Frank Guan at n+1:
In spite of Gore’s smug demeanor and relentless interruptions, Perot maintained an even, though naturally increasingly vexed, tone; when Gore attempted to shift the topic, Perot retained his focus; when Gore cast aspersions on his motives, Perot parried them without excessive difficulty, albeit only by exposing himself as a traitor to his class.1 It is difficult, reading the transcript of the NAFTA debate, not to come to certain conclusions: it was by far the most substantive televised debate on economic policy in American history, and the majority of the substance came from Perot, who by that token was the clear victor of the debate.
Yet the gloating and unanimous response on the part of the political media was precisely the opposite: Gore had triumphed, absolutely. His churlishness was taken as a mark of tactical genius, while Perot’s displeasure was played up as a sign of mental incompetence: William Safire, in the New York Times, cheerfully compared the debate to a bullfight, with the Texan in the role of the hapless, goaded beast; Dana Carvey mocked Perot’s requests to be allowed to finish his sentences onSaturday Night Live. A week later, NAFTA passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 234 to 200; Senate approval soon followed, and President Clinton signed the treaty into law in early December.