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Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's uplifting perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Friday, October 23rd, 2020

Some takeaways from the final presidential debate between Joe Biden and Donald Trump

The morn­ing after the final pres­i­den­tial debate between Don­ald Trump and Joe Biden, everyone’s news feed was full of analy­sis, opin­ion and spec­u­la­tion, all angling towards an answer to the same ques­tion: Who won?

In the broad scheme of things, it doesn’t mat­ter who won the debate.

With less than two weeks before Elec­tion Day (and with tens of mil­lions of votes already cast) Joe Biden is polling ahead of Trump nation­al­ly by any­where between 7 and 10 points, and leads in prac­ti­cal­ly every swing state.

For the record, I think that both can­di­dates “won” the debate, but only because they were try­ing to achieve such dis­parate aims. Trump won the debate, because he was able to come across as a brash, macho bul­ly, while stay­ing com­fort­ably marooned from real­i­ty by a cocoon of Fox con­spir­a­cy the­o­ries – but he avoid­ed the descent into pure psy­chopa­thy that we wit­nessed in the last debate.

Biden, on the oth­er hand, won because he was able to com­mu­ni­cate a num­ber of key Demo­c­ra­t­ic poli­cies (which are far more pop­u­lar than those of the Repub­li­cans) to the vot­ers, while avoid­ing any kind of gaffe or ver­bal slip-up.

Here are a few take­aways from the debate:

Trump has no plan for a sec­ond term

Trump spent a lot of time talk­ing, but almost nev­er about what he plans to do in the next four years. He spent more time ram­bling about Biden’s son Hunter than he spent on any pol­i­cy or idea from his own campaign.

When asked about racial jus­tice, his response was com­plete­ly incoherent.

At the time, all I came away with was the impres­sion that lots of peo­ple go into Trump’s office. The morn­ing after the debate, I went back and read the debate tran­script, and came away none the wis­er. It doesn’t make for an inspir­ing cam­paign slo­gan: “Vote for Don­ald Trump – he has peo­ple in his office!”

Maybe the most clear exam­ple of this was when the mod­er­a­tor Kris­ten Welk­er (who per­formed her task admirably) asked both can­di­dates what they would say on Inau­gu­ra­tion Day, 2021, to Amer­i­cans who didn’t sup­port them.

While Biden bor­rowed his old boss Obama’s phi­los­o­phy of “I rep­re­sent all of you whether you vot­ed for me or against me,” Trump appeared to mis­un­der­stand the ques­tion, argu­ing that a Biden Admin­is­tra­tion would lead to a depression.

It’s almost as if he can see the writ­ing on the wall to such an extent that he can no longer even imag­ine what his own vic­to­ry would look like.

Which is an encour­ag­ing thought.

The Democ­rats could have picked a bet­ter debater

The mea­sure of Biden’s debate suc­cess in most of the mass media was drawn from the fact that Trump failed to pres­sure Biden into mak­ing the kind of “gaffe” that plagued his debate per­for­mances dur­ing the primary.

But the fact that that is con­sid­ered a mea­sure of suc­cess just seems so emp­ty. Through­out the debate, I couldn’t help but wish it were one of Biden’s pri­ma­ry oppo­nents on the stage instead of him.

Instead of respond­ing to the President’s luna­cy with wry chuck­les and the occa­sion­al “c’mon,” imag­ine what Eliz­a­beth War­ren, Kamala Har­ris or Bernie Sanders would have done to Trump – they would still be scrap­ing him off his podium!

Biden called out Trump’s racism, but not his sexism

Many ana­lysts argue that a key com­po­nent to Joe Biden’s elec­toral coali­tion is a cohort of white, sub­ur­ban women who vot­ed for Trump in 2016, but have been unable to stom­ach him in pow­er. Biden knows he has to win over this group to get elect­ed. And yet, some­how, almost unbe­liev­ably, there was not a sin­gle men­tion of sex­ism by either Biden or the mod­er­a­tor in the entire debate (although Biden did make a com­mend­able moral stand for minori­ties and immi­grants). Why?

Biden’s rea­son for being cau­tious around the issue is per­haps under­stand­able – in May, a for­mer staffer named Tara Reade accused Biden of a decades-old sex­u­al assault. Although there was lit­tle evi­dence for Reade’s claims, the right-wing con­spir­a­cy machine took it and ran with it. If Biden had brought up Trump’s ram­pant sex­ism, he would sure­ly have been greet­ed by a tor­rent of non­sen­si­cal con­spir­a­cy the­o­ries – but that’s what hap­pened dur­ing the debate anyway!

Trump has a decades-long record of being a tru­ly appalling human being, and Biden missed an oppor­tu­ni­ty to remind the Amer­i­can peo­ple of the Access Hol­ly­wood tape, Trump’s mar­i­tal abuse, his use of sex­u­al assault vic­tims as polit­i­cal props dur­ing the 2016 cam­paign, the dozens of sex­u­al assault alle­ga­tions against him, and the fact that he is using tax­pay­er dol­lars to intim­i­date these accusers.

Don’t wor­ry folks, your Pres­i­dent is still nuts!

The main take­away for much of the mass media was that the debate rep­re­sent­ed some kind of “return to nor­mal­i­ty,” with the New York Times’ Dai­ly pod­cast going so far as to title today’s episode “Sud­den Civil­i­ty.” I could almost hear Van Jones pop­ping up on CNN to tell view­ers that, three years and 276 days into his pres­i­den­cy, “he became pres­i­dent of the Unit­ed States in that moment.”

Don’t be fooled. Trump may have inter­rupt­ed less com­pared to the last debate (and remem­ber, his mic was mut­ed part of the time) but he was still brim­ming with lies, con­spir­a­cy the­o­ries, and down­right crazy ideas through­out the debate.

He once again claimed that COVID-19 is “going away”; he con­stant­ly returned to con­spir­a­cy the­o­ries about Joe Biden’s fam­i­ly that are laugh­ably full of holes; he rant­ed about “the lap­top from hell”; he sug­gest­ed that his record with the African-Amer­i­­can com­mu­ni­ty matched or pos­si­bly even exceed­ed Abra­ham Lincoln’s; he said he was the least racist per­son in the room three times and then said he couldn’t see the audi­ence because of the light­ing; and he claimed that wind pow­er “kills all the birds!” While those kind of lines may draw laughs rather than hor­ri­fied stares, nei­ther is fit­ting for a man with his fin­ger on the nuclear button.

The debate once again dis­played the two options fac­ing voters.

Demo­c­ra­t­ic nom­i­nee Joe Biden is cer­tain­ly not per­fect — no one is per­fect — but any­one who thinks the alter­na­tive is bet­ter is fool­ing themselves.

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