The List

The 6 Best Moments in Veep Debate History

The 2012 vice-presidential debate might not be a game-changer, but that doesn't mean it won't be entertaining.

Politico posed a tantalizing question earlier this week: With Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney enjoying a post-debate surge in the polls and President Barack Obama seemingly on the ropes for the first time in the 2012 campaign, could Thursday night's vice-presidential debate between Paul Ryan and Joe Biden actually matter?

Alas, if past elections -- and our equally breathless musings about the potential consequence of previous vice-presidential debates -- are any guide, we shouldn't get our hopes up. In a 1996 study of debates between 1984 and 1992, political scientist Thomas Holbrook determined that "there is very little evidence that vice presidential debates do much at all to alter the political landscape" -- even in the case of Lloyd Bentsen famously telling challenger Dan Quayle that he was "no Jack Kennedy." In a 2008 survey, Gallup found that while presidential debates may have made the 1976 and 2004 elections more competitive, only in the tight races of 1960 and 2000 did the debates appear to have an impact on the outcome (other academic investigations have reached similar conclusions).

Still, vice presidential debates have produced their share of memorable foreign-policy moments. Here are the top six:

1976: Dole condemns "Democrat wars"

During the race between Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter, Republican vice presidential candidate Bob Dole raised eyebrows by slamming World War I, World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War as "Democrat wars" while debating Walter Mondale. "If we added up the killed and wounded in Democrat wars in this century, it'd be about 1.6 million Americans -- enough to fill the city of Detroit," he asserted. The remark didn't sit well with Mondale, who retorted that "Senator Dole has richly earned his reputation as a hatchet man tonight."

The statement "haunted us for a while," Dole later recalled. "People were calling me that night saying ‘boy, what a great job, you won this debate'.... [A]nd the next morning after the press picked this out as a mistake, it suddenly changed." In fact, the controversy surrounding the comment outlasted the campaign. "Bob Dole came across as an ass," columnist Debra Sunders declared when the Republican politician ran for president in 1996.

1984: Bush gets pedantic

The most heated moment in the vice-presidential debate between Republican George H.W. Bush and Democrat Geraldine Ferraro came when Ferraro, the first female vice-presidential candidate for a major U.S. political party, compared the Iranian hostage crisis to the bombings of the U.S. Embassy and Marine barracks in Lebanon. "Let me help you with the difference, Mrs. Ferraro, between Iran and the embassy in Lebanon," Bush began, drawing a fiery rebuttal. "I almost resent, Vice President Bush, your patronizing attitude that you have to teach me about foreign policy," Ferraro declared. I've been a member of Congress for six years."

The testy exchange dominated the analysis of the debate the next day (it didn't help that Bush was later overheard saying "we tried to kick a little ass last night"). "Did he patronize her?" the Associated Press asked. "That's the debate about the debate that America may be chewing on for as long as women candidates for national office remain a rarity." Many years afterward, Ferraro said she had used the line reluctantly. "I readily admit I was not an expert on foreign policy but I was knowledgeable and I didn't need a man who was the vice president of the United States and my opponent turning around and putting me down," she noted.

1992: Quayle makes a ‘3 a.m.' appeal

We all remember Hillary Clinton's "3 a.m. phone call" ad questioning Barack Obama's national security's credentials during their Democratic primary fight. But George H.W. Bush's vice president, Dan Quayle, trotted out a similar attack line against Clinton's husband many years earlier. Staring straight into the camera during a debate against Al Gore and James Stockdale, Ross Perot's running mate, Quayle declared:

At some time during these next four years there is going to be a crisis -- there will be an international crisis. I can't tell you where it's going to be, I can't even tell you the circumstances -- but it will happen. We need a president who has the experience, who has been tested, who has the integrity and qualifications to handle the crisis. The president has been tested; the president has the integrity and the character. The choice is yours.

You need to have a president you can trust. Can you really trust Bill Clinton?

Reacting to the sound bite, the New York Times noted that Quayle had highlighted the "question that Bush strategists hope will sway voters their way in these final days" and "used the word ‘trust' ... so often that it started to sound like an incantation."

Quayle's warning comes at about 06:30 in the clip below. Right afterward, you'll find an even more famous vice-presidential debate moment: Stockdale beginning his opening statement by asking, "Who am I? Why am I here?" Saturday Night Live had a field day portraying Stockdale -- who also asked the moderator to repeat a question because he hadn't switched on his hearing aid -- as a doddering, existentially confused old man. What we often forget are the substantive points that Stockdale made next: that he would approach his office with a unique perspective given his many decades in the Navy and ordeal as a prisoner of war in Vietnam.

