Tag: Journalism

Debate debacle

biden
President Biden looks aghast at some of the many, many lies told by Donald Trump last night. We should all know by now that Trump brazenly bullshits about everything, so the startled face did the President no favors. He should have expected the spewing fountain of dishonesty and been ready to commandingly smack it down. While he did correctly call Trump a liar, the delivery was unconvincing.

So...that wasn't great.

Last night's presidential "debate" on CNN was profoundly disappointing and unsurprisingly has sent the pundit class into a state of panic. 

I had expectations going in, expectations that Donald Trump would be, well, himself, and thus provide myriad opportunities for President Biden to smack him down (metaphorically) and contrast the incredible successes of the Biden Administration to the disastrous incompetence that was the Trump Administration, thus illustrating how blindingly obvious voters' choice should be in November.

Those expectations were met. The problem was, Biden failed to capitalize on those opportunities and had the demeanor of an exhausted elderly grandpa. Which isn't to say he was terrible; what he had to say was substantively decent, if not completely on point, but it was delivered in a manner that was not easy to immediately understand and reinforced the Republican propaganda that unfairly paints him as a doddering old man.

All that was frustrating. It made me wonder what the hell all that debate prep time at Camp David was used for and why the campaign thought arming the president with statistics and lists of numbers was a good idea. Biden was at his best when he let his clearly-prepped answers drop and spoke from the heart. He became more energetic and feisty then. Feisty Joe was good. But the obvious struggle he was having with making sure he got the prepared numbers into his answers was just really bad form.

What was most frustrating, though, is the pitches Biden let go by. Big fat hanging curveballs right over the heart of the plate screaming "hit me" that he didn't even take a swing at.

I could make excuses. The president was clearly dealing with a head cold and may well have been on some sort of antihistamines or decongestant medicines that, as I well know, make you a little fuzzybrained for a while. If so, I again point to the campaign aides and say "WHY WOULD YOU SEND HIM OUT THERE LIKE THAT?" but maybe they didn't know. I could focus on the journalistic malpractice committed by the alleged moderators of the debate, who didn't moderate anything and allowed countless egregious, blatant lies to spew from Trump's bulbous head completely unchallenged.

But in the end, Joe Biden had an opportunity to crush a grand slam homer and instead struck out on three meatball pitches basically served up on a tee. It is, to say the least, dispiriting.

The immediate reaction from pretty much everyone that watched it was to freak out. Now you've got a lot of people within the Democratic party talking about trying to nominate someone else. Which is not going to happen and the more time spent talking about the idea is, as California Governor Gavin Newsom put it, "unhelpful."

Presidential debates—which have only existed since 1960—are structured to emphasize the most surface-level elements of a candidate, and every cycle I wonder about their usefulness. Some are better than others, the "town hall" type that we've seen here and there since the ’90s actually give some opportunity to get into something unscripted and revealing. But generally they favor optics over substance, largely because of format.

(Some years ago I read a novel by the late newsman Jim Lehrer called "The Last Debate." I'm not recalling the details clearly now, but it told the story of a small group of journalists who contrived for themselves to moderate a presidential debate in a race where one candidate was profoundly dangerous and unfit to serve. The journalists made a choice to risk their careers by using the debate to crush the campaign of the dangerous candidate. They held his feet to the fire, as it were, on all of his misdeeds and completely abandoned the "rules" of the event by turning it into an airing of behavior that would appall a great majority of voters. I was really wishing for something even vaguely reminiscent of that kind of courage from last night's moderators and, of course, got bupkis.)

Joe Biden has been and continues to be an excellent President of the United States. The record is tremendously impressive. He has staffed his administration with quality, intelligent, capable, and supremely competent people who know what they're doing and work hard to advance an agenda that is in support of the American population as a whole. There is no reason on the merits to even entertain the idea of nominating someone else. 

But the freak out is real, and it's based entirely on fear.

Fear of stupid people.

I get it. I, too, am terrified of stupid people in massive groups. The Republicans have been maddeningly deft in their efforts to manipulate and con the rubes of America, tens of millions of whom voted for the fascist last time without realizing he's a fascist. Republican politics have long been based in scaring the bejeezus out of their voters, but in the age of Trump they've abandoned all subtlety in their fearmongering, relying—apparently successfully!—on entirely made-up fantasies of nonexistent caravans of murdering migrant hordes, entirely made-up fantasies of mothers killing their infant children for the sake of convenience, entirely made-up fantasies of economics that even preschoolers on any Ferengi world would recognize as bullshit, and mountains of blatant racism and misogyny.

How many of those tens of millions of rubes believe the propaganda? I know there are plenty who don't believe it but still like it for the racism and sexism; those are the "baskets of deplorables" Hillary Clinton identified in the 2016 campaign. Those people aren't a new factor, we've always had them or people like them around. But the rubes. They scare us. And they are scaring people who should know better into calling for the President to walk away from this election.

President Biden held a rally today in North Carolina wherein he was far more energetic, far better in his demeanor, and was received with far more comfort from the masses. I've heard it postulated that the disaster of last night's debate might well spur the campaign into hyperdrive for the remainder of the summer and fall. Maybe. I do hope they learned from their mistakes, at least.

Joe Biden is 81 years old. President of the United States is a very stressful job. To those who worry about that, I say look at who he staffs his administration with. Kamala Harris is a brilliant vice president, and should the need for her to take over come to pass, we would all be in good hands. (I still maintain that a large part of the Republican-led opposition to Biden because of age is an unsubtle dog-whistle to the deplorables to be scared of the black lady taking over.) I am completely unbothered by Joe Biden's age because no matter how he performed at the debate or in any other forum, he does the job of President very, very well, and should he lose the ability to do that at some point, there will be capable people there to step in.

Besides, the other guys are running a con man. A convicted felon, serial fraudster, adjudicated rapist, wanna-be dictator who hates the very idea of American democracy and has no understanding of how anything works. Except, of course, how manipulating rubes works. That's his one skill. He has no others. (Except perhaps using blackmail to leverage otherwise-smart(ish) people into allying with him. Looking at the complement of dudes with an R by their names in the Senate seems to indicate he's had success with that.)

 Bad debate or no, I don't think anything has changed here. The race is today what it was yesterday and was the day before. I wish the President had been quicker on his feet and hammered those juicy hanging curveballs last night—that might have made a significant difference in his favor—but there's still time to get some more at-bats. Meanwhile, the contrast between these two men remains monumental. In the words of Mary Trump, "President Biden had a cold and stumbled badly. Donald Trump is a traitor. The former should not in any way negate the latter.... I’ll take the decent guy with the sore throat who believes in democracy over the rapist insurrectionist monster every single time."

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