Falling sky and other irrational claims - Salish Current
July 1, 2024
Falling sky and other irrational claims
Dan Raas

Candidates for President were true to form in the first debate among the two this year, a commentator notes. Did the event offer the voters any new information? (CNN)

July 1, 2024
Falling sky and other irrational claims
Dan Raas

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The essays, analyses and opinions presented as Community Voices express the perspectives of their authors on topics of interest and importance to the community, and are not intended to reflect perspectives on behalf of the Salish Current.

Commentary: What did you learn from Thursday’s presidential debate that you didn’t already know?

Thursday’s Presidential “debate” was a mess. President Biden, 81, a known stutterer, was suffering from a cold and turned in a less than stellar performance that led to biblical levels of gnashing of teeth and rending of garments by many news outlets and the pundit class. Former President Trump, 78, delivered a performance that would have been dismissed as a skit on Saturday Night Live in 2015, but today’s Republicans lapped it up. What does this portend for the election, which is more than 125 days away?

Some Democrats and news operations immediately concluded that the election was lost unless Biden was replaced as the Democratic nominee in order to save the world. Some Republicans promptly claimed global victory and called for election by acclamation. Both sides vastly overstate the importance of the debate. 

History may not repeat, but it rhymes. Many recent Presidential candidates have had what were seen as disastrous debate appearances in the first debate of the year: George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama, even Richard Nixon in 1960 (although it took him eight years to recover). Thus Biden’s poor showing is not historically predictive. 

Did anyone who has paid the least attention the last eight years learn anything that they didn’t know before? Biden stutters, which sometimes leads to incoherence. Trump lies, repeatedly, and doesn’t answer questions he doesn’t want to. If you only watched the first part of the debate, you might have concluded that Biden was unfit and Trump had better control of himself than usual. However, as the debate ran on, Biden improved and Trump returned to his normal exaggerations and falsehoods. The next day, Biden was back in form at a couple of rallies. 

The debate format has seldom, if ever, been at all reflective of what a real President does. Not even the fictional “West Wing” President Bartlett had to answer questions on so many issues in two-minute sound bites, with or without teleprompters or staff. It’s just not in the job description. We are fortunate, or not, to have two men who have actually been President running against each other. They both have track records, even if one doesn’t want to remember parts of his. Their history is much more indicative of how they will govern if re-elected than 90 minutes of questions from “moderators” who have a script that they are following rather than a goal of fostering a true exchange of ideas by debaters who have time to explain their statements. Sound bites, not nuanced policy, are the result. 

Strategically, Biden’s call for this early debate backfired. He therefore has a little ground to make up. Trump figured out how to spread his rally points in the two-minute format and had enough discipline, mostly, not to be too incoherent. While the lack of audience and the silencing of a candidate’s mic were designed to bring order and focus to the candidate’s answers, these measures didn’t work when the moderators didn’t consistently use the kill switch, and these sideboards especially didn’t contribute to information dissemination when a candidate was permitted to ignore the questions that were asked. As a result, once again, a person with some knowledge of the candidates didn’t learn anything new, save perhaps that golf scores are a subject of contention. Who knew? Who cared?

Going into Thursday’s debate Trump had sewn up the Republican nomination. Almost all of the folks who had opposed him in the primaries had become supporters. July’s coronation, uh, convention, will be a MAGA spectacle. Biden has also wrapped up the Democratic nomination, although Democrats being Democrats, delegates aren’t bound to a candidate until a couple weeks before the August convention. (However, the Democratic Party has a poor history of smooth conventions held in Chicago.) Nonetheless, the only practical way to replace either candidate is if they decide to step aside. Won’t happen. So what effect will the debate have on the election?

Probably very little. Each side has more than enough money to flood the airways with negative cuts from this debate, but other candidate appearances are just as negative and will serve just as well. Yes, if Biden continues to exhibit the demeanor he did in the first part of the debate, he will have problems with voters he will need for victory. But there’s no reason to believe that he will not be strong, and his public appearances since the debate reflected the Biden of the State of the Union address rather than that of the debate. There’s also another debate scheduled for September.

Post debate polls show little movement for what they’re worth.

The sky is neither falling on Biden nor raining electoral victory on Trump. And on we go.

— By Dan Raas

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