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Quotable: “The biggest separation between candidates and the biggest dividing point between winners and losers is the people who seemed fully natural and those who didn’t,” Mr. Lanoue said. “Kennedy did, Nixon didn’t. Reagan did, Carter didn’t. The first Bush did more than [Democrat Michael S. Dukakis]. Clinton did, [Bob] Dole and [George W.] Bush didn’t. You need to be as natural as you can be. If you don’t do hand gestures normally, don’t start; otherwise, you’ll look like the old Dana Carvey sendup of the first President Bush.”

The full Stockdale

Blunder: Seeming as though you are utterly unequipped to handle a televised debate, let alone America’s nuclear launch codes.

Fool’s gold standard: Reform Party vice presidential candidate James Stockdale — a retired admiral and Vietnam War hero — opened a 1992 debate with a line so bizarre, so downright dadaist, that “Saturday Night Live” scriptwriters couldn’t have made it up: “Who am I? Why am I here?” Mr. Stockdale spent much of the subsequent debate time pacing back and forth, largely ignored as Vice President Dan Quayle and Mr. Gore, the Democratic challenger, bickered. When moderator Hal Bruno asked Mr. Stockdale a question about “personal negative attacks” in the campaign, the former Navy officer replied, “You know, I didn’t have my hearing aid turned on. Tell me again.” It was that kind of night.

Antidote: Duh. Turn on your hearing aid. Also, make sure you actually want the office you’re running for. A friend of Reform Party presidential candidate Ross Perot, Mr. Stockdale was supposed to be a only placeholder candidate. A serious academic, author and student of stoicism, he later explained that his infamous opening line was meant to be taken as a humorous philosophical inquiry and not as an expression of doddering cluelessness.

Quotable: Perhaps Mr. Stockdale was wiser than he seemed. Mr. Gore and Mr. Quayle’s incessant verbal combat was widely considered a new low in political debates. After Mr. Stockdale’s comment about his hearing aid, Mr. Bruno reportedly nearly blurted out, “You may be the luckiest man in America.”