The greatest part of the vice presidential debate was before it started. It seemed as if everyone all over the country was hurrying through the day to make sure they were tuned in. We were all together before the Great Hearth of America. Sharing the moment. Excited like kids before Christmas. Calling friends and relatives, "Are you gonna watch Sarah?" First names all around. Just like a Norman Rockwell painting.
It's true that some of us panted to see Sarah make a fool of herself. And others lusted to see her make a fool of Joe Biden.
But before we go to partisanship, let's celebrate one other great aspect of the debate. We didn't have to hear about the Religion Right's big causes, over and over and over as though no one else in America matters, as though nothing else matters, as though we haven't already heard it all for the past 30 years.
The word abortion wasn't even mentioned. Wasn't that great? To give it a rest. We all know where we are on it. We know where the candidates are.
So give it a rest.
They did hit the gay marriage issue. But glory, glory, they agreed that gay and lesbian partners should have the rights of other citizens. Partners should be counted as family in work benefits and hospital visits. If you're over 40, you probably never thought you'd see such agreement in an election.
They also agreed that gays and lesbians should not have the full status of married heterosexuals.
Fret over that if you like. There's plenty to fret over because it's coming. It's coming slowly. Too slowly for some, too fast for others, but it's coming. Or as Sarah would say, "Comin'."
Wasn't it great how Sarah's folksy accent faded in and out? Out when she knew the answer. In when she didn't. See. She is smart. Main Street woman smart, the best kind. Goll darn it.
So now for the partisan part.
Sarah is the best gift Joe Biden could have gotten. He hit McCain with all the force that Obama should have hit him with last week. He was wise, informed, controlled, experienced, factual.
Sarah did fine, too. She pleased her supporters, disgusted her opponents. That was to be expected. She didn't startle us with her brilliance. She didn't make a fool of herself with her ignorance.
In terms of civility, they both behaved better than McCain in his Obama debate. A white Alabama Obama supporter called me afterward to say, "It was the white man against the black man all over again. McCain telling Obama that he didn't understand. Never looking at him. Saying he wasn't wise enough or experienced enough." He did everything but call him "boy."
The v.p. candidates did better. Sarah wasn't mean or petty.
Biden never condescended. He sighed only once. And he didn't roll his eyes or smirk. She did smirk a little, but that's okay. Probably just the jitters.
They could both be proud.
But it was Biden's night. A good reward for long civil service.
Last night, he got to show his stuff before all of America. Those who love him. Those who hate him. And the biggest bunch of all, those who wouldn't have known him if they'd passed him on the street.
He did it well.
Without Sarah, he might have been talking mostly to himself.
Christine Wicker is the author of "The Fall of the Evangelical Nation: The Surprising Secret Inside the Church." Her website is www.ChristineWicker.com.