Five takeaways from the first presidential debate

I like Joe Biden and believe it is essential that he be elected. I also think he could have performed better in this debate, but perhaps he didn’t need to.

  1. The incumbent lost the debate—not because Biden performed well but because anyone would have seemed wonderful in contrast to a raving lunatic.
    To those who have been living under a rock for the past four years, the true character of the president was revealed. He is an unhinged, deranged bully with no manners and no class.
  2. Biden missed multiple opportunities.
    He failed to articulate a coherent, easily understood plan for restoring sanity to the country. He failed to deliver one single memorable soundbite that was policy-related. He failed to say anything especially inspirational. With the exception of the pandemic and health care, he failed to call attention to any particular vulnerability of his opponent—and there are a great many. Instead of doing these things, he became mired in detail. How many voters care that violent crime decreased 15% under Obama?
  3. Biden is a man of supreme self-control.
    He twice called his opponent a clown. (This was apt in the narrow sense of horror-movie clown, such as Pennywise, and not the usual sense of someone being inappropriately funny and maybe just a little irritating.) And at one point, his exasperation showing, he told the “clown” to “shut up, man.” Other than that, plus perhaps a slight loss of focus, he seemed impervious to the constant barrage of interruptions, false accusations, insults, and inanities emanating from the other candidate. I tend to agree with Sam Donaldson, who advised him to show a little anger, but perhaps extreme unflappability plays better with the voters. Especially when one’s opponent is practically foaming at the mouth.
  4. Chris Wallace wasn’t up to the task.
    It wasn’t the first debate I’ve seen that featured multiple interruptions. It was the first in which one candidate interrupted almost continuously from start to finish, showing complete disrespect for the moderator, the other candidate, and the process. When it became clear that asking nicely wasn’t working, Wallace should have laid down the law: do that again, and I’ll turn off your mic. And then done it. One wonders what the reaction would be if Biden had calmly said to Wallace something like this: “My opponent clearly has no respect for you or the audience, no regard for the gravity of the occasion, no idea of how to comport himself in line with the dignity of his office. I’m not going to waste my time standing here while he insults our intelligence with these interruptions.” And then, equally calmly, flashed that blinding smile, given a thumbs-up to the cameras, and walked offstage.
  5. The crises continue. The emergency has begun.
    The situation in this country vis-à-vis lots of things (e.g., climate, civil rights, corruption, economic inequality) was dire before the pandemic struck, and it’s been getting steadily worse for the past six months. Now the president has doubled down on his support for violent right-wing extremists, refusing to condemn white supremacist groups, inciting direct action to intimidate voters, and openly encouraging criminal thuggery. In all probability, the next six weeks or so are are going to be scary in ways that the U.S. hasn’t experienced since the 1960s. Let’s just hope it’s not like the 1860s.


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