Who won the presidential debate? We did

Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, left and President Barack Obama wave to the audience during the first presidential debate at the University of Denver, Oct. 3, 2012.
AP Photo/David Goldman

(CBS News) The first Presidential debate in Colorado Wednesday night sparked a new round of opinions about the election, including one from our contributor Ben Stein:

Every so often, I see something that deeply moves me about being an American.

It could be a bald eagle soaring above Lake Pendoreille in North Idaho, keeping pace with my boat. It could be a crowd at a baseball game, all different races and faces, all having a happy time.

The first Presidential debate this year was one of those great moments. In a campaign that's been alternately boring and nasty, this was a night of civility, information, and genuine learning about the men who might be our President.

In President Obama, whom I have often criticized, I saw a man of dignity, deference and politeness, extremely well-informed and quick with a quip that expressed his point of view. I admired his demand for more detail, and his noting the contradictions in Governor Romney's different plans over the years.

In Governor Romney, as to whose chance to win I have been skeptical, I saw a man who still lacks specifics, but who is facile with concepts and numbers, extremely adroit at mixing practicality and ideology. I also saw a man of good humor, who began the evening with congratulations to Mr. Obama on his anniversary and a joke about how he was sure Mr. Obama wanted to spend his big day on a stage with Romney. I saw a Presidential dignity.

Both are men of power and material comfort. Yet I saw what seemed to me to be genuine concern for the less well-off among us. I saw two men who seemed to me to want the job to help people in need and to defend the nation.

I have been following presidential debates since my late pal, Richard Nixon, debated JFK 52 years ago. In my view, this most recent debate was the least rancorous, most fact-filled, most good-natured debate I have ever seen. Two policy wonks, two technocrats, arguing over fairly small points, while in basic agreement about their love of America and their reluctance to change anything basic about this country.

No hatred, no talk of punishment, just a wish to make something great even greater.

Now, much may change in the next few weeks, and the debates on defense and foreign policy may be totally different. But when Larry King asked me after the debate last week who won, I said, "America won," and I meant it.