The presidential debate will be on all the networks tonight. This explains the sense of dejection you felt on waking this morning and realizing, in some vulnerable corner of your heart, that Detective Olivia Benson won't be getting too close to a case. I'm sorry it had to be this way.

If many of the pundits are to be believed, this is Mitt Romney's chance to introduce himself to America. Or seventh. Romney's like the coworker a friend keeps inviting to hang with your group, mistakenly thinking his appeal is transferable. ("You should hear the cracks he makes about our supervisor, Mr. Werner! He's the funniest guy in the break room!") Except in this case the friend introducing Mitt Romney is Mitt Romney, which makes it weird.

Just to be on the safe side, though, don't believe the pundits. Treat this event with the respect it deserves: settle in front of the TV and your favorite wiseass's Twitter feed and get thoroughly polluted. What tonight holds in store for everyone will only be certain 48 hours later, via political time-dilation, and there will be a truth unique to each party anyway. Being sober for it only increases understanding, which only reifies the need for drink.

There are two problems with presidential debates. One, unless one side magnificently fucks up, each can plausibly claim a victory, leaving the fight to their war rooms. (Al Gore was credited with a win during the first debate in 2000, but weeks of spin about his "sighing" made him somehow un-win it.) Two, since the "scoring" of a debate has zero bearing on how the country is actually run, the facts crediting wins and losses are drawn from an amorphous pundit fog of trivialities.

The pregame shows are worse for this. They reward the pundit who can subtly throw as many predictions at the wall as possible, allowing him to later claim the one that stuck. The pundit's task is less to outline a strategy for a candidate and conduct an accurate debate postmortem—because both of those things could later turn out to be wrong—than to maintain the illusion of having always been for whatever it was that happened.

Anything you hear today about what "needs" to happen during the debates will probably either include dozens of ideas or hew to one safe standard. On the former, you'll get segments like, "The Three Things That Romney Needs to Do Tonight," with enough conditional arguments that the three things functionally swell to seven—while at least one political-advice fantasy boils down to, "Mitt Romney needs to align his campaign's deflector dish to aim a reverse-tachyon beam at the middle-American disturbance to undo the vote wormhole in Freedom Subspace." Meanwhile, the safe latter option will be something about "managing expectations."

You know how this works. A pundit says that his candidate needs to "manage expectations," while the other guy has to have the debate of his life. The other guy always has to play like 2007 Tom Brady, while your brand is so assured of its success with America in general that it can get away with playing as "reasonably sober-looking Kyle Orton." PROTECT THE FOOTBALL. DON'T SAY SOMETHING NICE ABOUT KIM JONG-IL'S POMPADOUR. ("He looked like the Asian Morrissey." BAD!!! AVOID THIS!!!)

Since tonight stands a good chance of not mattering, it's best then to manage your expectations, and there's no finer vehicle for that than drink. Especially a debate drinking game. Twitter is liable to be aflutter with suggestions for vinous self-destruction, so check back throughout the day to plan your night to the fullest. For now, I've done what little I can to help.

PLAN A: You're Going to Die

I've never much understood drinking games. Most people play them to get drunk. Why would you let rules stand in the way of becoming thoroughly shitfaced? YOU'RE AN ADULT, JUST GO FOR IT. There's no way the circumstances of a drinking game are going to elicit approving nods from people, anyway. "Why am I so hungover that I just threw up in that bowl? Well, I established these rules where I took a shot when someone on TV used a specific word. So, naturally, Reverend, I had no choice but to soldier on. Keep going, don't mind me, this baptism is fucking amazing."

The best drinking games are ones where drink is merely a prerequisite and lubricant for participation—"beer die" (a/k/a "plunk") or other tests of skill. But if you want the polite fiction that you're not just getting thoroughly crocked for no reason, these criteria ought to make the presidential debate a night unremembered.

Take one (1) drink every time:

