Well, the first presidential debate is almost upon us--next week, in fact. They are high drama, of course, but do they matter? Do they really change the result? Well, maybe sometimes.
I don't remember Franklin Roosevelt ever debating an opponent. Of course, he didn't need to. He was leading us out of a truly great depression. Who could argue with that? Dwight Eisenhower had led us to victory in a huge, bloody war. Nobody was going to debate that either.
I think the one time a debate really mattered was John Kennedy versus Richard Nixon in 1960. Nixon had played in the big leagues, been to the summits, stood with popular President Dwight Eisenhower. Kennedy was a young senator--nothing wrong with that, but....And yet, of course, the new guy won. It was the first presidential debate to be on TV. Everyone watched and everyone talked afterward about how calm Kennedy was, how cool, how collected. Nixon--gasp, shudder--sweated a lot and looked nervous. I didn't see the debate; I listened to it on the radio and, without the pictures, thought it was a draw.
This time? I'd bet on Obama, but who knows? That's why we have these things.