They didn't mention Ken Bigley, of course. He - like his two American companions - was gone, dead, brutally murdered and therefore unavailable to participate in Mr Bush's long but resolute struggle or Mr Kerry's more hopeful tomorrow. Nor, for that matter, did they mention Ariel Sharon or the debris of Gaza or Saudi Arabia's fragile autocracy or Egypt's shattered tourist industry. To be honest, they didn't mention much at all.
Is that it, then? Has St Louis put a lid on foreign debate so far as this US election goes? Is the choice for America, and therefore us, just more of the same - or "smart" plans from a supposedly smart man who seems to believe that one summit will leave the world saluting him? I'm all right, Jacques?
Once you put aside the buzz from the first joust in Florida - why did that funny little commander-in-chief keep scowling and twitching like Queeg doing his full Caine Mutiny routine? - then round two was a bit of a drag. Bush reprised the theme songs from his best-loved album of lying ads. (Flop flip, I was taking a dip!) John Kerry reiterated his handy conviction that angst over mangled voting and phrase-making was better than blundering into war. Neither of them knew quite what to say to a puzzled lady whose travelling friends had found America bottom of their holiday hit parade.
Kerry thought that was Bush's fault. Bush said he did what he thought was right and didn't much care if "these people", otherwise referred to as "these Europeans", got the hump. And anyway, Tony Blair was with him. Take one Blair, one Berlusconi, plus a pinch of Poland and Oz, and you had the wonder of coalition, ridding the globe of a "unique threat".
But, as he strutted and harangued and tried to look feistier than he managed in that first scowlathon, there was one obvious difficulty. George Bush has no Einstein pretensions. Launch him into a dissertation on, say, stem cell research and it's even money whether he will make it out alive. John Kerry ought to be much better than that. Yet, curiously, he isn't.
Kerry pronounces names and places rather more accurately than the world's most powerful flubber. He's been to Kyoto and sat in the salons of Europe. He eats gravitas with muesli for breakfast. He should know his stuff. But if he does, he's not telling.
Maybe, in the pantheon of things, that won't matter too much because it will never become relevant. Maybe the president is going to win this contest willy-nilly (as the local polls from Florida, Ohio and Wisconsin still suggest). But it's closer by far than it was. Events, dear boy, continue to undermine White House certainties. There is too much bleating about the Bush and a clear possibility that President Kerry (like Spain's Zapatero) could actually be stuck with running a country. What then?
His fabled summit to persuade France, Germany and the rest to put in troops so America's boys can head back to Fort Bragg won't work just because Kerry isn't Bush. The bill, the danger and the manifest unpopularity of joining a queue winding into the distance without any exit signs are constants whoever sits in the Oval Office. Worse, to be really credible, his new, expanded coalition will need many Muslim troops on the ground. This (as the carnage in Egypt shows) is their war too. Al-Qaida is the peril within, as Saddam himself realised.
But how do you even begin to add that dimension to your alliance when, time and again, Israel kicks away its foundations? Forget the road map; forget any hope of a Palestinian state. Obfuscation is the name of Sharon's game, according to his gabbiest senior adviser, and Washington is trailing compliantly along behind. I won't deal with Arafat, Bush says proudly; but he won't deal with anybody else either.
Republican policy is an empty vessel drifting off Tel Aviv, and the Democratic alternative has just as little stored in its hold. (Indeed, on any historical test, the Democrats are less rather than more likely to stand up to an Israel going its own sweet way.)
Yet Kerry must know that the Arab world (and much of Europe) won't respond to his Iraq distress calls unless there's a decisive return to road-map action. He must know that even Blair and Bush are at loggerheads over Israel. He must realise that a fresh start here is the key to a fresh start in Baghdad. But he didn't mention it.
Nor, alas, did any of those long, fruitful weeks at foreign policy seminars yield the most minimal shift in perception. It is Bush who (quite rightly) seeks to set North Korea in its context, and Kerry who cranks up the threat. It is Bush who, bruised by Iraq, turns more warily and multilaterally towards Tehran, and Kerry who unleashes the rockets of empty rhetoric.
When Bush promises to keep America safe, Kerry pledges to make it even safer. When Bush promises more spending on homeland security, Kerry trumps it. When Bush rattles on about the war on terrorism and the forces of evil who mastermind it, Kerry betrays not a murmur of nuance.
Why did Saddam want nuclear weapons? Because the real threats in his area - Israel, Pakistan, India, China and Russia - have them. Because Iran, just next door, is getting them. Why didn't Saddam tell the UN inspectors he was flat out of WMDs and open his doors wide? Because he didn't want Tehran to know.
The complications here stretch far beyond America versus Osama and friends. The challenges and the answers we will have to find are inevitably complex and thoughtful, not tough; subtle, not no-brain certain. But did the voters of middle America get a hint of that when they needed it? Meet me in St Louis, Phooey!
© 2004 The Guardian Newspapers, Ltd.