Confessions Of A Moderator

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Weekly commentary by CBS News Chief Washington Correspondent Bob Schieffer.

A lot of people have asked me what it was like to moderate last week's debate. Well, I must confess that after 40-plus years on television, for the first time in a long time I was nervous.

Had I known that 51 million people, about a fifth of America's population, would be tuning in, I wouldn't have been nervous. I would have been terrified.

But as I waited backstage, it occurred to me that if this was the World Series of politics, I was just the umpire. It was the players, John Kerry and George Bush, who had a right to butterflies. If I was nervous, I could just imagine how they must have felt.

Being a part of it was so intense, I have no idea who won, but I thought both men were at their best, especially when they got off the talking points and those canned one-liners.

How could you not like and respect John Kerry a little more when he poked fun at himself for marrying one of the richest women in the world, or George Bush, when he said he found strength through prayer?

On Face the Nation, our objective is to get our guests to make news. The debates were a different challenge.

I wanted voters to come away from them with a better understanding of exactly who these men are and what they stand for. In that sense, I feel very good about how this debate came out.

But I also realize that you can never please all of the people any of the time. And some critics have scolded me for asking the candidates what they learned from the strong women in their lives. These critics said I wasted valuable time just to get a Hallmark-card moment.

Well, they caught me, and I plead guilty. As our campaigns have become nastier and nastier, I think we all deserve a Hallmark moment from time to time.

I hope the candidates give us a few more down the line. We know for sure there'll be no shortage of that other stuff.

By Bob Schieffer