The Quick 10: 10 Interesting Political Debates

So, who will be watching the debate tonight? We're watching it with some friends, at least until one of us gets mad and hurls the T.V. to the floor. And then we'll switch to Army of Darkness. So hopefully the damage to the T.V. isn't too severe.

Here's a look at some notable debates, mostly from the last 30 years or so, with one very notable exception.


1. The Year: 1984.

The Debate: Vice Presidential, Geraldine Ferraro vs. George H.W. Bush.

The Issues: Experience (sound familiar?), the Catholic Ferraro's pro-choice view of abortion, the Voting Rights Act.

Stitch? Barbara Bush said she thought Ferraro was something that rhymed with the word "rich", but said she couldn't say the word on television.

2. The Year: 1988.

The Debate: Vice Presidential, Lloyd Bentsen vs. Dan Quayle.

The Issues: Experience (ahem), Social Security, family, Nicaragua, the environment.

What People Remember: When Quayle compared himself to JFK and Bentsen responded with, "Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy: I knew Jack Kennedy; Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy."
Quayle: "That was really uncalled for, Senator."

What I find funny is that Ronald Reagan later made fun of himself and this quote when he said about Bill Clinton, "This fellow they've nominated claims he's the new Thomas Jefferson. Well, let me tell you something. I knew Thomas Jefferson. He was a friend of mine. And governor, you're no Thomas Jefferson."

3. The Year: 1858.

The Debate: Presidential, Abraham Lincoln vs. Stephen Douglas.

The Issues: Slavery, slavery, slavery.
Oh, Snap: Lincoln used his speech prowess to bash on Douglas and speak out against slavery: "I agree with Judge Douglas he is not my equal in many respects-certainly not in color, perhaps not in moral or intellectual endowment. But in the right to eat the bread, without the leave of anybody else, which his own hand earns, he is my equal and the equal of Judge Douglas, and the equal of every living man."

Watch Out, Dan Rather: He said that the Freeport Doctrine was "As thin as the homeopathic soup that was made by boiling the shadow of a pigeon that had starved to death," that Douglas evading a question was like a sepia cloud from a cuttlefish, and that one of Douglas' arguments was like making a horse chestnut into a chestnut horse. I bet Lincoln would have made a great sportscaster.


4. The Year: 1960

The Debate: Presidential, JFK vs. Richard Nixon.

The Issues: Cuba, experience, foreign policy, the economy.

TKO: It's generally agreed that JFK nailed the first debate because it was televised. His relaxed demeanor, tan appearance, dark suite and proper debate etiquette (he looked at Nixon when Nixon spoke, for instance) was a stark contrast from Tricky Dick's first televised debate. Nixon was not feeling well because of knee injury, he refused to wear makeup and appeared to have an unhealthy pallor compared to Kennedy's glow, he wore a grey suit that blended in with the stage background and seemed very tense.

But WHY was Kennedy so Relaxed and Confident? Uhhh. Couple of answers, here. The official reason is that Kennedy and his family had taken a week to vacation in Florida prior to the debates. It's long been rumored, though, that JFK, famous for his womanizing, had enjoyed an, erm, "audience" with a young lady just prior to the debates.

5. The Year: 1976

The Debate: Presidential, Gerald Ford vs. Jimmy Carter

The Issues: Domestic and international policy, mainly.

The Faux Pas: Then-President Ford said, "There is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe." Panelist Max Frankel from the New York Times was so stunned by this comment, he said, "I'm sorry ... did I understand you to say, sir, that the Soviets are not using Eastern Europe as their own sphere of influence in occupying most of the countries there?"

The Candidates Were Stiffs: There was a 27-minute delay when the sound went dead. Remembering how badly Nixon fared on T.V., Carter and Ford just froze for the 27 minutes, fearful that they would be caught in some pose that would make them look bad.


6. The Year: 1992

The Debate: Vice Presidential, Dan Quayle vs. Al Gore vs. Admiral Stockdale

The Issues: Taxes, the economy, the environment.

Notable quotes:
Admiral James Stockdale: "Who Am I? Why Am I Here?"

QUAYLE: But the question is -- the question is -- and which you have failed to address, and that is, why is Bill Clinton qualified to be president of the US. You've talked about --
GORE: Oh, I'll be happy to answer that question --
QUAYLE: You've talked about Jim Baker. You've talked about trickle down economics. You've talked about the worst economy-
BRUNO: Now, wait a minute. The question was about --
QUAYLE: -- in 50 years.
GORE: I'll be happy to answer those. May I answer --
QUAYLE: Why is he qualified to be president of the US?
GORE: I'll be happy to --
QUAYLE: I want to go back and make a point --
GORE: Well, you've asked me the question. If you won't answer my question I will answer yours.
QUAYLE: I have not asked you a question. I've made a statement, that you have not told us why Bill Clinton is qualified to be president of the US. I pointed out what he said about the Persian Gulf War. But let me repeat it for you. Here's what he said, Senator. You know full well what he said.
GORE: You want me to answer your question?
QUAYLE: I'm making a statement. Then you can answer it.

Random Fact: Admiral Stockdale's full name was James Bond Stockdale. Seriously.

