The first debate: the only way for a game-changing moment

I predict that nothing that happens tonight at the first debate is likely fundamentally to change the status quo: a tight election with President Obama likely to win.

But one issue could be a fundamental game-changer — or bring this country together on one paramount moral issue if both candidates agree — a real purple moment.

My game-changer — if EITHER candidate turns to the other and says:

“Yes or no — will you join me tonight, on the record, and say yes or no — not maybe, not if and/or — will you join me and endorse the bipartisan recommendations of the Simpson-Bowles Commission — endorsing substantial spending cuts, raising revenues through closing tax loopholes, reducing corporate tax rates and undertaking major reform to save Social Security and Medicare from insolvency and bankrupting us all?”

If the other candidate says no, or equivocates in any way, and the candidate who has asked the question says, “Well, I say yes — I say it is immoral to equivocate about $16 trillion that our children and grandchildren have to pay off; I say the time to pay our bills and pay down our debt is now. I say yes — let’s pass Simpson-Bowles,” then I say the candidate who has committed to support Simpson-Bowles wins the election. I say this because I believe that the sliver of remaining undecideds and soft, still persuadable supporters of both candidates will respond positively and decisively — and swing to that candidate who is willing to stand up to his base and do the right thing … and perhaps even say, “To hell with politics.”

That candidate will win in November, if he does that.

But I am pretty confident, I am very, very sad to say, that neither candidate will do this — and the moderators won’t force them to.

The Obama campaign response to date has been to say, “Well, the president tried that approach and the Republicans said no.” Or they equivocate (as in the president’s acceptance speech at the convention), supporting just the “principles” of S-B, not its specific across-the-board recommendations.

Of course, there are two follow-up questions the moderator can ask Obama to that response, which he has stated many times.

First, yes or no — will you specifically endorse all the Simpson-Bowles Commission recommendations — your own deficit-reduction commission — as did your own liberal home-state senator, Illinois’s Dick Durbin, who voted for all those recommendations?

And second, even though the Republicans also refused to endorse S-B, why didn’t you lead — regardless of their response? Isn’t that what presidents are supposed to do? You led on healthcare when all the Republicans said no. Why not on S-B?