John McCain and Barack Obama have some big responsibilities. As presidential nominees of their parties, they have to be on top of the issues, they have to be ethically and morally sound, they have to care about people, and they have to couch their real feelings in politically appealing sound bites.

And it’s fair to say that both fellows are doing fine on those fronts.

But they are falling flat on their faces on an equally important front, and that’s providing some good TV for Americans. After all, we’re the most productive workforce in the world. If we’re kicking that much ass in our day jobs, surely the candidates can reward us just a bit when we turn on our sets at night.

Yet we’ve now sat through three hours of scripted debate between these guys, and if my fellow American publicans are thinking the way I am, I’m guessing that the viewership for the third tilt will take a hit. The culprit is discipline. As Tom Shales pointed out this morning, the candidates sound as if they haven’t changed their playbook since preseason. Which means that if you saw the first debate, or even the veep debate, you could have mouthed the sound bites along with the candidates, as if they’d been singing “Hotel California.” I want to cut taxes for the middle class; my opponent won’t admit that the surge has worked; he was wrong about us being greeted as liberators; my opponent has voted ten million times for tax increases. Goodness gracious, the whole production was like an ad for Talking Points Memo.

Well, candidates, you have one more shot at putting on a show—next week at Hofstra University. Each candidate can do a little something to liven up the presentation. Obama can chip in by pulling the stick out; he’s way too stiff up there. Seems as if he pauses after each half-thought, then after the next half-thought. It’s like a prevent defense: He sees he’s ahead in the polls and in key swing states, and so he just doesn’t want to make any huge gaffes. The result is really bad TV, something I just don’t deserve as part of the most productive workforce on the globe.

And McCain: Please stop it with this whole precondition thing. You gave us that shtick in the first round and then your veep candidate, Sarah Palin, went strong with it in her appearance. It’s starting to feel like I’m watching a C-SPAN re-run, a very, very scary notion in itself. In fact, I’ll go as far as to say that you shouldn’t use the “pre” prefix at all in the next debate—that’s how tired I am of preconditions. Don’t say “premonition,” don’t say “prejudice,” don’t say “presbyopia,” don’t even say Prefontaine. Cut it out.

Both of you: Talk about something that’s not a talking point.