Woody Allen said that showing up is 90% of everything.
Well, President Obama showed up tonight, which is more than any of us can say for his last performance. I'd call it a draw, which means that the president stopped the bleeding, but nothing more than that. It was just barely enough and if the race now goes back to the fundamentals of organization and Electoral College math, I'd expect Obama to eek out a win in November.
But this was historic in a bad way. With this rerun of the style of last week's vice presidential knife fight, we apparently won't have debates anymore; we'll have arguments. Expect this kind of thing to filter its way down to city council races. Pretty soon we'll expect the candidates to compete at mud wrestling.
What I'd like to see are candidates who have at least some sense of dignity, and a moderator who can find a way to impose some discipline on them if they don't. My fear is that this kind of bar room brawl will become the new low standard in all political conversation.
A bright spot was the excellent questions asked by the undecided voters in the audience. We got intelligent questions that the press won't ask. For example, there was actually a good question about gun control, but not a good answer from either candidate. For those of us who are partisans and tend to think that undecided voters just don't keep up with the issues, we got an education.
But neither candidate seemed to really relate to that audience. Neither could channel Bill Clinton. There's a bit of distance between these guys and the people they want to lead, and neither of them closed that gap much tonight.