Presidential Politics Is Personal

Both candidates looked presidential and were cordial to one another, reminding Americans we like to like our president.

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MIAMI—Now that Election Day arises like shore to an approaching ship after a long journey, this pilgrim has a personal post to share after seeing the last presidential debate in Boca Raton, Fla.

Fittingly, Boca Raton was where Republican contender Mitt Romney dropped his contemptuous remark about how it's his job not to worry about 47 percent of the American people. Very nice. Yes, you can see that happening here behind closed doors in that plush enclave. 

[See a collection of political cartoons on Mitt Romney.]

As for the showdown between President Barack Obama and Romney, I thought they both brought their A-game. My concern as a liberal is that Romney does look presidential. In the show biz of politics, looks matter. Obama looks and acts the part too, I hasten to add. So things could be worse; they are both tall, dark, and handsome.

On the foreign policy front—the focus—one important piece of news was broken. Obama said that if he had sought permission from Pakistan for the Osama bin Laden raid, the government would not have given it. That makes perfect sense and I'm glad he finally said so. Aren't you? His horses and bayonets line brought down the fourth estate's house.   [Take the U.S. News Poll: Who Won the Obama-Romney Foreign Policy Debate?]

The ritual handshake before and after the debate is a signal to thee and me and the greater global gathering that we are, after all's said and done, a peaceful democracy. Obama and Romney exchanged bright smiles and said a few words before and after they threw slings and arrows at each other's throats. It may seem a small thing, but actually it's a big thing. We like to see presidential candidates act cordial with each other and their families. It's reassuring in tumultuous times.

Moderator Bob Schieffer, the CBS News chief Washington correspondent, has said voting for president is the vote Americans take most personally to heart: They—I should say we—like to like the president. In other Western democracies, it's is not such a big deal to personally like the political leader in a parliamentary system.  [See a collection of political cartoons on the 2012 campaign.]

After the debate, the interviews started spinning in the, well, Spin Room in a throng and scrum of lights, cameras, questions, and answers. Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the would-be president in 2008, was surrounded on all sides. The American people liked him less, perhaps because he never let them know him better. (Not to mention his disastrous, capricious choice of former Gov. Sarah Palin)

I felt for the aging McCain on a couple levels: The scene reminded one of the stakes and spoils of victory. But because presidential politics is so personal, here he was, vocally supporting Romney, whom he can't really stand, against Obama, the much younger foe for whom there is no love lost. 

Deep down, the capricious McCain may be one of the undecided American voters out there. Our democracy depends on them.

  • Read Susan Milligan: Where Was the Fiscal Cliff in the Obama-Romney Debates?
  • Read Peter Roff: The Real Reason Mitt Romney Won the Foreign Policy Debate
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