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'I get the UFO question? C'mon, man!'
A quick history of presidential debates and the Great Taboo
Moment of impact: During Wednesday night’s Republican debate, all 86 billion neurons in Chris Christie’s head froze up at a UFO question, then transformed him into a standup comic.
Wish I’d been inside Chris Christie’s head with a flashlight on Wednesday night when Fox News debate co-host Martha MacCallum dropped the UFO bomb. The brain can be a wondrous organ, and I would love to have seen the menu of response-options his neurons dialed up as his face figured out which way to slide.
It took him about a minute of stalling and spewing non-sequitur gibberish before settling on the only thing in memory storage he could cling to for perceived political advantage — his record for bashing the teachers union when he was governor of New Jersey. “That,” he said of organized labor after the tinkling time-bell reminded him to shut up, “is the biggest threat to our country, not UFOs.”
With that, the arguably most rational man on the eight-person GOP debate stage in Milwaukee managed to salvage an applause line, from a crowd that was obviously none the wiser about the UFO hearings and transparency bills coming out of Congress this year. Only moderator Tim Russert’s gag-line sucker punch during a Democratic primary debate in 2007 kept it from setting precedent. And it’s worth revisiting.
Sixteen years ago, the late “Meet the Press” host employed UFOs to demolish what few hopes lefty icon Dennis Kucinich entertained of securing a presidential nomination. Armed with red-hot news in an upcoming book that Kucinich had seen a UFO in 1982, Russert read excerpts aloud and – as the candidate smiled like he was swallowing a centipede – asked him point blank: Did you see a UFO?
“Uh, I did,” he replied. Laughter from the crowd. “It was (an) unidentified flying object, OK? It’s like – it’s unidentified. I saw something …” Russert’s reading also included book quotes stating that the event had made a connection to Kucinich’s heart and gave him mental directions. “Now – to answer your question,” Kucinich continued. Uh.” He paused as his panicked neurons urged him to go with self-effacing humor, using famous UFO incidents.
Meanwhile, back at the DIA . . .
“I’m moving my, I’m also gonna move my campaign office to Roswell, New Mexico, and another one to Exeter, New Hampshire, OK?” Kucinich’s overloaded circuits clawed for anything within reach during the free-fall. “And also, you have to keep in mind that Jimmy Carter saw a UFO, and also that more people in this country have seen UFOs than approve of George Bush’s presidency.” Political points — the audience titter was more reassuring this time. Russert’s body language signaled time’s up. “Wait,” Kicinich protested, “we’re just getting started here.”
“No, no,” Russert waved him off, because he didn’t really give a shit. “Fourteen percent of the American people say they have seen UFOs.” Damage done, Russert cut him off and moved on.
Unbeknownst to Russert or anyone else on the scene, the Defense Intelligence Agency was preparing to conduct its own secret independent investigation into the phenomenon’s persistence. Even so, even without the benefit of the ensuing government documents and testimony from pilots, intelligence officers, and a congressionally established research office to provide cover, the media was intrigued by the freak show.
Former New Mexico governor and candidate Bill Richardson got collared by MSNBC commentator Chris Matthews off stage. Striking an apologetic tone – “It’s an odd thing to ask, I wouldn’t have asked it except Dennis Kucinich said he saw a UFO” – Matthews popped a UFO question on Richardson. After all, President Clinton’s former Energy Secretary had crafted the foreword to a 2004 paperback called The Roswell Dig Diaries, which stated, in part:
“The mystery surrounding this crash has never been adequately explained — not by independent investigators, and not by the U.S. government. … There are as many theories as there are official explanations. Clearly, it would help everyone if the U.S. government disclosed everything it knows. The American people can handle the truth — no matter how bizarre or mundane. … With full disclosure and our best scientific investigation, we should be able to find out what happened on that fateful day in July 1947.”
Deer in the headlights
On live TV in 2007, however, Richardson felt compelled to backpedal a bit about how there’s “no credible evidence” and “I promote UFOs as a tourism issue”; to his credit, he still asserted that “the federal government has not come clean” about the mystery.
“Stop the music!” Matthews blurted. “Stop the music! Did you say the United States government is covering up a history of the UFO sightings in your state?”
“They don’t produce documents, Chris,” Richardson replied. “They should just get it all out.”
