The Commission, which is staging the upcoming debates between John McCain and Barack Obama beginning on Sept. 26 as well as the vice presidential debate between Sarah Palin and Joe Biden on Oct. 2, has “unofficial” transcripts of all presidential debates going back to 1960, and summaries going back to the Illinois Senate debate between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas in 1858.
In the October 23, 1980 debate, Reagan famously rebuked the sitting president, Carter, with the line, “There you go again.” In the transcript, the line is missing. It begins instead with, “When I opposed Medicare….”
A woman staffer at the Commission, who said she did not have the authority to be quoted, called back after an inquiry about the missing line and said, “We’ll look into it after the debates. We are up to our ears right now. But it’s probably an accident and it’s a mistake and it needs to be fixed.”
Mr. Reagan has not always fared well in the historic records of his quotes. In 1993, Justin Kaplan, editor of Bartlett’s Famous Quotations, included only three Reagan quotes and left out such well known Reaganisms as, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” When asked why he had treated the 40th President this way, Kaplan said, “I’m not going to dispute the fact that I despise Ronald Reagan.”
The 1980 debate was sponsored by the League of Women Voters, whose Website has only a partial transcript without that section of the debate. However, the League’s site features a full video of the debate, complete with the famous line, which can be found at 1:15:46 into the discussion.
The Commission on Presidential Debates’ transcript reads this way, from the end of Carter’s remarks on Social Security and health care:
Mr. CARTER: …. These are the kinds of elements of a national health insurance, important to the American people. Governor Reagan, again, typically is against such a proposal.
MR. [Howard K.] SMITH: Governor?
MR. REAGAN: [There you go again.] When I opposed Medicare, there was another piece of legislation meeting the same problem before the Congress. I happened to favor the other piece of legislation and thought that it would be better for the senior citizens and provide better care than the one that was finally passed. [Line added]
The League of Women Voters had sponsored presidential debates since 1976. The Commission took over the task beginning on Sept. 25, 1988, when Vice President George H.W. Bush (R) debated Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis (D).
The Commission’s Web site has some interesting facts, including these:
“The debates of 1858 set the stage for Abraham Lincoln's later run for the presidency; 1948 and 1956 were the only public debates among presidential candidates prior to 1960; there were no presidential debates between 1960 and 1976.”
Also, the May 17, 1948 GOP primary radio debate between New York Gov. Thomas Dewey and former Minnesota Gov. Harold Stassen was the last time a single topic was featured: “Outlawing the Communist Party in the U.S.”
Robert Knight is Director of the Culture and Media Institute, a division of Media Research Center.