"It's fun, isn't it?"
Those were the words of Governor Romney shortly into last night's presidential debate with President Obama. I was privileged to attend the event along with three of my colleagues, Joel Vaughan, Ken Windebank and Gary Schneeberger (pictured below, left to right).
I have to admit. The debate was fun.
In the midst of the political frenzy and the seriousness of the stakes on November 6th, it's easy to lose sight of something significant.
What an extraordinary country we live in, where two men with very different visions can stand on the same stage and politely, if not pointedly, debate the other.
This doesn't happen in many places around the world.
In fact, this is the exception in the history of civilization. So for all the frustrations of modern-day American culture, it's a wonderful thing to witness up close and personal a peaceful exchange between two men.
Especially when both of the men are competing for the same job!
A few nights ago my wife, Jean, and I were watching a biography on Teddy Roosevelt. The documentary included actual footage from the early 1900s of the former president debating and campaigning for re-election. Then, last night, I found myself within a few feet of a stage of similar importance.
How does this happen to somebody who grew up about as far from power as one could get, in a broken home, in a poor Southern California neighborhood, with no clear path to safety and peace?
Only in America!
I'm not going to try and serve up any spin or weigh in with partisan commentary regarding the debate. I'll leave that to the pundits, who do a better job of it. But I do want to share some snapshots from the historic evening. I wish I could have brought the family with me, especially since these are the types of moments fathers love to share with their children. Perhaps they will read this one day and it will trigger a conversation, about the night their dad had the honor of seeing history unfold over the course of ninety minutes.
So, some reflections …
• Stereotypes are alive and well: Walking to the debate on the University of Denver campus, my colleagues and I were enjoying the warm and sunny fall afternoon. A student in Birkenstocks and tattered clothes, riding on a bike, came up beside us. "Uh oh," she said. "Guys in suits. That can't be good!"
• Emotions often trump rules: Prior to the debate we were given strict instructions to remain silent during the event. "If you hear something you love," Jim Lehrer cautioned, "sit on it." He then added, "If you hear something you hate, sit on it." We weren't five minutes into the debate when a woman behind me began muttering after a certain candidate answered questions. "Liar! Lies!" she kept saying. She was finally shushed.
• The atmosphere was electric: People were literally sitting on the edge of their seats and leaning forward during the debate. It's unusual to see this in a theater for ninety straight minutes, but that's exactly what happened. It gives me hope that people care so deeply about these issues.
• The debate hall was freezing: The last thing both candidates want is to sweat on television. Remember Kennedy/Nixon? It was so cold that we wondered when Rocky was going to come in and start swinging at the big slabs of meat that must have been hung in the back of the hall. People were wearing gloves!
• Watching in person allows you to think for yourself: As soon as the debate was over we headed for our car. We didn't have any commentators breaking down the night and analyzing the exchange between candidates. We had to actually think for ourselves! It was fun to compare notes and not be tempted to lean on professional analysts. It was old-school politics, before the day of instant polling and the influence of Twitter.
Both men will debate two more times, and only the Lord knows what impact those conversations will have on the election. No matter who you support, we must pray for these men, their families and the outcome of the election.
What a marvelous night in a wonderful country. To quote from a favorite verse of My Country, 'Tis of Thee:
Beneath Heaven's gracious will
The stars of progress still
Our course do sway;
In unity sublime
To broader heights we climb,
Triumphant over Time,
God speeds our way!
We must remain humble toward God and guard the freedoms bestowed upon us.