Emboldened by Russert’s “gotcha!” moment, the media attempted to goad other candidates into embarrassing themselves in the debate’s backwash. In late 2007, Fox News’ Chris Wallace held ultimate Republican nominee John McCain hostage long enough to get him to admit he hadn’t seen a UFO in his Navy pilot career, “but I keep looking all the time.” Wallace also corralled Richardson and got him to declare it firmly for the record: “I don’t believe in UFOs.”
After being cornered in Cleveland, Mitt Romney said, “I’m afraid I do not believe in extraterrestrials visiting Earth.” This, even though LDS doctrine says it’s OK to believe in extraterrestrial beings, even though UFOs leave more radar tracks than Jesus. And, as he did in 2021 following a “60 Minutes” UFO story, candidate Joe Biden ran from the question back ‘07 as well: “I’ve never met Dennis Kucinich and I don’t know Governor Richardson. I mean, what the heck are we talking about? This has gone downhill real quick.”
The snappiest dodge came from Mike Huckabee, who appeared much better prepared for the issue the second time it lunged at him. “I believe in G-O-D,” he replied, “not U-F-O.” After all, Huckabee had bobbled the UFO question so badly when he was governor of Arkansas, the guy sounded like Chamberlain at Munich.
Liquid paper? Really?
“If I ever encountered people who were, like, aliens from a foreign planet,” he replied to a videographer, manufacturing an amused smile, “I would do my very best to work with Democrats as best I could, I think.” He chuckled over the witticism but, after reaping abject silence from his off-camera antagonist, Huckabee tried again. “No, you’re asking me a serious question.” The nerve. “But what would I do? Umm . . . I think the main thing is to make sure they don’t turn us into, uh, you know, liquid paper. That would probably be the most important factor right there, is to surrender, and to say we give up, and uh, say what do you want, and take us to your leader and . . .”
Liquid paper – that’s the best he could do. Huckabee had nothing but an exit chuckle over his own lameness to follow “and . . .” The cutaway was an act of mercy.
The day before he tanked in the 2008 Iowa caucuses, Dem contender Chris Dodd was pissed that so many people appeared to be chattering in code over something he knew absolutely nothing about: “I mean, the questions that have stunned me have been some (from) the national media. You know, have you seen UFOs? And we haven’t had much of a conversation about some of the other issues that we would like to talk about.” Yeah, like interest rates and unemployment and Bin Laden and terrorists and the deficit and zzzz. Nobody ever listened to the Connecticut senator again.
Well, nearly two decades later, with another season of presidential politicking going full throttle, the conversation is orders of magnitude beyond its infancy of the late Bush years. But you could tell from the crowd’s jocular hoots to MacCallum’s curveball for Christie that “our” emotional IQ on The Great Taboo lags far behind the headlines emanating from Capitol Hill.
MacCallum herself played into type by opening her question with a 20th-century cliché: “Now for something a little ‘out of this world,’ and this is for you, Governor Christie . . . Do you think the recent spike in UFO encounters –”
“I get the UFO question? C’mon, man!” Christie stood there grinning, dangerously uninformed, shaking his head, taking it, neurons scrambling for something, anything, impish victimhood, maybe – “I think it’s horrible that just because I’m from New Jersey blahblahblah Martians blahblahblah” – before asserting that the POTUS’ job is to “level with the American people blahblahblah.”
The reception to MacCallum’s absolutely legitimate question had to be chilling for industry colleagues. If she’d been paying attention, she would’ve put the UFO question to Vivek Ramaswamy, the guy who proclaimed the twice-impeached quadruple-indicted Trump “the greatest president of the 21st century.” Prior to the David Grusch/UFO hearing in June, Ramaswamy sent a memo to the House Oversight Committee with a list of witness questions that were so cogent, informed and logical it actually made Ramaswamy sound sane.
Look, politicians do what they do. But legacy media now has an unparalleled opening to bust wide open our presidential wannabes’ appalling knowledge deficit of the bipartisan congressional revolt against the open-ended plunder of resources and accountability by military intelligence. Journos can only put a stop to the comedy improv when they grow up, begin to take their own questions seriously, and recognize at least one stone-cold truth: The stage performers are playing them for chumps.
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