The highlights of this year's presidential debates have been the delightful hypothetical scenarios the moderators have laid out for the candidates to test their wits. In this week's Democratic presidential debate Wolf Blitzer asked the candidates to raise their hands if they would take out Osama Bin Laden even if innocent civilians would be killed. Asking for a show of hands is an even more economical way of quizzing candidates than limiting them to 30-second soundbites. In the future the networks might consider limiting all debates to 20 yes-or-no questions that can be answered with a show of hands, which would spare us from having to listen to them speak.
In the last Republican presidential debate, sponsored by Fox News, moderator Britt Hume borrowed a hypothetical scenario from the TV show 24, which just happens to be a Fox program. Getting the candidates to tell us what they would do if they were a character on a television show is not only great advertising for a network's shows, it's also a good way of engaging Americans who might be bored with presidential elections because of the lack of explosions or interesting characters.
Each of the candidates responded to Hume's question by trying to make the case that they would be just like 24's Jack Bauer if they were elected President (except for Ron Paul who sounded more like Sandra Palmer, the legal counselor for the Islamic-American Alliance and sister of President Wayne Palmer). But in the disappointing finale to 24, we learned that Jack Bauer is tired of single-handedly saving America from terrorists and showed a dangerous streak of mushy compassion and self-interest. It seems he cared more about saving his girlfriend and his 16-year-old nephew this season than he did about protecting America. Sure, it would be great to have a President who was willing to torture his own brother or shoot one of his colleagues in order to prevent a terrorist attack, but I think we need to ask for a bit more from our presidential candidates.
In this week's Republican debate on CNN I think that moderator Wolf Blitzer should have offered hypothetical scenarios from another, better TV show, whose final episode premieres later this week: The Sopranos. What America needs now is not a President like Jack Bauer but a President like Tony Soprano, who is a real leader who doesn't shrink from doing what needs to be done. Here are some potential questions he could have asked (for translations of mobspeak, see HBO's handy Sopranos glossary):
- Raise your hands: You get a tip from an FBI informant that the boss of a foreign country is planning to clip you. The CIA believes that he is spending the weekend at the house of his goomah. Do you take him out first even though whacking a foreign leader is technically against American law and you risk killing innocent bystanders?
- You suspect that someone in your administration, who is a chiacchierone, has been leaking to the press. While sailing with him on the presidential yacht you ask him if this is true and he denies it. Do you take his word for it or do you throw him overboard?
- Your consigliere has been like a son to you, but lately he's been acting like a jamook, firing associates and lying to Congress about it. Increasingly, he has become a source of agita for your administration, but you don't want to fire him out of loyalty and because you are worried that he might get angry with you and start wearing a wire. While driving with him in the presidential limousine you get in an accident and he is severely injured. Do you call 911 immediately or do you take matters into your own hands and make sure that he will no longer be a problem for you?
- A high-ranking official of a foreign country has sexually harassed your daughter. Do you just let the incident go or do you send a message that will curb this kind of conduct in the future even at the risk of starting a full-scale mannagge with his country?
- You discover that one of your top fundraisers is a finook. This information endangers your support from anti-gay voters on the Christian right but you are reluctant to fire him because he is one of your top earners. Do you remain loyal to him or let them take him out?
- A member of your underboss's outfit got pinched and is sentenced to 30 months as a guest of the government for refusing to rat you out. Do you have the stugots to pardon him for not breaking his omertá even though the media will go oobatz?
- How involved would your wife be in your administration? Would she advise you on important business or would her role as First Lady primarily consist of serving gabagool like Lincoln Log sandwiches and baked ziti to White House guests and living in denial?
- Many Americans believe our country is at the precipice of an enormous crossroad. If you get made President what would be your number one priority to help protect this thing of ours from becoming a strunz?
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