'Why am I here?' 5 memorable lines from election debates

From James Stockdale to Lloyd Bentsen, debates have featured memorable quotes

By Keith Dunlap
Getty Images

Workers assemble the television set inside the media filing center at Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts where the first Democratic presidential primary debates for the 2020 elections will take place, June 25, 2019 in Miami,…

With the first Democratic candidate debate set to start Wednesday, an event that will be conducted over a two-night period, the 10 candidates who take the stage each night in Miami will be trying to find moments to distinguish themselves among voters.

It might be more necessary than it’s ever been, considering the crowded field of candidates.

One way candidates could stand out is with clever quotes or one-liners, which have been a significant part of U.S. political debate history.

Whether or not the candidates in Miami add to that history remains to be seen, but here are five memorable examples of candidate quotes from debates that will never be forgotten.

'Who am I? Why am I here?'

In the 1992 presidential election, independent candidate Ross Perot had what at the time was deemed an unusual selection for his running mate, retired Navy Admiral James Stockdale. 

Stockdale knew full well he didn’t have any experience as a politician, so he tried to poke a little fun at himself with a classic line during his opening statements at a vice presidential candidate debate.

“Who am I? Why am I here? I’m not a politician,” Stockdale famously said. 

The Perot-Stockdale ticket may not have won, but Stockdale forever stamped his place in debate history with that line.

'Where’s the beef?'

In the 1980s, Wendy’s had a popular ad for its hamburgers by having a spokeswoman ask, “Where’s the beef?” when trying burgers from other competitors.

In a 1984 debate of Democratic presidential candidates, Walter Mondale, who served as vice president under Jimmy Carter, responded in this way when Sen. Gary Hart expressed views on entrepreneurship. 

“When I hear your new ideas, I’m reminded of that ad, ‘Where’s the beef?'" Mondale said to Hart.

As it turns out, much of America didn’t feel there was much beef to Mondale’s ideas, either. After winning the Democratic nomination, Mondale was defeated in a landslide by Ronald Reagan. 

'Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy'

George H.W. Bush, who served as Reagan’s vice president, easily won the 1988 presidential election over Michael Dukakis. However, it was Dukakis’ running mate, Lloyd Bentsen, who is remembered from that election for offering one of the most legendary lines ever in a political debate. 

During a debate with Bush’s running mate, a young Indiana senator named Dan Quayle, Bentsen had this rebuttal when Quayle tried to combat concerns about his youth by saying he had as much experience as Jack (John F.) Kennedy had in Congress before Kennedy made his bid for the presidency.

“I served with Jack Kennedy, I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy,” Bentsen said. 

Quayle took umbrage with that line, responding, “That was really uncalled for, Senator.”

Bentsen then answered back, “You’re the one that was making the comparison, Senator.”

'There you go again'

In a 1980 presidential debate between President Jimmy Carter and the Republican challenger, Reagan, Carter criticized Reagan’s stance on health care.

Before offering a defense, Reagan uttered “There you go again,” to Carter. 

Reagan ultimately defeated Carter in the election. 

'Fuzzy math'

This became a popular term following a 2000 presidential debate between George W. Bush and Al Gore, when Bush constantly said that when refuting economic figures used by Gore.

Bush ended up winning the election, but there initially was some fuzzy math in the state that turned out to decide the presidency, Florida.

There was a disagreement about votes and recounts, but ultimately, the recounts in Florida were stopped and Bush was declared the winner. 
 

Graham Media Group 2019