After three 90 minute episodes, The Odd Couple Show -- otherwise known as McCain-Obama debates -- came to a merciful end tonight on American television. The show ended with both Obama and McCain staring into the camera and committing themselves to "Joe the plumber" and the "American people". Like the two previous episodes, tonight's debate between these two fundamentally incongruous men changed nothing. Obama was credibly presidential and McCain was incredibly weird; and on 4 November the American people and Joe the plumber will elect the 47-year old Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States.
I watched tonight's Odd Couple episode on CNN.com. Before the show, Carl Bernstein, the Watergate reporter who knows a thing or two about dark days in America, suggested that we are living in a "transformational" and "unprecedented" time and predicted that the debate would reflect the depth of the current economic crisis. He was wrong. The problem with televised political debate in America is that it seems incapable of maintaining any degree of seriousness over a full 90 minutes. So, in spite of the global financial meltdown and the collapse of Wall Street, tonight's debate degenerated into a trivial squabble over Obama's relationship with "domestic terrorist" Bill Ayers. And then McCain introduced a made-for tv character called "Joe the plumber" into the debate, a generic small business owner who, apparently, Obama wants to tax to death.
Obama and McCain both remarked more than once that America is facing the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. But neither candidate really conveyed the seriousness of what this means for the real Joe the plumbers of America. And the debate itself, ably moderated by Bob Schieffer of CBS -- with its focus on better education, healthcare reform and reduced taxes -- was pretty much business as usual. What would need to happen, I wonder, for a presidential debate to be truly extraordinary and for the candidates to publicly confess that America is in a very serious crisis?
Anyway, The Odd Couple Show is now history and the election is over. McCain and both old and new American media have lost. On 4 November the electoral soap opera will end. Rather than facing a weirdly uncomfortable 72 year-old from Phoenix, Arizona with a Joe the Plumber fixation, Obama will be confronted by the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. In three weeks time, the Barack Obama Show debuts. The whole world will be watching. I hope it will be a bigger hit than The Odd Couple.