The Crash: Yapping From The Right

When the Democrats held their first debate, in July, there were signs of opening-night nervousness: Albert Gore mangled the name of President James Polk, and Bruce Babbitt bobbed and weaved in his chair like a young Muhammad Ali. Last week it was the Republicans' turn to face William Buckley's Firing Line. From the moment the G.O.P. six-pack strode onto the Houston stage, all visual cues suggested that they were indeed different from their Democratic counterparts. They seemed reassuringly familiar, more experienced, older and collectively radiated -- to borrow one of Buckley's Latinisms -- gravitas.

One should not underestimate this image advantage,...