Ford, Quayle, Stockdale; Now, Poor Rick Perry

In the long annals of presidential-campaign debating, there had until this evening been three famous-disaster moments:

1. 1976, Gerald Ford and Poland. This one wasn't quite fair. Ford was trying to make a reasonable point -- that the Polish people would never consider themselves a vanquished population. But what he actually said was, "There is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe, and under a Ford Administration there never will be."  And since the background imagery of those days was an (also unfair) mainly SNL-based theme that Ford was not really that bright ... well, it made trouble for him. And the Jimmy Carter campaign, for which I was working at the time, did all we could to rub it in.

2. 1988, Dan Quayle and Jack Kennedy. He walked right into this one -- and Lloyd Bentsen was there, crocodile-like, just waiting for him.

3. 1992, James Stockdale, "who am I?" Sigh. (For the young: Stockdale, a military hero, Medal of Honor winner, and long-time POW in Vietnam, was Ross Perot's running mate. He was a formidable figure not well suited to the political campaign trail. This was his self-introduction in a debate against the other VP candidates, Quayle and Al Gore.)

4. 2011. Now, sadly, there is a fourth. I think anyone watching had to feel bad for Perry. I do.

More from Garance Franke-Ruta. Poor Perry.

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

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