Paul Greenberg

Either presidential debates are getting more civilized, or my standards for them are falling. The second one seemed a marked improvement over the first, a three-way bicker among candidates and moderator. This one sounded more reasonable, less rote. Practice may not make perfect, but perhaps it makes better.

Maybe it was the town-hall format that did it, encouraging the candidates to speak directly to a real live person rather than a television personality or the camera's eye. Whatever the reason, politics seemed to don a human face for a nice change. The fairest and most relevant observation of the evening may have come from Barack Obama who, almost in passing, noted that "nobody's completely innocent here." It was a precious moment of candor. (Politician Recognizes Original Sin!) But then the mutual finger pointing resumed.

It wasn't the answers but the questions that lingered after Tuesday night's debate:

Which candidate is more prepared to step in and be head of state, chief executive, and commander-in-chief of the armed forces come January 20, 2009?

Which one would give the country more hope - which is the best kind of fiscal credit?

Whose election would assure the country and the world, and which one would enter the White House an unknown quantity?

Would it be better to elect a president who isn't all that predictable, or one who is entirely too predictable?

Consider some possible scenarios:

If the markets continue to slide, whose policies would contain Wall Street's collapse before Main Street goes, too? Which candidate would get credit flowing and the economy moving again? Which one would lay down the best basis for long-term economic growth, and which one offers only short-term fixes that would make the future even rockier than the present?

Which one will reward labor, investment, innovation and honest investment, and which one would discourage all of the above?

The challenges facing the country aren't only economic. Both candidates have come out foursquare against genocide in the world. But which one, as commander-in-chief of the country's armed forces, would do something about it, and where? And still recognize the limits of earthly power? Is this country supposed to take action against genocidal threats only after they have been carried out? Or prevent them? If so, how?

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.