Televised presidential debates have always been more about showmanship than substance, but Tuesday night's debate between President Barack Obama and challenger Mitt Romney took that premise to new heights, providing much fodder for fact-checkers and little information to help undecided voters make up their minds.
Richard Nixon's famously poor performance against John F. Kennedy is said to have elevated the previously little known Kennedy and push him to victory in that November's election. But it was the image of a sick Nixon who was still recovering from an earlier hospitalization and a stronger and more confident appearing Kennedy who voters remembered more so than ideas or policy talk that took place on that stage.
When George H.W. Bush checked his watch during a debate with Bill Clinton and Ross Perot, he projected an image of someone bored, or at least wanting to be anywhere else but on the stage, and left potential voters with an unfavorable image of him.
Even the majority of discussions following the first Obama/Romney debate focused on how Obama acted and looked rather than the substance of the questions asked and answers given, and it was that poor performance that had Obama ramp up his rhetoric to try and match Romney's in the second debate on Tuesday.
The result was that undecided voters may have a better understanding of how each candidate would react in direct confrontation with an opponent, but they have no new information concerning how either candidate will help improve the economy or take the country forward if he is elected.
Both candidates played free and loose with the facts. Websites and organizations dedicated to fact-checking had a lot to say about both candidates cherry-picking statistics or facts in order to make themselves look good and their opponent look bad.
But we still have no idea how Obama is going to take what has been a slow recovery and quicken the pace. Nor have we been shown concrete examples of how his policies have helped. On Romney's side, he still won't explain how he plans to cut taxes, increase spending and still reduce the deficit. Both talked in generalities. Neither gave explicit answers to the questions. And the result was that we know nothing more today than we did before the debate.
Talk now will focus on who won, but there is no question that viewers who tuned in expecting to find answers came away the losers.