Barack Obama debating Hillary Clinton? Hey, what we want to see is John McCain debating New York Times Executive Editor Bill Keller.
But you take what you can get. And Thursday night in Austin, Texas, what we got was two lovey-dovey candidates who formed a mutual admiration society for an hour until the CNN moderators got sick of it and sicced the two on each other.
The issue the two Democrats were invited to attack each other on was whether Barack Obama was a plagiarist. Obama denied it, saying that he had been given permission to use a supporter's words without credit.
That gave Clinton the opportunity to deliver the killer line of the evening.
"If your candidacy is going to be about words, they should be your own words," Clinton said. "Lifting whole passages is not change you can believe in; it's change you can Xerox."
But one was immediately left wondering: Were those really Clinton's "own words"? Did she write them herself? Or was she just taking credit for them?
In any case, all that her bon mot earned her in the debate hall was a smattering of boos and a mutter from Obama.
Which is a continuing difficulty for Clinton and her campaign strategists: Will being more negative, more polarizing and less pleasant really help her win over Democratic voters? Democratic primary voters want Democrats to beat up on Republicans, not on each other.
Clinton went negative in a debate in Myrtle Beach, S.C., on Jan. 21, accusing Obama, among other things, of associating with a "slum landlord." Five days later, Obama beat her in South Carolina by 29 percentage points.
Clinton threw the kitchen sink at Obama in Wisconsin with a series of negative TV ads and speeches, and he beat her there Tuesday by 17 points.
The contest in which she most showed her most warm and human side New Hampshire is a state she won.
And, in fact, Clinton's best moment Thursday night came at the very end of the debate, when she was asked to talk about a crisis she has weathered and she said with a knowing smile: "Well, I think everybody here knows I've lived through some crises and some challenging moments in my life."
The audience laughed and applauded at her reference to her husband's infidelity. (Take that for your support, Bill! This is politics! Anybody can get thrown off the sled!)
But, by the end of the evening, one was still left wondering what Clinton's Plan B was, how she intends to snap Obama's 11-0 winning streak since Super Tuesday.
Texas and Ohio vote on March 4, and in Texas Clinton is depending on the Latino vote and in Ohio she is depending on looking like she will be better able to handle a bad economy.
But during the debate, the two candidates were able to show few real differences. When each was asked to name specific differences on the economy, Obama said: "Senator Clinton and I, I think, both agree on many of these issues."
And guess what? He was right!
Clinton responded: "Well, I would agree with a lot that Senator Obama just said."
Stylistically, Clinton seemed to enjoy herself more she beamed throughout the evening and while Obama clearly had a head cold, I have watched him at 19 of these debates now and I have never gotten the impression he was enjoying himself. Enjoyment is not impossible. John Edwards, a trial lawyer, clearly enjoyed the cut and thrust of debates. But Obama not so much. He prefers speeches (his own and others) to debating.
Still, he made his two key points: First, inspiration matters.
"The reason that this campaign has done so well is because people understand that it is not just a matter of putting forward policy positions," he said. "If we can't inspire the American people to get involved in their government...then we will continue to see the kind of gridlock and nonperformance in Washington that is resulting in families suffering in very real ways."
Second, his position against the Iraq war matters.
"On what I believe was the single most important foreign policy decision of this generation, whether or not to go to war in Iraq, I believe I showed the judgment of a commander in chief," he said. "And I think that Senator Clinton was wrong in her judgments on that."
Clinton once again hit her chief talking point. "I do offer solutions, that's what I believe in and what I have done," she said. "And there are differences between our records and our accomplishments."
By the end of the debate, they were best buds again. Obama not only pulled back the chair for her, but he looked like he was actually going to peck her on the cheek. At the last moment, however, he stuck out his hand and she grasped it in both of hers.
Now let's find a stage and two chairs and get that McCain and Keller guy to go at it.