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Candidates, stop vying to be debate underdog

By Roland Martin, CNN Contributor
October 3, 2012 -- Updated 2347 GMT (0747 HKT)
As members of the media prepare their television sets, University of Denver students Zach Gonzales, left, and Dia Mohamed stand in for the nominees during a dress rehearsal for the presidential debate Tuesday, October 2, in Denver. President Obama and Mitt Romney will square off during the first of three debates on Wednesday night. As members of the media prepare their television sets, University of Denver students Zach Gonzales, left, and Dia Mohamed stand in for the nominees during a dress rehearsal for the presidential debate Tuesday, October 2, in Denver. President Obama and Mitt Romney will square off during the first of three debates on Wednesday night.
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Roland Martin: Things are bad when we say Americans want a president who isn't exceptional
  • Martin: Obama and Romney play down debate expectations with false modesty, excuses
  • Martin has high expectations, and wants to hear a masterful, substantial debate
  • After, Martin doesn't want "who looked more presidential" but who delivered the goods

Editor's note: Roland Martin is a syndicated columnist and author of "The First: President Barack Obama's Road to the White House." He is a commentator for the TV One cable network and host/managing editor of its Sunday morning news show, "Washington Watch with Roland Martin."

(CNN) -- It says a lot about our ridiculous state of politics when we say that Americans want a president who isn't exceptional, smart, extraordinary and the best of the best.

Instead, we get these silly narratives that say we want a president who is a regular, ordinary person we'd like to have a beer with sometime.

Sorry, that's dumb.

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We have low expectations for a lot of people, but the last thing we should want from the leader of the free world is the same. So why all of the talk about playing down expectations for President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney in Wednesday's first presidential debate?

Excuse me, campaign workers and surrogates and media folks. When those two hit the stage, I expect the same as if I were watching a professional football game or had paid top dollar for a concert ticket: You better bring it.

This routine game of playing down expectations is utterly silly. Even proposing the idea, as far as I'm concerned, is dumb. Obama and Romney should be prepared to deliver a superb performance and show a mastery of policy to prove they can handle the difficult job of being president.

Roland Martin
Roland Martin

Their suits and ties and hairstyles are of no consequence. It's just a movie, but President Andrew Shepherd (Michael Douglas) had it right in 1995's "The American President": "This is a country made up of people with hard jobs that they're terrified of losing. The roots of freedom are of little or no interest to them at the moment. We are a nation afraid to go out at night. We're a society that has assigned low priority to education and has looked the other way while our public schools have been decimated. We have serious problems to solve, and we need serious men to solve them."

1988: Bentsen: 'You're no Jack Kennedy'
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Debates enter the TV age

Romney is talking about how hard it will be to counter Obama's "inaccuracies." Obama says "Gov. Romney is a good debater. I'm just OK." Frankly, the last things we need are two candidates whining.

Between Obama and Romney, there have been runs for state Senate, a U.S. congressional seat, governor, the U.S. Senate and the Democratic and Republican presidential nominations. They've had too many debates to count, so please, cut the crap. Both have won and lost elections, and it's not solely based on a debate.

This is one of those instances where the news media plays a willing foil to the shenanigans of both political camps. At some point, we have to call BS exactly that.

And when the debate is all over, let's hope we don't see commentators on cable and broadcast networks run with the "who looked more presidential" talk. The moment you begin to hear fluff over substance, turn the channel.

What matters the most is what Obama and Romney say and whether they have a vision for America. Their passion, compassion, knowledge and ideas are the most critically important things we must see and hear.

My wife and I are raising two of my nieces, and we don't want them to simply pass their classes; we want them to excel. We don't need a presidential candidate to just "get through" these debates. We want them to show us that they have the right stuff to occupy 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Roland Martin.

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