The debate’s the thing

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Hubert H. Humphrey, 38th Vice President of the United States
Hubert H. Humphrey, 38th Vice President of the United States

I’ve participated in a couple of mock presidential debates.

At nearby Manchester College I portrayed the presidential candidate – and one of my all time favorite public figures – Hubert H. Humphrey.

In another forum I took the part of George McGovern before a bunch of other editorial writers. I’m pretty sure my performance had nothing to do with the electoral loss of either man.

Actually, as I recall, Humphrey came pretty close to defeating Richard M. Nixon in that election.

I’ve been reminded of my experience because of the recent presidential debates. For now, it’s been mainly among the Republican candidates.

In an earlier life, I would have watched every televised debate. At the paper, I would have been expected to write an editorial about presidential debates.

These days, long retired, I find it quite enough to watch the brief clips on the PBS News Hour. That seems to satisfy my interest.

As Lyndon Johnson might have said, I have no dog in this hunt. But that doesn’t mean I’m lacking opinions. Indeed, what I’ve seen so far and what commentary in the papers I’ve read have me lamenting the lack of candidates of stature among the Republicans.

I remember viewing the Nixon-Kennedy debates in 1960. Now I don’t need to be reminded that Richard Nixon turned out to be dishonest much later when he got to the White House.

Yet during those tense years, as President Eisenhower’s vice president, Nixon acted as America’s rowing ambassador and he handled himself with dignity despite anti-American protests that marred some foreign visits.

Later, Kennedy proved himself Nixon’s more than equal as a debater. I recall being impressed by both men. That year, 1960, I ended up voting for Nixon.

But among today’s Republican candidates, I’m wondering why no person of comparable stature appears on the scene.

Where are the candidates of substance such as those former GOP leaders such as Bill Scranton and Nelson Rockefeller? They not only served as effective governors. In my recollection, they were men of stature. That certainly applies to another Republican favorite of mine, one-time presidential candidate, the former Sen. Dick Lugar.

Even the 1964 Republican candidate, Barry Goldwater, though quite conservative on foreign policy, didn’t take extreme views on social issues.

Every one of these GOP candidates enjoyed national stature as statesmen. You can’t say that about any one of the current crop.

I miss such more serious Republican candidates. The party itself seems under the control of anti-government know-nothings.

On the other side, I still expect Hillary Clinton to win the nomination. She’s more experienced in more public roles than any of the Republican candidates. Recently, under hours of questioning before an often hostile Congressional committee, she’s remained poised, direct and confident.

Perhaps one Republican will emerge from the pack and demonstrate the stature and grace that would give Mrs. Clinton serious competition for the White House. That would not only be good for the inevitable debates next year. It would be healthy for the country.

At this time of so much uncertainty, both in domestic economic policy but also in world affairs, we need a president who aspires to greatness.

So far, I find it hard to associate greatness with any of the Republican candidates. I’m withholding judgment on Hillary.

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