CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- An estimated 60 million Americans watched the first presidential debate of the 2012 campaign. Nearly all those watchers knew in advance how they will vote, so the national event was rather like a sports match, with fans observing their champion against a rival. Wednesday night's face-off probably won't alter results on Election Day.
We thought the debate was frustrating, full of back-and-forth haggling that failed to clarify how America may fare under each contender.
President Obama said challenger Mitt Romney's economic plan would pour an extra $2 trillion into military spending over a decade (money the Pentagon doesn't want), plus give the rich an additional $5 trillion in tax breaks -- which would inflict worse burdens on middle-class Americans. Romney replied that his plan wouldn't do this. Obama repeated that it would. Romney repeated that it wouldn't. And so it went.
Some pundits had assumed that the brilliant president would overwhelm his challenger. When Romney held his own on the TV podium, they declared him the winner. But key Democrats disagreed. Presidential adviser David Axelrod commented:
"Tomorrow, when everyone wakes up and realizes what Gov. Romney said -- yes, he is for turning Medicare into a voucher program; no, he won't accept another dollar of new taxes on the wealthy -- that is the substance that the American people are concerned about."
Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman wrote: "Everything Obama said was basically true, while much of what Romney said was either outright false or so misleading as to be the moral equivalent of a lie."
Generally, disappointment was felt Thursday morning. Politically neutral USA Today commented:
"The presidential candidates spent much of Wednesday's first debate vowing to fix something largely beyond their control (the $15.6 trillion U.S. economy) and ducking the tough choices on something presidents have much more power to manage (the $1.2 trillion federal deficit)."
As we've said before, we're among the vast majority who already know which candidate to support on Nov. 6. We choose Democratic values that serve the middle class and average families -- not the GOP agenda that favors billionaires, fundamentalists and military hawks.
We wish Wednesday's debate had made this distinction more obvious.