7. The Year: 1980.

The Debate: Presidential, Then-President Jimmy Carter vs. Ronald Reagan.

The Issues: Hostages in Iran, the nuclear arms race

The Deciding Factor? The last debate of this series took place only a week before the election, and is thought by many to have swung the very close race over to Reagan.

Nixon vs. Kennedy, Part Deux. Carter was tense and didn't want to debate in the first place, Reagan was cheerful and humorous. Once, he likened Carter to "The Witch Doctor that gets made when a good doctor comes along with a cure that'll work" and when Carter tried to bring up Reagan's past voting record on issues such as Medicare, Reagan just grinned and said his famous line, "There you go again!"


8. The Year: 2004

The Debate: Presidential, John Kerry vs. President George W. Bush

The Issues: Largely Iraq, terrorism, homeland security and nukes.

Audiogate/Bulgegate: Ever since Watergate, the press has a habit of tacking on "gate" to any political scandal. Perhaps you've noticed. This particular incident stemmed from the fact that there was some sort of very noticable bulge at the back of President Bush's jacket. Many thought it was an electronic device that allowed him to get answers from someone "“ possibly Karl Rove. Bush later explained that it was the result of a "poorly tailored shirt," and another explanation was that he started wearing a portable defibrillator after choking on a pretzel and passing out while watching a football game in 2002.

"He Forgot Poland." This debate is also remembered for the Poland remark (Polandgate??). Kerry said Bush didn't have international support for invading Iraq, and that his only allies were Australia and the U.K. Bush responded with, "Well, actually, he forgot Poland," and went on to say that now more than 30 nations were in agreement with the U.S. But it's the first sentence of the argument that people seem to remember.

9. The Year: 1984

The Debate: Democratic Primaries, Walter Mondale vs. Gary Hart.

Thank You, Dave Thomas: If you had no idea what year these debates took place, this would put you in the ballpark pretty much immediately "“ Mondale told Hart that whenever he talked about his ideas, he was reminded of the Wendy's ad campaign, "Where's the beef?" Although humorous, a lot of analysts say this remark seriously hurt Hart and his ability to prove that his ideas had some substance.

10. The Year: 1988.

The Debate: Presidential, George H.W. Bush vs. Michael Dukakis.

The Issues: Drugs, Taxes

No Shrimp on the Barbie for Bush: Again with the pop culture references. To address the war on drugs, Bush said, "You know, You know, I saw a movie "“ "˜Crocodile Dundee.' And I saw the cocaine scene treated with humor, as though this was a humorous little incident. And it's bad."

Now Appearing at the Apollo: BUSH: "Is this the time to unleash our one-liners? That answer was about as clear as Boston harbor."

Live Smarter
Nervous About Asking for a Job Referral? LinkedIn Can Now Do It for You

For most people, asking for a job referral can be daunting. What if the person being approached shoots you down? What if you ask the "wrong" way? LinkedIn, which has been aggressively establishing itself as a catch-all hub for employment opportunities, has a solution, as Mashable reports.

The company recently launched "Ask for a Referral," an option that will appear to those browsing job listings. When you click on a job listed by a business that also employs one of your LinkedIn first-degree connections, you'll have the opportunity to solicit a referral from that individual.

The default message that LinkedIn creates is somewhat generic, but it hits the main topics—namely, prompting you to explain how you and your connection know one another and why you'd be a good fit for the position. If you're the one being asked for a referral, the site will direct you to the job posting and offer three prompts for a response, ranging from "Sure…" to "Sorry…".

LinkedIn says the referral option may not be available for all posts or all users, as the feature is still being rolled out. If you do see the option, it will likely pay to take advantage of it: LinkedIn reports that recruiters who receive both a referral and a job application from a prospective hire are four times more likely to contact that individual.

[h/t Mashable]

Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images
Essential Science
What Is a Scientific Theory?
Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images
Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

In casual conversation, people often use the word theory to mean "hunch" or "guess": If you see the same man riding the northbound bus every morning, you might theorize that he has a job in the north end of the city; if you forget to put the bread in the breadbox and discover chunks have been taken out of it the next morning, you might theorize that you have mice in your kitchen.

In science, a theory is a stronger assertion. Typically, it's a claim about the relationship between various facts; a way of providing a concise explanation for what's been observed. The American Museum of Natural History puts it this way: "A theory is a well-substantiated explanation of an aspect of the natural world that can incorporate laws, hypotheses and facts."

For example, Newton's theory of gravity—also known as his law of universal gravitation—says that every object, anywhere in the universe, responds to the force of gravity in the same way. Observational data from the Moon's motion around the Earth, the motion of Jupiter's moons around Jupiter, and the downward fall of a dropped hammer are all consistent with Newton's theory. So Newton's theory provides a concise way of summarizing what we know about the motion of these objects—indeed, of any object responding to the force of gravity.

A scientific theory "organizes experience," James Robert Brown, a philosopher of science at the University of Toronto, tells Mental Floss. "It puts it into some kind of systematic form."


A theory's ability to account for already known facts lays a solid foundation for its acceptance. Let's take a closer look at Newton's theory of gravity as an example.

