Okay, everyone -- right, left, center, pundits and populace alike, undecided voters (however many that can actually be at this point) -- EVERYONE just take a chill pill, a deep breath, collect yourselves and assess where we are after Wednesday night's debate. Welcome to the Real World.
For anyone who has spent 10 minutes around a campaign, particularly a presidential campaign, it is a genuine fact of life that they take on their inevitable ebbs and flows, they are subject to the vagaries of timing and events, spurts of advertising, occasional gaffes, and, yes, the candidates are still human and experience all the things that humans experience, good days, bad days, thrills and disappointments, good luck and bad luck, and, yes, the unexpected.
I have watched the metamorphosis of the current campaign with an unusual amount of stoicism, partly due to my advancing age and partly due to what has become the ritual of overreaction on the part of partisan pundits who do not even attempt to disguise their preferences. There has been a pernicious giddiness over the past month amongst liberal commentators over the missteps of Mr. Romney that I have found particularly disturbing. And it was reinforced by the vastly superior performance by the Democrats at their convention in Charlotte when juxtaposed against the inane ranting of Clint Eastwood and his chair in Tampa, but started to take on an aura of invincibility that was brought to a screeching halt after the first debate Wednesday night.
Similarly, conservative pundits are currently overplaying the significance of a perceived Romney "victory" that night. When compared to the decidedly low expectations they had so fastidiously championed leading up to the event Romney only had to stick to a carefully crafted script and not venture either an original thought or an honest answer in order to be declared at least worthy of being on the same stage with the president. If this constitutes victory, then I will be magnanimous enough to grant them their "victory."
But the whining and hand-wringing being directed Obama's way is simply ludicrous. The campaign was not either won or lost after the debate. There is more than a month and three more debates until the election. The political polarization that has gripped this nation is very real, it was always going to be a close election, despite what the polls and the pundits say. The overwhelming majority of the voting electorate has already made up its mind; in several states voting has already begun. Trolling for votes among the undecided and fiercely independent voters is the name of the game from here on out and last night's performance is not sufficient to tip the balance sheet. Voters who are still undecided at this point deserve far more credit for their concerns over the far-reaching impacts of the decision they will be faced with on November 6.
There are stark differences in the approaches offered by the candidates and to an extent the debate helped illuminate those differences. Regardless of how you judged either candidate's performance, Romney firmly believes that the private-sector and the profit-maximizing economic marketplace is the most appropriate venue for policy formulation, whether it be health care, energy and the environment, education, defense spending, you name it. Obama believes that the federal government should play a constructive role in divining policies that benefit the middle-class and those who have been rocked by the economic calamities that were a direct result of policies that placed profit over people. Obama believes, like Lincoln, that we are one country and that when we all benefit the country benefits as well. Romney believes we are a confederation of 50 states where each has the God-given right to determine how it should treat its citizens. So if Massachusetts has universal access to health care and Alabama does not, that is the way it is supposed to be.
Obama believes that restoration of the middle class will come as we pull together to distribute benefits in a way that defies and reverses the growing income inequality that has been occurring for the last several decades, at least since the early 1980s. Romney believes that reducing tax burdens on the very wealthiest in our society will not only help them but have some positive benefits for the working classes as well, but income inequality is just a byproduct of an economic system that should shower the rich with government benefits (read: corporate welfare) that will trickle down to the workers at some point.
These differences have been carefully laid out over the course of the past six months or more and hopefully will be fleshed out ever more vividly in the month to come. Unless one of the candidates makes a monumental and irretrievable mistake over the next month, voters will be presented with two very different views of the world and the future when they enter the polling booth on November 6.
If anything, the fact that the race will be close and the extent to which last night reinforces that perception, last night's debate ought to serve as a clarion call to those who are predisposed to the thoughtfulness and deliberation outlined by the president to action. Now is not the time for whining, but for winning. If anything, the reality of a close race ought to inspire and invigorate those who see a vision for the country that is competitive yet compassionate, strong yet sensitive, principled yet pragmatic, and adheres to the importance of compromise that is a foundational precept of our representative democracy.
So stop the wallowing, dispense with the belly-aching, and get fired up and ready to go.
HuffPost Politics brings you the top political stories three days a week. Learn more