Today is the 20th anniversary of the presidential debate in which Michael Dukakis was asked whether he would favor the death penalty for a putative assailant who raped and killed his wife.
The Democratic governor of Massachusetts' clinical response — "I don't see any evidence that it's a deterrent, and I think there are better and more effective ways to deal with violent crime" — has entered political lore as a game changer.
But the debate between Dukakis and the eventual victor, George H.W. Bush, was notable in another sense - the defense Bush mounted of his vice presidential candidate, Dan Quayle. The two-term senator from Indiana had taken his lumps in a famous exchange with the Democratic vice presidential candidate, Lloyd Bentsen.
"Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy," Bentsen had intoned after Quayle noted he had as much experience had when JFK was elected president. "I knew Jack Kennedy, Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you are no Jack Kennedy."
Sparking the discussion at the presidential debate a little over a week later was moderator Bernard Shaw's question about Bush's comfort with Quayle becoming president should Bush die.
"What have you to say about that possibility?" Shaw asked.
"But you know, Lloyd Bentsen jumped on Dan Quayle, when Dan Quayle said, he's had roughly the same amount of experience. He had two terms in the Congress. He had two terms in the Senate, serving his second term. He founded authored, the job training partnership act. It says to American working men and women that are thrown out of work for no fault of their own that they're going to have jobs. We're moving into a new competitive age, and we need that kind of thing. He, unlike my opponent, is an expert in national defense; helped amend the INF treaty so we got a good, sound treaty, when these people over here were talking about a freeze. If we'd listened to them, we would never have had a treaty. And so I have great confidence in him. And it's turning around. You know, the American people are fair. They don't like it when there's an unfair pounding and kind of hooting about people. They want to judge it on the record itself. And so I'm proud of my choice. And you know, I don't think age is the only criterion. But I'll tell you something, I'm proud that people who are 30 years old and 40 years old now have someone in their generation that is going to be vice president of the United States of America. I made a good selection. The American people are seeing it, and I'm proud of it; that's what I'd say. And he could do the job."
Dukakis was then allowed a one-minute response, and words that have echoed this election cycle.
"Bernard, this was the first presidential decision that we as nominees were called upon to make. And that's why people are so concerned. Because it was an opportunity for us to demonstrate what we were looking for in a running mate. More than that, it was the first national security decision that we had to make."
"...Mr. Bush picked Dan Quayle, and before he did it, he said, watch my choice for vice president, it will tell all And it sure did. It sure did."