Umm, well, I guess we can all agree that the debate was a horrific new low in American politics, where an American institution morphed into a bizarre and irredeemably stupid reality TV show. (There is nothing new to say about this except that this morning’s paper promises an event that will displace the debate as the most absurd reality TV freak show of the campaign—a live Trump health check up by a Fox Network doctor!)
But that isn’t what you are asking, is it? My last two posts were obsessed with slamming the Biden campaigns debate prep and strategy. So, it really wasn’t that bad, was it?
Ok, I admit it wasn’t nearly as bad as it could have been. Biden managed to stay calm enough to be reassuring, he used, but did not overuse, mockery (which simply must be employed against an ignorant, narcissistic bully), and he managed several fitting adjectives: liar, fool, and clown (although he expressed regret over the latter, for no good reason).
No one expected Biden to be quick enough to seize opportunities provided by Trump’s rambling seat of the pants excesses. I am sure that by now we all have our most frustrating missed opportunity. Mine is when Trump kept haranguing him over his son receiving 3.5 million dollars from Russia! Trump repeatedly links “Russia” and profits to family members which presents dozens of targets (loans and investments in Russia and dependence on Russian banks, profits and influence peddling at Trump hotels, Ivanka promoting her product line, over a hundred campaign contacts with Russian officials, denials of Russian interference, etc.) and all Biden really managed was repeating “not true!” over and over again.
Still, no one expected Biden to be Elizabeth Warren (although most of us no doubt kept thinking of what she might have done with such openings).
However, the preoccupation with COVID and the economy meant that Biden was making a lot of promises he may not be able keep or take credit for and that very little was done to educate the American people on the threats to democracy posed by this President. Now, he did get to a few—the draconian responses to peaceful protest, discrediting the terrorism intelligence of his own FBI and CIA directors, voter suppression–but consider the political and moral importance of what was mostly missing: suppressing climate change science at the EPA, executive orders lifting restrictions on coal plants, mercury emissions, etc., firing multiple national security advisors when they wouldn’t alter Homeland Security reports on domestic terrorism, withholding government aid to cities and counties based on electing Democrats to office, a half dozen of the most blatant conflicts of interest among agency heads and Cabinet officials that we have seen since the 19th century, firing inspectors general and a long list of officials who put loyalty to the law above personal fealty to the President, lies so consistent that they constitute Soviet style propaganda, using his twitter account to spread conspiracy theories and promote white supremacists and militia groups, defunding the Post Office prior to the election, letters signed by officials of both parties who served at the Department of State and the Department of Justice concluding Trump is unfit for office.
Admittedly, there was limited time available between the interruptions but Biden could have recited such items (in rapid succession without getting bogged down in any one of them) in response to almost any question posed by Chris Wallace because even a 15 second nod to the question at hand would have exceeded Trump’s willingness to answer the question and allowed Biden free reign to say whatever needed saying.
In any case, there are three weeks and a boatload of money to spend on ads that say what needs to be said. So much can be done just by presenting clips of his speeches, or having someone read his incendiary tweets, or his increasingly bizarre and incoherent rants about elections, or compilations of his verbal attacks on women and people of color.
If this is to be a turning point that begins to address massive corruption, disinformation, and political violence the election can’t be seen as simply a referendum on “mismanaging” COVID and the economy, which is a spin attractive to the press, and one that might be irresistible to many Americans who, if Biden wins, will be tempted to turn away from the years of difficult and dangerous political struggles that lie ahead.