Last night, as my wife, my 14-year-old daughter Miriam, and I knelt at our bedside for our nightly prayers, Miri (who had adamantly refused to watch last evening's Presidential Debate, repeatedly stating, "I hate politics.") inquired of us as to who had "won" the debate. I replied to her: "I have watched one or more of the presidential debates in every election since 1984, and I have never seen a more decisive "beat down" than the one Mitt Romney administered to Barack Obama tonight." I had no sooner offered my assessment of the debate than Miri immediately replied: "Well, I know I can't trust you (in the plural, looking at both my wife and me), because you are in favor of Romney." Somewhat stunned by her statement, I replied, "If you can't trust us, who can you trust?" She did not answer, but merely reverted to her previous comment that, "I hate politics."
However, it became clear to me that she is trusting someone when it comes to these things, and she has been persuaded that, regardless of what her parents or anyone else says, Obama is good and Romney is bad. Miriam just started high school this year, and I have already come to realize that she is coming under the influence of voices, at her school and via the media to which she pays attention, that have inculcated in her these notions. As a concerned parent, I find these developments both discouraging and frustrating.
But returning to the topic of last night's presidential debate, a few things became clear to me, and I can only hope they became clear to American voters in this, the most important presidential election of my life.
"What finally matters about a debate is not the verdict of the pundits but the majority’s application of Dr. Johnson’s five-minute rule. Johnson said that you could not stand beside Edmund Burke for five minutes while taking shelter from the rain without concluding that you were in the presence of an extraordinary man. In the same way, you can’t watch two men talk in the glare of klieg lights for 90 minutes without sensing that one of them is, in some important way, better than the other."
And so it is. Last night, for ninety minutes, Governor Romney and President Obama stood in the glare of the lights, with sixty million Americans watching, and debated the important issues of our day. In my mind, and hopefully in the minds of a majority of the American electorate, Romney was—beyond any reasonable doubt—demonstrably superior to his opponent standing at the opposite lectern.
Now it only remains to be seen if I can persuade my 14-year-old daughter that my judgment in the matter is superior to that of the other voices whispering in her ears …