There aren't too many events outside of the Super Bowl which get the level of pre-event publicity, analysis, and hype. This is not to dis that analysis; there's a lot of good stuff being written about an event that may not change a thing. In that specific respect, the correlation to sports falls apart, since no one is keeping a standardized score: President Obama will not score five points for an effective answer on Libya, nor will Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney rack up 10 for one of those witty "zingers" he's been practicing.
But still, score or no score, the focus will be on who "won." This needs to stop.
There has been plenty of sports metaphor employed in the course of previewing what's happening in less than two hours. The definitive one I read, by James Fallows in The Atlantic, is headlined "Slugfest" and features a convincing, if unflattering, mock-up of the two combatants in a boxing ring. Having come from the sports media world, I get the allure of a good catchphrase or allusion to one of the more definitive things in our culture (outside of the BCS): winners, and losers. We want to see something decided; we want a result. We want this to be over.
Maybe it will be tonight. Perhaps, as Obama deputy campaign director Stephanie Cutter joked, one of them will literally fall off the stage (respect, Bob Dole). Perhaps one of them will do so figuratively, as in "8 Mile," pulling B-Rabbit to the other man's Papa Doc (who, like Romney, went to Cranbrook).
It actually would be a real service to the nation if they did just what Eminem's character does here: spout out all of the canned criticisms that each candidate has about the other, and get to the real problems of the nation. True, some of those canned criticisms matter to Americans more than others.
But more than anything, I hope we don't see two children bickering tonight. I want to see grown-ups, talking to us like we're grown-ups, about grown-up problems. Forget "want" -- I need that. We all do.
Join msnbc for the analysis worth watching, starting at 8pm ET tonight. Follow the live-blog, featuring msnbc contributor Joy Reid and newly-named msnbc.com executive editor Richard Wolffe, on the Lean Forward site. I'll be live-tweeting the debate at @JamilSmith.