Round three of the presidential debates was ready to begin. Last-minute changes in the candidates’ makeup were completed. Someone dropped by to give each a fresh glass of water.

An aide of Mr. Bush later recalled the individual looked like Jim Carey, star of the movie “Liar, Liar,” but she could not be sure. All she could remember was that he told her “A wish from my son. The truth shall set you free.”

The moderator began the debate with his usual greetings and perfunctory instructions, and then asked the first question.

Everyone expected the usual name-calling and tongue-lashing, with a few misquoted facts thrown in for good measure. What a difference this night was from the last two debates.

Mr. Kerry drank his glass of water. His face changed three shades of color to a lighter, warmer image. He began, “Thank you, moderator.”

Kerry turned to President Bush: “Mr. President, I’ve been meaning to tell you, I appreciate your willingness to come here tonight and just hang out and visit with me and the American people. I appreciate your commitment to wholesome family values. And I certainly am bolstered by your spiritual commitment to seek wisdom and guidance from a higher power.”

A shocked, red-faced President assumed the defensive posture, made infamous in the first debate. He took a drink from the glass of water. The impish grin faded, the darkened lines of the chief executive softened.

“You are too kind, Mr. Kerry. I wasn’t the nicest boy on the block back home.”

“I know that, George. May I call you by your first name?”

“Certainly, John.”

“But you did change.”

“Yeah, from an irresponsible, rich daddy’s brat to…to a wonderful father, husband and leader of the free world,” interrupted Kerry. “Who said you don’t get second chances in the U.S. of A.!

Turning to the crowd, Kerry shouted, “How about that, people! What an opportunity he got, and he didn’t waste it!”

Bush was blushing. “Oh, please stop. You are way too kind.”

The moderator attempted to regain control of this emerging love fest. “Gentlemen,” he interrupted, “you both are out of line here.”

Mr. Bush interrupted: “You can tell me what to do, but I’m making an executive decision to ignore you, and I believe my opponent, um, friend here, will back me up on this one.”

“That’s right, friend.”

Facing the moderator, Mr. Bush continued. “For gosh sakes, John’s a great guy, all right? Why, the voters should be proud to have him as their leader. He is a war hero, that’s for darn sure. He put his life on the line for his buddies on the swift boat. He was even awarded a bunch of medals for his bravery and valor.”

Blushing, Kerry responded: “Well, to be honest, I did everything I could to make sure they were given to me. I knew they would be worth it when I went into politics. People love a war hero, you know.”

“But you did fight for your country, and did so with honor,” Bush replied.

“OK, you got me there. But it was no bigger deal than what my buddies did for me.”

“Perhaps,” Bush replied, “but you know what I did. My daddy helped put me in the Guard, flying jets on weekends. I even played hooky from that job.”

“Well, George, I know you meant well. I’m willing to forgive and forget. One thing I’ve learned over the years is people deserve a second chance. I know I needed one after leaving the service.”

Kerry continued: “Enough about me. I like your commitment to promoting not only democracy around the world, but also the free-enterprise system. There is nothing better than being allowed the freedom to live and work in the way a person desires.”

“Well, John,” said Bush, “if the truth be told, I’m not too happy about signing that legislation-you know, the bill that took away overtime pay from certain employees.”

“Yes, I remember.”

“Lord knows-I know I don’t-how lower-middle-class workers can afford to live on $9 an hour, even with overtime pay. It was payback time, John, for my campaign supporters who gave their cash. I could not resist the pressure.”

Kerry countered: “We can fix these things, George, if we work together, can we not?”

“You bet, John. Oh, man! It feels good to get that off my chest.”

Kerry, reflecting about his voting record on the war in Iraq, added, “I opposed you when you asked for more money for Iraq. I even said some bad things about you just the other day, opposing the war and all. But thinking back when I learned our boys got Saddam in that hole-God, that felt good!”

“Yeah,” quipped Mr. Bush. “He tried to kill my daddy once. I decided right then and there if there ever was a chance to become president, come hell or high water, I was gonna make him pay. The war was on my mind well before I was elected. As it turns out, this was more than I bargained for.”

Ignoring the moderator’s attempt to salvage the rest of the time, Bush and Kerry walked off the stage, acting like old friends. The debate was over before it started. Later, they created a compromise legislative agenda that both promised to follow if either were elected president.

In my opinion, if both candidates behaved like that in real life, I would not fear for the future of our country. Thanks, Jim Carey, wherever you are. The truth indeed will set us free.

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