In many ways, the second presidential debate was closer to what American voters are looking for: an upclose and personal way to take the measure of each candidate.
In Wednesday's encounter, the television setting and moderator's questions helped bring out more of each man's authentic qualities. Both of them were more comfortable in talking about their visions, their programs, themselves, and their differences.
Instances of humility helped to elevate each man rather than weaken them. Al Gore said he was sorry for telling tales ("details," he called them) that weren't true. George W. Bush admitted his own speaking problems, such as an occasional lapse in command of facts.
Despite foreign-policy differences on deploying troops abroad, they were careful to rally around the flag and show bipartisanship toward a crisis hurting American interests, such as the current one in Israel.
Their stands on issues seem secondary to the need to show authenticity. Years of spin-doctoring and political packaging have made voters more attuned to detecting levels of sincerity.
That quality can't be found, however, just in the elimination of sighs and smirks, or an easier manner. It's found when the views of each man truly come from his heart.
A civil exchange that lays out competing visions and backgrounds reveals qualities of character, just in the exchange itself.
Each debate helps improve the next one as public reaction influences the candidates. The final round on Oct. 17 will, we hope, provide an even clearer picture of each man.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society