1996: Kemp advises against bombing before breakfast

During a debate with Al Gore, Republican challenger Jack Kemp chose some novel language to criticize the Clinton administration's strikes against Iraqi targets after Saddam Hussein's assault on Kurdish territory in northern Iraq. He argued that U.S. foreign policy should adhere to the Golden Rule -- a line Ron Paul echoed in this year's Republican primary (you can watch the full 1996 debate here):

We should have a foreign policy that's predicated upon trade, on spreading democracy, by giving people opportunities to trade freely with us, and making sure that everybody recognizes a rule of the Golden Rule, "To do unto others to have them do unto you." Diplomacy first, and don't bomb before breakfast.

The "don't bomb before breakfast" admonition angered GOP wonks Bill Kristol and Robert Kagan, who warned that the Republican Party's isolationist posture was dangerous. "[W]ith a Republican opposition singing choruses of ‘Come home, America,' and ‘Don't bomb before breakfast,' the odds of successfully fulfilling our essential role in the world will diminish," they wrote. "I took a lot of heat for it," Kemp mused three years later, "but looking back at [the Clinton administration's] foreign policy to react against Sudan, or Afghanistan, or northern or southern no-fly zones in Iraq, and now in Kosovo and Bosnia, I was right on target."

2004: Cheney meets Edwards

What made the debate between Dick Cheney and John Edwards stand out was how much more confrontational it was than the gentlemanly Cheney-Lieberman snoozefest in 2000. Things got particularly heated when the conversation turned to Iraq, as Edwards accused the vice president of misleading the American people about the costly war and questioned him over government contracts awarded to his former employer, Halliburton. Cheney responded by alleging that Edwards was barely a presence in the Senate, noting that "the first time I ever met you was when you walked on the stage tonight." In the clip below, watch Cheney work in the line, "you probably weren't there to vote for that." After the debate, the press pointed out that Cheney had actually met Edwards several times before the debate.

2008: Palin mispronounces McKiernan

During their much-anticipated matchup, both Joe Biden and Sarah Palin invoked Gen. David McKiernan to argue for their respective Afghan strategies, though neither candidate referred to the commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan by (the correct) name. Biden noted that "our commanding general in Afghanistan said the surge principle in Iraq will not work in Afghanistan," while Palin retorted that "McClellan did not say definitively the surge principles would not work in Afghanistan" (instead of correcting her, Biden made another vague reference to "our commanding general"). Palin took heat for the mispronunciation, but it turned out that both candidates were partially right. McKiernan had rejected Iraq comparisons, but called for more troops in Afghanistan to conduct counterinsurgency.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The List

Handicapping the Nobel Peace Prize

Pundits usually do a terrible job predicting the winner of the world's most prestigious peace award. With that caveat in mind, here goes...


The winner of this year's Nobel Peace Prize will be announced in Oslo this Friday, Oct. 12, meaning that it's time for the media's annual round of speculation. The consensus favorite this year seems to be American political scientist and head of the Boston-based Albert Einstein Institution (as well as FP Global Thinker) Gene Sharp, whose writings on nonviolent protest were influential on democratic uprisings in Eastern Europe as well as the recent Arab Spring protests (though some Egyptian activists bristled at the suggestion that they owed their revolution to a political theorist thousands of miles away). Irish betting site Paddy Power gives 6-4 odds for Sharp. He's also considered the favorite by Nobel Peace Prize-watcher Kristian Berg Harpviken of the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO), who publishes an annual shortlist of likely contenders.

One small caveat: These predictions are almost always wrong.

In the 10 years that PRIO has been publishing its list, Al Gore and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 2007 are the only favorites who have won. One of last year's winners, Leymah Gbowee, was one of Paddy Power's top names last year, though her co-awardees, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Tawakkol Karman, were not. Bizarrely, last year the site gave 4-1 odds for Aung San Suu Kyi, who already won the award in 1991.

But all the same, here's a look at a few of the other possible winners among the 231 names nominated this year.



Both Harpviken and the betting markets like the chances of the Russian human rights group Memorial, which has worked tirelessly since the late 1980s to both document Soviet-era atrocities and monitor abuses in contemporary Russia. The head of its Chechnya office, Natalya Estemirova, was abducted and murdered in 2009. Mathematician and rights activist Svetlana Gannushkina, one of Memorial's co-founders, has been mentioned as a favorite in the past and was nominated again this year. Harpviken also suggests that the independent Ekho Moskvy radio station could win, if the Norwegian Nobel Committee decides to emphasize media freedom this year.


