The first of three Presidential debates is scheduled for Thursday night but I doubt the outcome will have a significant impact on the election results. I think that way because by a wide margin, most voters have already made their decisions. And given that background, you'll likely view the debates through the perspective of your choice. If you're a Kerry supporter, chances are you'll judge his performance superior regardless. Same goes for Bush supporters.
Granted, there have been a few exceptions. Kennedy upstaged Nixon in 1960 in a fashion that is still discussed today. Reagan in 1980 put his Hollywood charm in the spotlight and sent Jimmy Carter back to Georgia. But it's doubtful that either President Bush or Sen. Kerry will gain much momentum from the face-to-face meeting.
Despite this background, the television talking heads will try their darndest to shape our opinions when they dissect the debate. But in today's climate - think Dan Rather - the American public is much less prone to accept the opinion of a television anchor and much more prone to form their own conclusions.
It's almost humorous how both sides are desperately trying to lower expectations prior to the debates. The Bush team points out that Kerry was a champion debater in college and the Kerry team points out that Bush was superior to Al Gore in the 2000 debates. If you expect little, then chances are you're going to shine brighter even if you just hold your own.
Presidential debates are part of the political landscape. We want to see these two candidates share a stage, face one another and find some separation in their views. By this process, the theory is that we'll answer all questions and finalize our decisions.
But that thinking was long before a year-long primary season and the influence of the mass media. There is truly little more to learn about these two candidates. In the end, the decision will boil down to trust and character and honesty. There's nothing wrong with that either.
As a partisan, I hope George W. cleans Kerry's clock. But I know that won't happen. Both men have worked hard to shape their message and now it's time to decide. Regardless of the outcome, this great nation will survive and prosper and continue to lead the world in countless ways.
Here's my armchair advice for two of the most powerful men in the world - as if they are listening.
John Kerry needs to cease his attack on the current administration and once and for all, tell us what he would do as president. He needs to tell us what he has accomplished in a 20-plus year Senate career as an indication of his leadership skills.
George W. Bush needs to tell us why we are are at this point in history and where we are going in the next four years. He needs to tell us what changes will come during his second term in office that will shape the future of this great nation.
And as voters, our responsibility is also clear. We need to ignore the pundits and listen to the message for ourselves. And though you may not be swayed one way or the other, at least come away from the debates with a greater respect and