Only a tiny minority of "debates" involving candidates for public office are REAL debates. Most of them, in the end, are little more than opportunities for candidates to burnish their images before television audiences of millions of people. Frequently, candidates in such shows seem more intent on playing "gotcha" than on providing information to voters.
But a two-hour televised session Saturday provided voters with real information and real insights concerning Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama.
Ironically, the program wasn't organized by a professional news organization or even one of the many groups purporting to educate voters. It was sponsored by and held at the Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif. The church's pastor, the Rev. Rick Warren, is a charismatic figure and well-known author. He also is good at educating voters.
Each of the two candidates for president spent one hour being questioned by Warren, while his opponent was kept offstage in an area where the conversation could not be heard. Warren asked Obama and McCain identical questions, giving viewers an opportunity to compare the two men on a variety of issues and personal traits.
Those who follow politics closely probably learned little from the conversations. But casual viewers may well have picked up a wealth of information about the two candidates. Warren and his church showed the "pros" how such events should be handled. Hopefully, similar sessions will be heard between now and election day.