Sima Samar

Sima Samar, a woman's rights activist and burqa opponent who has served as chair of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, the U.N. special rapporteur for human rights in Sudan, and Afghanistan's minister of women's affairs, is a perennial favorite for the award and Paddy Power's second favorite at 5-2 odds after Sharp this year. With the United States preparing for withdrawal from Afghanistan, Samar could put the spotlight on the fate of Afghan women.

Mideast Internet activists

The betting markets like the odds of Tunisian blogger Lina Ben Mhenni (10-1), Egyptian Google executive-turned-revolutionary Wael Ghonim (12-1), and April 6 Youth Movement co-founder Israa Abdel Fattah (25-1). They would be the first primarily online activists to win, and their wins could be seen as a message to their countries' new governments about the importance of freedom of speech. On the other hand, both Mhenni and Ghonim were nominated last year, which might have seemed the more logical time to recognize their efforts.


Nigerian peacemakers

Harpviken thinks Archbishop John Onaiyekan and Mohamed Saad Abubakar, sultan of Sokoto (pictured) -- leaders of Nigeria's Christian and Muslim communities, respectively -- have a good shot of winning this year for speaking out against religiously motivated violence, though given that this violence has continued to worsen this year, it's unclear how effective their advocacy has been.

Thein Sein

Harpviken also writes that Myanmar's president, Thein Sein, has a good shot "for spearheading a gradually evolving peace process in the country." But given how fragile that process is and the ongoing violence in Kachin state, this would be a risky and controversial choice.


Bill Clinton

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton's Democratic predecessor, Jimmy Carter, and his Democratic successor, Barack Obama, as well as his vice president, Al Gore, all have Nobel Peace Prizes. Could this be the year Clinton is recognized for his work with the Clinton Global Initiative? Such a move might look nakedly partisan during a U.S. election season, but that hasn't stopped the Norwegian Nobel Committee before.

Cuban dissidents

Cuban activist Oswaldo Paya, who was nominated this year, was killed in a suspicious car crash in July, but blogger Yoani Sánchez, imprisoned doctor Óscar Elías Biscet, and the "Ladies in White" group of jailed dissidents' wives are also options if the committee wants to put some pressure on the rickety Castro regime.

Maggie Gobran

Maggie Gobran, the nun known as the "Mother Teresa of Cairo," has been generating some media buzz. She gave up a promising academic career to become a nun and work with children and families in Cairo's slums. She's not a particularly well-known figure internationally, or even in Egypt.


Helmut Kohl

Former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl is doing surprisingly well on Paddy Power (20-1 odds). Although widely respected for his leadership during the reunification of Germany, he may seem a bit too distant from today's headlines.


John Githongo

Former journalist and whistle-blower John Githongo, who was forced to flee his country after investigating fraud and has since returned to work on community governance issues, might be a possible choice if the committee wants to put the focus on corruption.

Srdja Popovic

Harpviken thinks that Popovic, a veteran of OTPOR -- the youth movement that was instrumental in bringing down Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic -- and leader of the Center for Applied NonViolent Action and Strategies, which has been "instrumental in disseminating knowledge of non-violence globally" is a possible candidate to share a Nobel with Sharp.


WikiLeaks/Julian Assange/Bradley Manning

These nominations have gotten a lot of media attention but don't really fit with the Norwegian Nobel Committee's usual left-of-center but not anti-establishment politics. There is the potential for high drama if Julian Assange gives an acceptance speech via satellite from the Ecuadorean Embassy in London.

The European Union

Think of it as the #slatepitch of Nobel Peace Prize nominees. In a year of horrifically bad press for the European Union, the committee could take a stand in favor of the ideals of European integration and highlight the positive role the EU has taken in encouraging democratic reforms and the rule of law in its recently joined members in Eastern Europe.


The websites and their founders have reportedly all been nominated. Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg might like the distraction from his company's flagging stock price, but I wouldn't count on it.

Willie Nelson

At John Mellencamp's urging, the Red Headed Stranger's fans have launched a campaign to have him awarded for his work on the Farm Aid campaign and promoting sustainable agriculture. Makes about as much sense as some of the people they've given it to.

Human Rights Watch; SHAH MARAI/Getty; LIONEL BONAVENTURE; Joe Raedle/Getty; KHALED DESOUKI/Getty; Oli Scarff/Getty Images