The center, it is widely asserted, has collapsed in American politics. Yet this fall will feature two nominees trying to convince supporters that they are wedded passionately to partisan principles—despite long records from both men suggesting they are more interested in practical difference-splitting to get things done.

This is an age of rage, by all accounts, with strains of populism and a disdain for elites animating both parties. But this same age is serving up a presidential contest featuring two men who took their graduate degrees at Harvard. (There has been an Ivy League degree held by at least one of the nominees in every presidential election since 1988.)

And there’s also this old standby: The most talented people just are not interested in politics.

Whatever one thinks of Obama or Romney, it is a fact that since both men were in their twenties they were recognized by peers and elders alike as men of unusual promise. Both nominees, for better or worse, are supremely products of the great American meritocratic obstacle course. Before seeking the presidency, they both had in hand the most shimmering credentials—governor, senator, university professor, businessman—that our society uses to sift and tag its brightest talents.

And, as both parties and both presidential campaigns gear up well-rehearsed programs to demonize the other side’s nominee, let’s try this one on for size: This year’s political process has produced two decent and well-adjusted nominees.