Audition Time

In a parliamentary system of government, campaigns aren’t drawn-out affairs.

Back when Great Britain engaged in the barbarism of state-sanctioned executions, the Crown’s hangman at least got his grisly work done and over with with a minimum of fuss and delay. In the country that brought the world Hollywood, we have to inject a bit of Cecil B. DeMille into the “offing.”

National politics in America has made elections become a continuous process with barely a ten-day Princess cruise between them. Or a mystery Appalachian hiking trip-cum-romantic adulterous tryst in Rio if you are a recent Republican South Carolina governor. That ex-governor learned the hard way about the occupational perils of screwing around on the daughter of a longtime political family. At least she didn’t get left for another man, but that’s New Jersey.

The first of the major parties’ presidential campaign dates is on Wednesday. Get the beer and popcorn ready. Audition time. Romney frankly needs a Kolob stellar performance to overcome the President’s lead in the polls.

The polls. The ones the Righties and Fox News pundits are telling us are hopelessly skewed by “Liberal Media Bias.” Never mind there was that Fox News poll showing Mitt the Quarter Billion Dollar Man trailing in.

The President last showed his debating mettle against a formidable Hillary Clinton in 2008. A skilled and effective debater, but he’s been rather busy being Commander-in-Chief and a leader of the Free World over the past four years. I’m sure he’s given the debate process some refresher thought lately.

G.O.P. nominee Mitt Romney has the benefit of trying to run for a stint in the White House virtually non-stop for the past several years. We can see it in his wife, Ann’s, “losing it” from time to time, sounding if she was scolding one of her once adolescent sons to “Stop it!”  in a maternal flashback. He’s been using former Bushie OMB Director Rob Portman as a pre-debate sparring partner. It’s wishful thinking for the former Mormon bishop to think he’ll be easily turning President Obama “Portman pale” in the three scheduled debates. Romney needs a bump, the one he didn’t quite get from Clint Eastwood talking to an empty chair at the G.O.P. convention in Tampa.

President Obama faces uncomfortable questioning over a slowly recovering economy. Mitt hasn’t exactly been forthcoming with specific details on either his tax returns, investments lazing in the Cayman Islands sunshine, or what he plans to do to the rest of our future IRS Form 1040 filings. The mainstream media debate commentators aren’t going to be lobbing softballs. This will not be a remake of Dancing With the Stars with nary a Tom DeLay. DeLay’s probably more worried about prison.

In our drawn out election calendar, the importance of the debates might well be overestimated. There are only a small fraction of undecided voters left to decide who will be their prom date. Given the stakes, however, neither candidate is writing off the potential effect of a good or poor debate performance.