There was nothing flashy or particularly dramatic about C-SPAN's "Voters First Forum" Monday night from St. Anselm's College in New Hampshire. And the biggest fish in the GOP pond was missing, with Donald Trump staying away because he had decided the newspaper co-sponsoring the event, the New Hampshire Union Leader, wasn't going to endorse him.
But what a pleasure it was to see the presidential election process and voter-viewers treated with respect in a forum that placed information about candidates above all else.
And let's hear it for Jack Heath, a New Hampshire talk radio host, who showed what self-aggrandizing hot dogs some of our network and cable news anchors are with their puffed-up talk about the difficulties of preparing for and hosting a TV debate. Heath was onstage for two hours firing question after question at candidates without a major fumble.
I loved the simplicity and directness of the format: Heath sitting onstage on a stool with the candidates coming out one at a time to slide onto a stool and answer his questions in five-minute segments. And then, they returned to their seats in the front row of a college auditorium to watch Heath interview their opponents. It totally stripped them of their faux importance by removing the usual assistants and aides trailing behind.
I felt like I was watching a no-frills, pre-season, inter-squad game, and I picked up some valuable insights into some of the players on the field.
They were not huge or game-changing insights, mind you, but rather things I didn't know before tonight.
For example, I wondered if former Johns Hopkins surgeon Ben Carson was going to stick to his hardcore religious guns when he got on the big stage and had to speak simultaneously to multiple constituencies. I now believe he is, after hearing him say he would look to God for a template on tax reform.
And after watching a well-prepared Rick Perry talk about border control, I am starting to think maybe it really was pain medication that made him forget in that 2012 debate what three departments he was going to close if elected president. He seemed a lot sharper.
And I loved Lindsey Graham saying he's "fluent in Clinton-speak" and knows how to deal with Bill and Hillary Clinton and the problems both seem to have with the truth, whether talking about the Keystone Pipeline or Monica Lewinsky. I think he made some new friends with those remarks.
Since Graham probably won't make the cut for Thursday's Fox News debate, I am glad a national audience got to see and hear him tonight.
Chris Christie looked dead in the water to me, while Rick Santorum seemed smugly out of it.
More praise to C-SPAN for the way it used technology to include interviews with the three senators who said they had to remain in Washington for a vote. I felt as though Rand Paul, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio got just a sound a hearing as their counterparts who were in New Hampshire.
This is the way you use TV to serve citizens rather than to dazzle and exploit them as consumers. This is the way you treat the process with respect rather than airily dismissing any candidate as a "clown" before she or he has a hearing in a forum like this.