L>ast week in Slate, Jodie T. Allen and Bill Barnes proposed using advanced Microsoft software to condense the transcripts of the presidential debates. Compression is the right approach, but more of a human touch is needed. Rather than reduce political dialogue to straightforward facts and proposals, perhaps we should try to bring out the singular aesthetic vision that wells up in even our most robotically pre-programmed politicians. Too many facts, too much information: We need to make politics more beautiful, melancholy, strange. The vast audience that attends the plays of Samuel Beckett or reads the poetry of John Ashbery is sadly neglected in our political process. Here is a compressed transcript of the debates. All the words were actually spoken. They are presented completely out of context, but in perfect accord with what the transcriber believes to be the inward poetic essence of each candidate.
[Note: Bob Dole's remarks required less editing than the others'.]
Clinton (from a high rocky outcrop): I want. I will try. I ran. I wanted, you took me. Let's keep it going. We cut, let's balance. We cut, let's pass. We passed, let's expand. We passed, let's keep going. We passed, let's make. We can build. I look forward. We're going. I believe, I have worked. I supported, I felt. I've worked, I supported. I supported, I differed, I believe.
Dole (standing in a trash can): Thirty-five to 50 new bureaucracies. I carry a little card around in my pocket. He noted a few, but there are others.
Clinton (descending): I do think. I do believe.
Dole: That's not true in Connecticut.
Clinton: Best shape, biggest drop, all groups of people.
Dole (gesturing darkly): Scaring seniors and tearing me apart. He twisted arms. I don't--you know.
Clinton (sorrowfully): It wasn't me.
Dole: We ought to agree that somebody else should do it.
Clinton: I will continue. Because we need it badly.
Dole: If they started they ought to stop.
Clinton: We need to do this together and we can.
Dole: Look at Haiti. Bosnia, Northern Ireland. I failed to mention North Korea and Cuba.
Clinton: Every single country but Cuba.
(A long silence.)
Dole: And so it seems that we can talk about what we call Kenny the great exaggerator because he just liked to exag--
Clinton: I think my ideas are better.
Dole: I have my own little foundation. Just did. I haven't before.
Clinton: I support school choice. I support school choice.
Dole: I like young people. I like teachers.
Clinton: The results are highly ambiguous.
Dole: George McGovern is a friend of mine.
Clinton: Our plan is better.
Dole: I've never discussed Whitewater. I'm discussing Whitewater now. We've had that discussion. I know Senator D'Amato, I think. He's a friend of mine. Senator Kennedy is a friend of yours.
Clinton: No comment.
Dole: What's the subject matter?
(Music and dancing.)
St. Petersburg, Fla.
Kemp (on an enormous bicycle): This is the greatest democracy in the world. Bob Dole is one of those men who's served in the United States Senate. Clearly, Abraham Lincoln put it best.
Gore (on a hovering cube): We have a plan. I'm excited.
Kemp: Ambivalent, confusing.
Gore: We have a positive plan. Here's how we plan. We have a balanced-budget plan. Our plan.
Kemp: Clearly. Frankly. Ask Van Woods, a young entrepreneur.
Gore: Risky $550 billion tax scheme.
Kemp: All wealth is created. 25 to 26 percent. 7.5 million words.
Gore: Risky tax scheme. We have a plan.
Kemp: And clearly. And frankly. And that's what Abraham Lincoln believed.
Gore: Let me tell you a story about Joann Crowder in Detroit.
Kemp: We will greenline every city in the United States. Dana Crist of Lancaster.
(Van Woods, Joann Crowder, and Dana Crist slowly and silently walk across the stage, accompanied by amplified radiator noises.)
Gore: It is a risky $550 billion tax scheme.
Kemp: $50 trillion. $550 billion. $50 trillion.
Gore: Risky $550 billion tax scheme.
Kemp: $8 billion, $23 billion. Bob Dole suggested a commission.
Gore: Our plan.
Kemp: $6- or $7-trillion economy. $6 trillion in 15 years.
Gore: A balanced-budget plan.
Kemp: I will answer the question. There is no consensus. Haiti is very ambiguous at best.
Gore: It was a tense moment. And this is helping.
Kemp: We need more chairs. We need a bigger table.
Gore: These are parts of the plan. Our plan.
Kemp: Strong community, strong family. Strong economy, strong communities, strong families. The word "family." As strong as a family, a strong job. Strong community, strong schools.
Gore: I don't agree with their plan. We have a plan. We also have a plan. We also have a plan. Our plan. This plan. Risky scheme. Our plan.
(Dance impressions of the Plan and the Scheme in terrible combat.)
San Diego, Calif.
Dole (as before): I got lots of relatives.
Clinton (as before): What really matters is what happens. We stand on the brink. What really matters is what we can do. We have to go on. If we can do those things, we can build that bridge.
Dole: I have a little foundation. We don't talk about it.
Voter: I have an Amway business.
Clinton: Good for you.
Voter: My name's Jack Flack. I'm a retired Air Force pilot.
Clinton: Two different things. Let's talk about them separately.
Dole: This is America.
Clinton: I still remember a woman I met 10 years ago. I met that woman again. I want to make more people like that woman.
Dole: This is about America.
Clinton: My whole administration is about your future.
Voter: I'm a martial arts instructor and a father.
Clinton: I never go anywhere, it seems like, where I don't meet somebody. In Longview, Texas, the other day, I met a woman who was almost in tears.
Dole: I see my friend, Senator Mitchell.
Clinton: I met a lady in Colorado Springs about seven weeks ago now. I visited a Chrysler dealership in Japan.
Dole: I don't think so.
Voter: I'm a travel agent.
Clinton: I'm for it.
Dole: After midnight one morning, in the dark of night--he proposed it.
Voter: I am Verda Strategus. I think it's a real problem.
Clinton: How many of you like it?
Dole: The L.A. Times discovers it.
Clinton: It's going to help everybody.
Dole: I'm not suggesting it be done, but at least we ought to look at it.
(It does not appear.)
Clinton (wearily): I visited a Chrysler dealership in Tokyo.
Dole (darkly): No doubt about it.
(Dole and Clinton turn together and look ahead. Suddenly--it appears.)
Clinton: That's the kind of thing we need to do!
Dole: That's the way it's always been! And that's the way it will always be!
Clinton: That's the way the system works!
Dole: This is America!
Clinton: That's all we need to know!
Dole: This is what it's all about!
Clinton: If you don't leave this room with anything else--