A tale of two cities and two political conventions (with apologies to Charles Dickens): Each was the best of times, each was the worst of times; each suggested an age of wisdom, each suggested an age of foolishness; each was an epic of belief, each was an epic of incredulity.
For the American people who will vote in November's presidential election at a time when their nation seems to be one large but divided bleak house, nothing is settled after the contrasting chapters of the past two weeks -- except that now the battle has entered its final and more intense stage.
For voters across America, both the Republican convention in Tampa, Fla., and the Democratic convention in Charlotte, N.C., answered some questions but left others for another day.
For the Republicans, as a previous editorial observed, it was a chance to introduce their nominee, Mitt Romney, as both an efficient manager with a businessman's credentials and as an honest and caring family man.
The Democrats last week had it both harder and easier -- harder because the anemic economy is not cause for boasting and easier because they had the last word and could critique what Mr. Romney and running mate Rep. Paul Ryan had said. This they did with panache, thanks in large part to former President Bill Clinton.
Mr. Clinton, a flawed man in his critics' eyes but still a politician of rare gifts, gave arguably his best speech since leaving office, perhaps the best of his career.
He made the challenging argument for President Barack Obama's re-election seem easy, at turns demolishing the Republican plan for reducing the deficit -- arithmetic! -- and building up Mr. Obama as the man who had kept the nation from collapsing when he took office. Yes, he said boldly, we are better off than we were fours ago if you consider the disaster Mr. Obama inherited.
In short, by the time Mr. Obama gave his acceptance speech Thursday night, the case for the Democrats had already been made -- that they were moving forward and not going back to old failed ways. Surprisingly, Mr. Obama's speech, as much as he whipped up the crowd, was not one of his best.
But convention speeches do not make or break elections. Both parties still need to explain exactly what they will do to revive the economy and how they will govern with a bitterly divided Congress. So far they have debated empty chairs, as Clint Eastwood did in Tampa. In the coming months, the candidates will debate each other and that may finally tell the tale.