Brian McGrory

Presidential debates were amazing TV

I woke up Tuesday morning not even wanting to open my eyes. What was the point? Why go on? What does it all really mean now that we will never see Barack Obama and Mitt Romney on the same debate stage again?

I’m sorry, but these weren’t just presidential face-offs. This was the greatest reality show in the history of television. This wasn’t only about politics and leadership, but the entirety of the human condition.

Who will ever forget that utterly bizarre look that Romney always had as Obama lectured from the other side of the split screen TV — lips pursed, eyes narrowed, neither smile nor scowl, but what? Sometimes, when I paused the cable at just the right time, it seemed like Romney was looking at the president with — dare I say it? — affection.


Never again will we wonder who wears the red tie and who wears blue, or how high Romney’s forehead will rise beneath that lush mane, or if you look hard enough, whether you can actually see Obama’s hair go gray.

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No more time contemplating which Obama would walk on stage — the put-upon professor too good for this lousy business of democracy, the confident incumbent pressing his case, or the condescending commander in chief who mentioned the board game “Battleship” for the first time in the history of presidential debates.

“Not true, governor. Not true.” Oh Barack, what I wouldn’t give to hear those words just one more time.

Which Romney would we get — the accomplished businessman prepared to offer each and every one of us a job or a raise, the overly aggressive challenger who wanted to scalp the moderator, or the tambourine-slapping peacenik who might make a good secretary of state in a second Obama term?

And please don’t tell me I’m the only one who wondered what the Secret Service would have done if Romney punched Obama in the face during that second, town hall-style debate. I think we know, but would agents have stood down if it was the other way around?


No more binders and bayonets. No more Romney scrupulously avoiding the word “Massachusetts.” Never again will we try to figure out which ridiculously handsome single-syllable son is married to which relentlessly attractive woman when the Romney family flocks to the stage.

In a desperate attempt to change my mood Tuesday morning, I called John Kerry. Kerry, of course, was at the center of it all, the hand-picked stand-in who played the role of Mitt Romney in mock presidential debates with Obama. I caught him on the way to a Florida airport after he attended Monday’s event.

“I have been looking forward to this day of exorcism for a long time,” Kerry said, unadulterated joy coating every happy word that tumbled off his tongue. “I’m going to get some exercise and have a glass of wine with my wife.”

He said Obama initially reached out to him in April, and since then, he’s read virtually every speech Romney has given, every account of the rallies along the way, all in an attempt to channel Romney’s thinking in the campaign.

“What stunned me, took my breath away, was there was no consistent core philosophy,” said Kerry. “I’ve never met a person in public life that’s changed on every issue in public life — guns, gay rights, education, abortion, war, peace. Pick the issue.”


Well, that’s certainly one view, a common view, probably the right view — though admit it, Romney’s philosophical elasticity, like Obama’s moodiness, contributed to a hell of a show.

But now it’s gone just as a nation realized how good it had been. No more Joe Biden laughter. No more Paul Ryan earnestness. No more Diane Sawyer talking like she just tossed back a shot of schnapps in preparation for the postgame show. All that’s left are the negative ads, the hysterical analysis, and the questionable polls.

Mitt and Barack, forgive me for saying it, but I already miss you so.

Brian McGrory is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at