Millions of Americans will be listening to and watching the meeting between Barack Obama and Willard Romney in order to find out what, if anything, they have in mind for the United States from now until 2016.
Jim Lehrer of PBS will be the moderator, although what he will moderate remains a secret. The chances of any real conflict Wednesday evening is slim and the chances of any honest-to-goodness policy initiatives is even less. What most people are looking for are "zingers" or "gaffes" that can reinforce the ideas they already have about the candidates. What I'm looking for is more basic: Will we be drawn into another war in the Middle East?
Simply, Mr Romney, would you endorse sending American troops into harm's way to defend Israel? Mr. Obama, how far will you go in keeping Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons?
Both candidates have expressed their solidarity with Israel. Israel's Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has demanded the U.S. draw a "red line" past which we will not let Iran go. The President, to his credit, hasn't consented to draw any lines, but he hasn't said he wouldn't draw one in the future. Republicans, led by John McCain, have rattled sabres and issued vague retaliatory threats if Iran doesn't change its ways. At the same time, they attack the Administration for spending too much money- as if another war can be waged using fairy dust to fund it, like the trillions we spent on Iraq and Afghanistan.
Personally, I'm not in the mood to hear another couple of hours of generalizations about fiscal responsibility or pie-in-the-sky schemes for creating more jobs. What I want is a solid set of principles on which I can make assumptions concerning the future of my grandchildren, allowing for the inevitable historical bumps in the road which we've had since 1776.
We've lost hundreds of thousands of lives in often pointless struggles against slogans which we didn't even understand. We've spend trillions on bumper-sticker crusades stamping out this or that which we were told constituted a danger to our democracy while the true danger to our democracy lay in the way we were stamping them out.
Let's not do this any more. Let the "debate" be on real issues like war and peace.