Rarely has a debate left me so troubled about the future of the nation. By now, I should have learned not to be shocked when Republicans like Mitt Romney, who spent the Vietnam War doing missionary work in France, pretend to believe that they have more expertise about waterboarding and other forms of torture than John McCain, who spent five and a half years being abused and sometimes tortured in a North Vietnamese prison. I should have also learned not to be dismayed that the standard Republican position on immigration (McCain and Mike Huckabee excepted) now seems to be Emma Lazarus in reverse: "Take my tired and poor, please. I never want to see those shiftless bums again."
No, what sent me into a free fall of depression was CNN's instinct for the fatuous in choosing the debate questions. It is a disgrace that in a two-hour debate (it felt longer) there was not a single question about the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, the powder keg in Pakistan or Iran. The fault is not with the earnest YouTubers who sent in questions. The blame entirely rests with Anderson Cooper (a debate host who seemed incapable of asking a relevant follow-up question) and his CNN cohorts, who seemed more concerned with goosing the ratings than with grasping the world that the next president will inherit.
And, please God, no more debate questions about the Bible. Somewhere in the dim corridors of memory, I recall being taught (admittedly under the liberal Earl Warren Supreme Court) that there were no religious tests for holding public office in the United States. The theology was getting so thick onstage Wednesday night (with Huckabee, a Baptist minister, all but offering to give Scripture lessons to Rudy Giuliani) that I imagined that instead of commercial breaks, CNN might interrupt the debate for two minutes of public prayer.
If this is really destined to be the God-help-us election, then maybe we should all stop worrying about all those other issues, including fringy Republican causes like the so-called fair tax. Instead, let a civic-minded network like CNN sponsor a debate on a single topic of vital importance. What I am, of course, suggesting -- and it certainly is what the Founding Fathers imagined -- is a free-wheeling two-hour face-off on the Bible and only the Bible. Or better yet, confine it to a single topic like the Book of Revelation.
The whole evening was enough to try my faith ... in democracy.