CBSNews.com has obtained a transcript of the first, super-duper secret, really fictional meeting to set up the ground rules for the presidential debates. Former Secretary of State James Baker represents the president and Washington mega-lawyer Vernon Jordan is Senator Kerry's man. The two met at a sushi restaurant in Timonium, Maryland.
Baker: Okay, Vernon, a couple non-negotiables right off the top. First, we just can't let Kerry use complete sentences.
Jordan: That's a problem. John Kerry has been fighting for proper syntax for three decades of public service, Jim. You're talking about abandoning a commitment, a passion, an A- in freshman English Composition at Yale. What'll you give us in return?
Baker: Two-words: flip-flop. Or is that one Word? Whatever, we'll get back to you on that. The president has authorized me to declare the debates a flip-flop free zone. If your guy will work with us on this, the president will forego all use of the words flip-flop. Or word. Whatever.
Jordan: Fragments for flip-flops? That's tough.
Baker: It's not arms for hostages, Vern.
Jordan: Fine, we'll take it. But we have a non-negotiable, too. The Senator will not tolerate being asked scurrilous trick questions on important national security issues. Specifically, we're going to have to insist that "were you for or against the recent war in Iraq" be taken off the table.
Baker: Ouch. Okay, though, done. But then Kerry has to take a foreign policy question demanding him to list his top three favorite French homoerotic poets. And he has to name his favorite episode of "What Not To Wear."
Jordan: That's low, Mr. Ambassador, way low.
Baker: Fine, you want do the Iraq war thing, we can live with that.
Jordan: Okay, okay. You can have it. But we're going to insist, Mr. Secretary, that the president mispronounce at least one foreign leader's name in each debate.
Baker: We're fine with that so long as they're not the Western European boys. We'll give you a Baltic, one of the "stans" and something Asian.
Jordan: Done. And you're gonna have to give us one "misunderestimate." Our people love that.
Baker: Not a problem, that doesn't hurt in the focus groups at all. But the president does want to tease Kerry about all his homes in the domestic policy debate.
Jordan: Hmmm. We got Georgetown, Beacon Hill, Nantucket, Sun Valley, and the Pennsylvania farm. We'll give you three out of five, but Mrs. HK's plane is off limits. And so is her accent.
Baker: Fine, we'll take Georgetown, Boston and Nantucket. That's easy. And we'd like Kerry to wear a pocket square.
Jordan: Dream on, Mr. Secretary. You tricked Gore on the earth tones thing; you're not getting us twice.
Jordan: Nice try big guy. How do you want to handle the Vietnam business?
Baker: Shouldn't be a problem. We're willing to say the president respects Kerry's one-and-half Purple Hearts, condemn all forms of scurrilous 527's and we won't bring up any of the treason and fake medal stuff. Your guy can praise the president's heroic service in the Air National Guard as a precursor of the kind of homeland security that is keeping America safe from terror now. Easy.
Jordan: Well, Senator Kerry is willing to avoid the draft dodging and Camp David cocaine problems if the president specifically mentions the three Purple Heats, Silver Star, Bronze Star and use the phrase "American hero" twice.
Baker: So you want to avoid the Vietnam thing too?
Jordan: Absolutely. Let's wrap up the "avoid list" while we're at it. We assume you guys want to blow off deficits, crime, urban poverty and the environment like you usually do?
Baker: Right. And you boys need to steer clear of tax hikes, Massachusetts, gun control and the Senator's entire voting record, right.
Baker: Done. We'll need one Teddy Kennedy joke though.
Jordan: Fine, but Senator Kerry would like the president to say something nice about his windsurfing skills.
Baker: That can hurt us in Florida, Vern. You're going to have to let us use the "two Americas for two of John Kerry's positions on every issue" gag once, especially since we caved on flip-flip.
Jordan: Give us one Halliburton cheap shot and it's a deal.
Baker: Done. Let's eat. The eel is great here, so is the shark.
Dick Meyer, a veteran political and investigative producer for CBS News, is the Editorial Director of CBSNews.com, based in Washington.
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By Dick Meyer