Tonight is the final presidential candidate debate. Help me live-blog it tonight at 9:00 p.m. ET.
I think the significance of the debates is not so much whether one candidate scores more points than another, zings his opponent more effectively, or makes or avoids gaffes. What the debates do for us voters is to allow us to see the two candidates side by side. We can also hear them unfiltered by the news media, the punditocracy, or political advertising. What the public wants to see is whether or not the two candidates are articulate, intelligent, can think on their feet, can master a host of complicated facts and information. Granted, being able to do all of that will not make a person a good president. But the absence of those traits is, for most people, a disqualifier. Notice how so many of the candidates in the Republican primary could not measure up to those relatively simple standards.
Mitt Romney has benefited from the debates because, in the comparison with Barack Obama, he has emerged as presidential, someone who comes across, at least, as equal to the current president. So he has become, in many voters’ mind, a plausible candidate. He didn’t really seem that way in the scrum of the primary, but now he does.
I know, scholars have made the case that debates don’t matter, that polls don’t matter, that campaigns don’t matter. They have said that the economy is all that matters. But this time we are seeing that the economy may not matter either; otherwise, Romney would be running away with the election. The point is, no one can predict the outcome with certainty, any more than a mere mortal–Biblical prophets excepted– can predict any other future event.
By the way, I am not backing off my mere-mortal-and-thus-uncertain prediction that Obama will win, even as Romney rises in the polls. I think Obama still has an advantage in the electoral college. But, as is so often the case, I will be glad to be wrong.