Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

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.
HIDE CAPTION
Preparing for first debate
Preparing for first debate
Preparing for first debate
Preparing for first debate
Preparing for first debate
Preparing for first debate
Preparing for first debate
Preparing for first debate
Preparing for first debate
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
>
>>
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.

Join CNN.com for the presidential debates
Watch Wednesday's presidential debate and CNN's exclusive expert analysis starting at 7 p.m. ET on CNN TV, CNN.com and CNN's mobile apps. Become an analyst for your friends with our new online clip-and-share feature that lets you share your favorite debate moments on Facebook and Twitter.

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'
1984: Reagan jokes about Mondale's youth
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.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.

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

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
December 26, 2014 -- Updated 1617 GMT (0017 HKT)
Today's politicians should follow Ronald Reagan's advice and invest in science, research and development, Fareed Zakaria says.
December 26, 2014 -- Updated 1319 GMT (2119 HKT)
Artificial intelligence does not need to be malevolent to be catastrophically dangerous to humanity, writes Greg Scoblete.
December 26, 2014 -- Updated 1505 GMT (2305 HKT)
Historian Douglas Brinkley says a showing of Sony's film in Austin helped keep the city weird -- and spotlighted the heroes who stood up for free expression
December 26, 2014 -- Updated 1303 GMT (2103 HKT)
Tanya Odom that by calling only on women at his press conference, the President made clear why women and people of color should be more visible in boardrooms and conferences
December 26, 2014 -- Updated 1312 GMT (2112 HKT)
When oil spills happen, researchers are faced with the difficult choice of whether to use chemical dispersants, authors say
December 25, 2014 -- Updated 0633 GMT (1433 HKT)
Danny Cevallos says the legislature didn't have to get involved in regulating how people greet each other
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2312 GMT (0712 HKT)
Marc Harrold suggests a way to move forward after the deaths of NYPD officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos.
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 1336 GMT (2136 HKT)
Simon Moya-Smith says Mah-hi-vist Goodblanket, who was killed by law enforcement officers, deserves justice.
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 1914 GMT (0314 HKT)
Val Lauder says that for 1,700 years, people have been debating when, and how, to celebrate Christmas
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2027 GMT (0427 HKT)
Raphael Sperry says architects should change their ethics code to ban involvement in designing torture chambers
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 0335 GMT (1135 HKT)
Paul Callan says Sony is right to call for blocking the tweeting of private emails stolen by hackers
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 1257 GMT (2057 HKT)
As Christmas arrives, eyes turn naturally toward Bethlehem. But have we got our history of Christmas right? Jay Parini explores.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 0429 GMT (1229 HKT)
The late Joe Cocker somehow found himself among the rock 'n' roll aristocracy who showed up in Woodstock to help administer a collective blessing upon a generation.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2115 GMT (0515 HKT)
History may not judge Obama kindly on Syria or even Iraq. But for a lame duck president, he seems to have quacking left to do, says Aaron Miller.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 1811 GMT (0211 HKT)
Terrorism and WMD -- it's easy to understand why these consistently make the headlines. But small arms can be devastating too, says Rachel Stohl.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 1808 GMT (0208 HKT)
Ever since "Bridge-gate" threatened to derail Chris Christie's chances for 2016, Jeb Bush has been hinting he might run. Julian Zelizer looks at why he could win.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 1853 GMT (0253 HKT)
New York's decision to ban hydraulic fracturing was more about politics than good environmental policy, argues Jeremy Carl.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 2019 GMT (0419 HKT)
On perhaps this year's most compelling drama, the credits have yet to roll. But we still need to learn some cyber lessons to protect America, suggest John McCain.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 2239 GMT (0639 HKT)
Conservatives know easing the trade embargo with Cuba is good for America. They should just admit it, says Fareed Zakaria.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 0112 GMT (0912 HKT)
We're a world away from Pakistan in geography, but not in sentiment, writes Donna Brazile.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 1709 GMT (0109 HKT)
How about a world where we have murderers but no murders? The police still chase down criminals who commit murder, we have trials and justice is handed out...but no one dies.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2345 GMT (0745 HKT)
The U.S. must respond to North Korea's alleged hacking of Sony, says Christian Whiton. Failing to do so will only embolden it.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 2134 GMT (0534 HKT)
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
ADVERTISEMENT