Last 2008 debate certainly not the least

It appears that third time’s the charm for presidential debates. After two rather uninspiring outings, Sens. McCain and Obama seemed to be looser and more dynamic in addressing their differences Wednesday night.

You would think that after almost two years of campaigning we would have a clearer picture of what each candidate would actually bring to the Oval Office. Alas, as hard as they’ve been working to win voters’ support, there’s very little they can do to prove that they can discharge the duties of the office until they actually occupy it.

But Wednesday’s debate gave us more indication to that effect than most anything else we’ve seen. Why? They were sitting down.

Most people only know politicians through their appearances on television, which are usually choreographed to show them in the best possible light. To a degree, that’s what we’ve been subjected to in the last two debates.

For a little while Wednesday, that ubiquitous element of theater was removed as both candidates sat at a table, much like what one will have to do as president.

Instead of being allowed to stand at a comfortable distance from both the moderator and the audience, the candidates had to actually engage each other more than they have before.

That’s not to say that each candidate hasn’t become adept at dodging and pivoting away from answering the questions. But a few brief flashes provided insight into how each candidate would handle himself in an adversarial environment. It sure beats the hiding behind the podium or the literal walking away from a question in what was characterized as a “town hall” debate.

It’s clear that neither candidate has the ability to totally fix the economy. But we know that during this country’s biggest economic crisis more than 70 years ago, Americans were comforted with FDR’s fireside chats. They were conversations the president had with citizens. We could do with more of those from McCain and Obama, rather than more negative ads and stage shows.

While we can hope that the commission on presidential debates will do more next cycle to make sure that candidates answer the questions that matter, we know that the best way to keep them accountable is a strong, trusted moderator.

We usually know that the moderator has succeeded when he or she is not remembered afterward. But in this case, we can’t help but notice that the final debate not only had each candidate’s best performance to date, it also set the mark for moderator effectiveness.

Just one question remains: Bob Schieffer for president?