unorthodox for a debate format.”

“Then we’ve gotta get some friendly faces on board. Hey, how about Laura? She’s real smart. You know, she used to be a librarian.”

“Mr. President, I’m not sure it’s a great idea to have your own wife on the panel.”

“Then what about Jeb? Heck, he lives only five minutes down the road from the University of Miami. He could stop by and toss me some softball questions about the Everglades. Like: ‘Mr. President, the people of Florida want to thank you for saving our precious wilderness!’ ”

“Sir, that’s not technically a question.”

“Oh, really? Maybe you’d like to go work for an English professor instead of a commander-in-chief. Maybe you didn’t enjoy those box seats at the Orioles games, or those backstage passes to Toby Keith.”

“With all due respect, Mr. President, try to chill out. Remember how well you did four years ago in your debates with Vice President Gore. Remember that even the Democrats were impressed.”

“Yeah, but Gore was shorter than Kerry.”

“That’s true, sir. But Kerry seems to be more boring.”

“No way!”

“That’s what our focus groups are telling us, Mr. President.”

“Heck, Al nearly put me into a coma. How’m I supposed to stay awake for this guy?”

“Coffee, sir. By the gallon.”

“OK, let’s say I show up for this shindig. I don’t want to hear one single question about where are Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction. Or why the prescription drug bill is gonna cost so much more than we first said. Or how I spent my summers in the National Guard. Understand?”

“Those are all on our do-not-ask list, Mr. President. We’re playing hardball, trust me.”

“Am I leaving anything out?”

“Well, there’s Osama, Enron, Halliburton, the environment, the jobless rate, the trade imbalance, the budget deficit.”

“Geez, the budget deficit! I almost forgot. What’s it up to now, like, a gazillion dollars? My head hurts, just thinkin’ about it.”

“Don’t worry, sir, there won’t be any math questions. We’ve already told them it would be a deal-breaker.”

“Know what would go over like gangbusters? Since we’ll be in Miami? A slam on Fidel Castro!”

“It’s already in the pipeline, Mr. President. A guy from Fox News has promised to ask about Cuba, if we can get him on the panel.”

“That’s fantastic. I can do five killer minutes on Fidel, no sweat. Maybe this won’t be such a tough gig, after all.”

“It’ll be fine, Mr. President. But, before we start preparing for Miami, there is something you should be aware of – Sen. Kerry was the star of the debate team at Yale.”

“Get outta here. There was a debate team? Go find my yearbook.”

“I’m afraid there was a debate team, sir. A fairly good one, too.”

“Uh-oh. I think I smell another hurricane coming. Can’t Cheney jerk a few chains over at NOAA? Who’s in charge of all those weather satellites, anyway?”

“I’ll make some calls, Mr. President.”

Carl Hiaasen can be reached by e-mail at HeraldEd@aol.com.
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