National politics in America used to be fun.
In 1804, the vice president shot and killed the former treasury secretary.
In 1856, a member of the House of Representatives pulverized a senator with his own cane on the very floor of the United States Senate.
As recently as 1992, an arguably paranoid-schizophrenic dwarf commanded enough national attention to allow himself and his definitely senile running-mate to debate, before capturing 19 percent of the popular vote.
These things would never happen today.
When cabinet members hate each other, one of them resigns to spend more time with his family.
The chamber of the Senate is home only to the worlds stodgiest, most tedious speeches.
Ross Perots contemporary heir, Ron Paul, is already a forgotten rumor and a whispered regret.
Were not having fun anymore. Sure, there are isolated pockets of the country where bodybuilders and professional wrestlers are made governors, and mummified corpses are elected to the Senate.
But most of us are bored, and the debates we have been subjected to during the 2008 presidential election cycle havent helped anything.
These dreary, wholly predictable affairs may have captured record numbers of viewers, but all they have been good for is putting those viewers to sleep.
One debate remains: next Wednesday, Oct. 15 from Hofstra University in New York City, moderated by Bob Schieffer of CBS News.
Mr. Schieffer, you have a chance to set this right.
Deliver us a fun, lively debate that will really tell America something about its candidates.
For your consideration, the following is a list of things I would like to see in the final face-to-face showdown between Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain.
Delayed reaction meters.
Reaction meters or dials used by news organizations measure the instant effect of the candidates statements on viewers.
Dial groups tend to react negatively to specific discussions of complicated policy issues (Obama vainly explicating the details of his health care plan, for example), while reacting positively to lowest-common-denominator pandering, cute accents and colloquialisms, and vacuous circular nonsense designed to obscure the fact that absolutely nothing is being said at all (for some reason, I cant think of any recent examples).
Outfit these dial groups with delayed reaction meters that require them to think analytically about what the candidates said for 90 seconds before recording a reaction.
The candidates will also be hooked up to these reaction meters, and negative reactions will result in small but painful electric shocks, while positive reactions will activate a device that will distribute a warm cookie.
Im not talking about Sen. Joe Biden, who was often called the Democratic tickets attack dog upon his nomination.
I mean actual trained attack dogs, under the command of the moderator.
Should Mr. Schieffer feel his format and time limits are not being respected, he may, at his discretion, unleash 85 pounds of angry giant schnauzer upon eithe or both candidates.
Of course, the dogs will be trained to immediately withdraw upon Schieffers command or when the candidates pants have been entirely destroyed, whichever comes first.
Now I am talking about Joe Biden, and his counterpart, Gov. Sarah Palin.
The vice presidential nominees should be in attendance, seated beside their respective principals, ready to jump in and take over should either candidate be unable to continue due to the effects of electric shock, dog mauling or (far more unlikely) excess cookie consumption.
The running mates should also be required to stand up and debate their own bosses when topics stray into areas where the two have had prior disagreements (McCain vs. Palin on global climate change; Obama vs. Biden on Obamas qualifications and ability to lead the country).
Respectfully to Mr. Schieffer, my final wish for this debate is something that is sadly all but an absurd fantasy:
The Ghost of Tim Russert.
Someone must go after the lies and half-lies and obfuscations with which these candidates ply their trade.
Someone must get to the bottom of all of this muck and tell us what these gentlemen really mean, what they are really about and how they would really govern the nation.
Russert had nearly mastered this craft while he was alive; it is fearsome to imagine the powers he might wield from beyond the grave.
But wait. Before I conclude, I have thought of something that is even more fantastical, more ridiculous and more unlikely to actually happen than an undead phantasm flying about the lecture hall demanding answers from the candidates:
A thoughtful, substantive discussion on civil rights issues for gay and lesbian Americans.
This is the most impossible of all the things I have asked, but I can dream.