  • You hear "manage expectations."
    You can't go into a debate without a swerve on. This is how you pregame! Imagine that you're at the venue. Actual drinks inside are probably $9.00, so you need to create your own parking-lot experience. Watch a CNN livestream in on an iPad while standing around a grill or sitting in a truck tailgate. Wear a blue sweatshirt or a red sweatshirt. Try to high-five everybody. (A dog counts.)
  • You see Dana Loesch.
    More pregaming! Drinking helps cope with the fact that Dana Loesch is about to talk. Take two drinks if you can tell that she was just composing her next tweet about how LIBTURDS are too busy trying to hide the facts about OCCUPY WALL STREET RAPISTS to notice that it is the blacks and the democruds who are the real racism.
  • Roland Martin has to sit politely next to someone like Erick Erickson cheerlead or pardon obvious dog-whistle racism.
  • Mitt Romney says something that contradicts a statement made by Mitt Romney.
  • Obama makes his "not losing my temper" face.
    After four years of being the last word in major American political decisions, spending a few minutes listening to Chucklehead the Dog Torturer bloviate through something about Thomas Jefferson is going to stamp a wince on Obama's face for as long as he's not allowed to talk. Just a tense smile and a nod—like a teacher listening as the parents of the devil himself filibuster their way through an open-house conversation about "their little angel."
  • Any time Mitt Romney uses "liberty" or "freedom" or their synonyms.
  • Any time someone uses the term "founding fathers" or a proper name of a founding father.
    Take two drinks if the name dropped is someone like Gouvernor Morris or John Dickinson. Finish your drink and take a sip of another if it's Charles Cotesworth Pinckney. If it's Button Gwinnett, please write that on your chest and tweet a photo at me. Or go to sleep. It's not your night.
  • Any variation on "you are/are not better off than you were four years ago."
  • Every time Obama says "divisive."
    It's "div-EYE-sive," like DIVIDE. What's this "dih-VISS-ive" bullshit? I don't care if they say it that way in New England and the midwest. YOU ARE DRIVING ME CRAZY.
  • Any time someone says "Reagan."
    You may want to wear a bib after a while. Or sit on something rubber.
  • Any time Obama mentions the auto bailout or killing bin Laden.
    Also, if Obama starts to go on for too long about the decision to kill bin Laden, the White House situation room, the Navy SEALs or the kill shot, everyone has to do a hands check and remove any pillows or blankets from their laps. PEOPLE WITH WAR BONERS HAVE TO CHUG. At least until that thing goes away, because, seriously, GROSS.
  • Romney says he's "for the 100%."
    Drink with your pinky extended. If you're drinking Kahlua, use demitasse.
  • Romney says something about Europe and socialism.
    Finish your drink if he says "Death Panel." If he mentions he lived in France, immediately switch to wine and claim a 50% Reduction Bonus in obligatory drinks for the rest of the night.
  • You hear a Romney zinger.
    Mitt Romney's team believes that the debates are about "creating moments", so they have preemptively crafted memorable zingers to give the speech "stickiness" with voters. The Romney debate prep team is actually three hairless women who spend their days hooked up to hoses and floating in a bottom-lit bath inside granite basins carved deep within the inactive caldera of Mount Ararat, envisioning potential futures according to shifting degrees of probability. Thanks to both precognitive imaging and post-precognitive analysis, the Romney team is over 90% certain that the following comments will not only derail the Obama team's debate hopes but redefine our understanding of the campaign:
  • 1. Takes one to know one.
    2. You say Obamacare is like my plan? Well, let me tell you something, Mr. President: I've worked with Mitt Romney, I am Mitt Romney, and you, sir, aren't.
    3. Welcome to Good Burger.
    4. You're rubber, I'm rubber. We're both rubber. The American people are glue, I hope.
    4. Do I stutter?
    6. If I lose my temper, you're totaled, man.
    7. [Any really good Monty Python quote.]
    8. Amarxistsayswhat?
    9. (In Batman voice) You'll hunt me. You'll condemn me. Set the dogs on me. Because that's what needs to happen. You'll hunt me, because I can take it. Because I'm not your hero: I'm your 100%.
    10. You say you saved GM? Well, for all the good it did the American economy, you may as well have saved—(pulls out a jar of urine with a turd floating in it)—BM.

  • Drink during any of these, but if possible try to anticipate them.

PLAN B: Shoot the Moon

If you declined to take part in the game, you are alive, while all your friends who tried the above are dead! (Congratulations, you stiff.) Now is the time to take money out of their wallets, check their smartphones for private nudes and stick at least a few fingers in noses. Use the smartphones to commemorate the occasion. Don't be afraid to improvise!

Okay, so you're sober and boring. But there is a way to make it to work on time—and with a human pallor—while still gambling with your future and America's. Like shooting the moon in a game of hearts, you can go contrarian. Assume that things won't happen. The trick is, in order to avoid the consequences, you need everything to not happen. Make a series of bets that you will never see or hear any of these phenomena:

  • Positive mentions of "Kolob" or "the UN boundaries of Palestine."
  • Mitt Romney making a brief and forceful statement citing American history that wasn't written by a radio or TV host, a church or this totally awesome guy.
  • Obama making a confident pledge to maintain a progressive stance on an issue and refusing to preemptively concede most of his terms before reaching the bargaining table.
  • "Shukran jazilan, governor."
  • Either candidate making an analogy to a "pantsburnlegwound" or a "Nancy Grace monster jam."
  • A "Good Year" drone circling the debate overhead.
  • Someone in your drinking party getting deported.
  • The camera cutting away suddenly...
    It's Joe Biden! He's walking through a crowd in Janesville, Wisconsin, explaining how he used to be a roadie for Steppenwolf. "Back then, I called 'em 'The Wolf,' because that's how raw they were. Problem was, things got a little dicey when the ladies thought I was talking about myself. The Gray Wolf."
  • The camera cutting away again!
    It's Paul Ryan! He's got the statue of Ben Franklin at the Philadelphia Franklin Institute in a headlock. He's using the pincer-like force of his flexing biceps to UNSCREW the stone head off that big bald sumbitch, and now he's carrying the head above him like a trophy and HEAVING it through the front windows of that unAmerican SOCIALIST redoubt—the Post Office! Ryan is screaming now, screaming at the citizens hiding behind the metal security shutters of local businesses and behind thick wooden front doors. WHO WILL COME OUT TO CHALLENGE HIM? Ryan is demanding that they face him in combat. "SEND ME YOUR FINEST WARRIOR, AND IF I BEST HIM, YOU MUST GIVE ME YOUR VOTES AS TRIBUTE." HE IS UNSTOPPABLE! BAH GAWD! BAH GAWD! THIS IS A WAR!!!

If any of that shit happens, you have to butt-chug an entire bladder of Franzia. Cabernet.

Tonight is democracy in action. WHO ARE YOU TO RESIST? Good luck, and God bless.

Many thanks to the fantastic writers @Arr and @mallelis who contributed some jokes to this piece.

Image by Jim Cooke.