In the late 17th century, the planets were known to move in elliptical orbits around the Sun, but no one had a clear idea of why the orbits had to be shaped like ellipses. Similarly, the movement of falling objects had been well understood since the work of Galileo a half-century earlier; the Italian scientist had worked out a mathematical formula that describes how the speed of a falling object increases over time. Newton's great breakthrough was to tie all of this together. According to legend, his moment of insight came as he gazed upon a falling apple in his native Lincolnshire.

In Newton's theory, every object is attracted to every other object with a force that’s proportional to the masses of the objects, but inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them. This is known as an “inverse square” law. For example, if the distance between the Sun and the Earth were doubled, the gravitational attraction between the Earth and the Sun would be cut to one-quarter of its current strength. Newton, using his theories and a bit of calculus, was able to show that the gravitational force between the Sun and the planets as they move through space meant that orbits had to be elliptical.

Newton's theory is powerful because it explains so much: the falling apple, the motion of the Moon around the Earth, and the motion of all of the planets—and even comets—around the Sun. All of it now made sense.


A theory gains even more support if it predicts new, observable phenomena. The English astronomer Edmond Halley used Newton's theory of gravity to calculate the orbit of the comet that now bears his name. Taking into account the gravitational pull of the Sun, Jupiter, and Saturn, in 1705, he predicted that the comet, which had last been seen in 1682, would return in 1758. Sure enough, it did, reappearing in December of that year. (Unfortunately, Halley didn't live to see it; he died in 1742.) The predicted return of Halley's Comet, Brown says, was "a spectacular triumph" of Newton's theory.

In the early 20th century, Newton's theory of gravity would itself be superseded—as physicists put it—by Einstein's, known as general relativity. (Where Newton envisioned gravity as a force acting between objects, Einstein described gravity as the result of a curving or warping of space itself.) General relativity was able to explain certain phenomena that Newton's theory couldn't account for, such as an anomaly in the orbit of Mercury, which slowly rotates—the technical term for this is "precession"—so that while each loop the planet takes around the Sun is an ellipse, over the years Mercury traces out a spiral path similar to one you may have made as a kid on a Spirograph.

Significantly, Einstein’s theory also made predictions that differed from Newton's. One was the idea that gravity can bend starlight, which was spectacularly confirmed during a solar eclipse in 1919 (and made Einstein an overnight celebrity). Nearly 100 years later, in 2016, the discovery of gravitational waves confirmed yet another prediction. In the century between, at least eight predictions of Einstein's theory have been confirmed.


And yet physicists believe that Einstein's theory will one day give way to a new, more complete theory. It already seems to conflict with quantum mechanics, the theory that provides our best description of the subatomic world. The way the two theories describe the world is very different. General relativity describes the universe as containing particles with definite positions and speeds, moving about in response to gravitational fields that permeate all of space. Quantum mechanics, in contrast, yields only the probability that each particle will be found in some particular location at some particular time.

What would a "unified theory of physics"—one that combines quantum mechanics and Einstein's theory of gravity—look like? Presumably it would combine the explanatory power of both theories, allowing scientists to make sense of both the very large and the very small in the universe.


Let's shift from physics to biology for a moment. It is precisely because of its vast explanatory power that biologists hold Darwin's theory of evolution—which allows scientists to make sense of data from genetics, physiology, biochemistry, paleontology, biogeography, and many other fields—in such high esteem. As the biologist Theodosius Dobzhansky put it in an influential essay in 1973, "Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution."

Interestingly, the word evolution can be used to refer to both a theory and a fact—something Darwin himself realized. "Darwin, when he was talking about evolution, distinguished between the fact of evolution and the theory of evolution," Brown says. "The fact of evolution was that species had, in fact, evolved [i.e. changed over time]—and he had all sorts of evidence for this. The theory of evolution is an attempt to explain this evolutionary process." The explanation that Darwin eventually came up with was the idea of natural selection—roughly, the idea that an organism's offspring will vary, and that those offspring with more favorable traits will be more likely to survive, thus passing those traits on to the next generation.


Many theories are rock-solid: Scientists have just as much confidence in the theories of relativity, quantum mechanics, evolution, plate tectonics, and thermodynamics as they do in the statement that the Earth revolves around the Sun.

Other theories, closer to the cutting-edge of current research, are more tentative, like string theory (the idea that everything in the universe is made up of tiny, vibrating strings or loops of pure energy) or the various multiverse theories (the idea that our entire universe is just one of many). String theory and multiverse theories remain controversial because of the lack of direct experimental evidence for them, and some critics claim that multiverse theories aren't even testable in principle. They argue that there's no conceivable experiment that one could perform that would reveal the existence of these other universes.

Sometimes more than one theory is put forward to explain observations of natural phenomena; these theories might be said to "compete," with scientists judging which one provides the best explanation for the observations.

"That's how it should ideally work," Brown says. "You put forward your theory, I put forward my theory; we accumulate a lot of evidence. Eventually, one of our theories might prove to obviously be better than the other, over some period of time. At that point, the losing theory sort of falls away. And the winning theory will probably fight battles in the future."


More from mental floss studios