Wednesday night’s debate will be entertaining, like many scripted dramas. Just to see the two candidates in close proximity for the first time–after long solo tours played in each other’s shadows–will instigate a visceral moment of recognition, like when peanut butter smashes into chocolate in those old Reese’s commercials. Or when kids picture a fight between a lion and a bear. Oh, they’re nearly the same height, you may realize. Or: he looks nervous or aggressive, arrogant or confused. At least once during the evening a sentient person will certainly think to herself: hey, he didn’t answer that question. Keep in mind though, if you’re to enjoy yourself fully, that this doesn’t matter. The candidates may sound forceful, importuning, wise, grateful, empathetic, grounded, soaring and more during their TV tete-a-tete. But what they aren’t is beholden. There is absolutely nothing to hold them to any statement or promise they make.
For example, candidate Obama said repeatedly in 2007 that he would “close Guantanamo.” He said it in the debates. He told CBS News in November of 2008 that “I intend to close Guantanamo, and I will follow through on that.” In January 2009, just after taking office, the President signed an executive order decreeing that Guantanomo “shall be closed as soon as practicable, and no later than one year from the date of this order.” Nearly four years later, 166 prisoners remain incarcerated at the Guantanamo base. There were 167 until a few days ago, when Omar Khadr—who pleaded guilty to murder in violation of the law of war, attempted murder in violation of the law of war, conspiracy, providing material support for terrorism, and spying—was sent home to Canada to serve another eight years there. Enjoy the show.