Until about three weeks ago, most Americans had never seen Mitt Romney and Barack Obama in a room together. That’s what made the prospect of their debates so exciting: After months of posturing, spinning, and sniping from afar, the two rivals would finally go toe-to-toe, stepping into the ring without a protective shield of advisers.
What actually happened when the candidates met, of course, was more posturing, spinning, and sniping, which is more or less how it goes every election year. Even in their best moments—and there are always a few—presidential debates end up telling us very little about the things we really need to know about our leaders. A president needs to make painful decisions under pressure, negotiate with those who disagree with him, find creative ways through seemingly intractable problems, and delegate with ruthless efficiency. Instead what we learn is how good the candidates are at redeploying their political talking points, or in some cases inventing new ones on the fly.