Stopping a moment to talk about the ‘debate’…

I’ve been extremely busy Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday on an important matter that’s not only a work thing, but a personal thing — my deep concern about the situation at Alvin S. Glenn. Here’s a release about what’s happening tonight. Very little of my time was spent on the release, of course. Mostly it was reading documents catching me up on the case, and harassing various media to let them know what was happening tonight.

I’ll be glad to elaborate further on the matter, but right now I’m caught up with communicating with media about the jail, but I think I have a few minutes to address what the rest of the world has been yammering about for days.

Everywhere I’ve gone the last few days — my walks (I’m going to get in my 10,000 whatever else I’m doing, even if I don’t sleep), Mass on Sunday, what have you — everyone has wanted to talk with me about it. I was no more interested in talking about it than I was before the “debate.” An alternate scripture reading from Friday kind of sums up my attitude toward these silly spectacles over the last few election cycles:

Pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace,
along with those who call on the Lord with purity of heart.
Avoid foolish and ignorant debates,
for you know that they breed quarrels…

I read that and thought, yeah, that’s what I keep saying. Avoid stupid and ignorant debates (has there been any other kind in recent years?) indeed.

I’ve covered and organized and participated in these things we call debates over the decades. I covered the GOP presidential debate in early 1980 in Des Moines. I’ve been a panelist asking the questions several times. Once, when my newspaper was sponsoring a U.S. Senate debate — in 1982, I think — I found myself outside of the venue explaining to anti-abortion protesters why they couldn’t come in and disrupt the event. The woman leading them was a friend — we were both in the folk choir at our church — and she was in my face and screaming at me. Something I remember more vividly than the debate itself.

For years, I generally ignored the purists who insisted these media events were not “debates” at all. I felt they served a purpose. Over time I increasingly had my doubts about their value in national elections. The superficiality was painful. The evidence leading me to doubt has been piling up for a long time. Remember Lloyd Bentsen’s zinger, directed at Dan Quayle in 1988? And do you remember anything else from that event? Increasingly, debate prep was about memorizing zingers and avoiding gaffes. No more boning up on details about Quemoy and Matsu.

I still think there can be some value in letting people hear from candidates for lesser offices, involving folks they may never have seen or thought about before. I was disappointed as a voter recently when a debate held between Russell Ott and Dick Harpootlian was not televised live. Never mind “live;” I couldn’t find a full video of it anywhere after. Maybe it was out there, but not terribly accessible. But no matter. The right candidate won anyway.

A decade ago, despite the mounting evidence, I was still enthusiastic about debates. The enthusiasm was fueled by the novelty of social media. I loved tweeting about 30 or more times during a debate, and the energetic discussions this would engender. It was fun. But that’s about it. Not much of substance. It was entertaining to chortle at stupid things people said at the podium. But not what you’d call enlightening. And the novelty wore off.

As last week’s event approached, my enthusiasm was deader than usual. There was nothing to be gained from the event, either by my candidate or by the country. Trump, of course, would say stupid, offensive, embarrassing stuff from start to finish, and it wouldn’t cost him a single vote — his supporters love that stuff. The only person who could “lose” would be the one man — the infinitely better man — who stands between him and his planned dictatorship. Of course, he wouldn’t lose on substance — on any matter of character or understanding of policy. But he would lose if he slipped — committed a gaffe — even slightly. And God forbid he should “look old” on camera, because the country is full of people who think that’s important in his contest against a deranged 78-year-old.

So I wasn’t looking forward to it, and when I had initial trouble keeping it on my screen via a couple of sites (I don’t have cable; I have to stream), I was pleased to stop trying and do pretty much anything else. But I saw enough to agree that Joe had a bad night. He didn’t look good or sound good. In other words, my assessment agreed with those of people across the spectrum who said that — the chortling Republicans, the horrified Democrats, and others. I agreed also with the president himself. He had a bad night.

And none of that bore in any way on the question of which of these men should be elected — which is the only question that matters. I’m not going to go off on a long digression on the reasons why one of these men will be elected, but that’s the case — unless one or both of them succumb to the grim logic of actuarial tables sometime between now and Election Day. So that question is what matters. And all that matters.

Let’s consider one slice of the set of people currently in the “Biden must bow out” camp: I have zero patience with the editorial board of The New York Times. These are the sophomoric hammerheads who, in 2020, despised Joe — the only Democrat who could win — so much that they wanted to endorse anybody else for the nomination. Trouble was, their weak collective mind was incapable of assembling a consensus on exactly which of the zero-chance challengers to choose. So they picked two of them, thus disqualifying themselves from being considered seriously regarding such matters for the forseeable future.

So where do I stand? Well, for a concise description of my position, I refer you to President Obama:

That’s pretty much what Joe himself has been saying. To quote from a fundraising text I received, which summarizes what he’s been saying elsewhere in recent days:

Hey folks, it’s Joe. On Thursday, I spent 90 minutes debating on a stage with a guy who has all the morals of an alley cat.

I know I’m not a young man. I don’t walk as easily as I used to. I don’t speak as smoothly as I used to. I don’t debate as well as I used to.

I also know how to tell the truth. I know right from wrong. I know how to do this job. I know how to get things done.

And I know — like millions of Americans know — when you get knocked down, you get back up.

I would not be running again if I didn’t believe with all my heart and soul that I can do this job. Because quite frankly the stakes are too high…

Yep. I agree with all that. And I can identify. I’m only 70, but when I’m on video, I come across like Methusaleh’s uncle. See this video from this past Friday, in which I’m introducing a speaker from the Relic Room. I’m the stooped old guy at the very beginning.

Anyway, that’s about it. This has taken more time than I had to spend. I’ve been handling calls and texts from reporters and attorneys while writing it. I’ve got to go. When I come back, it will be to write about something else — there are a number of topics I’d like to address before I leave the country next week (that’s actually one of the things I hope to write about, if things calm down)…

10 thoughts on “Stopping a moment to talk about the ‘debate’…

  1. Barry

    1) Alvin Glenn is the most glaring example of the utter disaster that is Richland County government. To just not give a damn about the people there is stunning. It’s government at its worst. Every member of the county council, the administrator and others should be ashamed of themselves.

    2) Biden is going to lose and lose badly. Democrats still have a fighting chance if they were to switch course. They won’t do that though. They are going to go down with the ship, and turn the Senate and House over to the Republicans.

    They could potentially stop that from happening. But it’s more important to stick with Biden and go down with him, and possibly hur the country for another generation.

  2. Doug Ross

    You could have saved all that typing with three words: “Doug was right”.

    If he quits, Joe can save face and go out as LBJ. If he stays in, he loses and goes down in history as a sad failure. This was the option a year ago when those of us who saw him could see the decline. No press conferences, no substantial interviews, never without notecards or a teleprompter. A puppet with a team of sycophants trying to drag him across the line.

    Just like Hillary’s laziness and entitlement gave us Trump 1.0, Biden’s diminished mental state will lead to Trump 2.0. The DNC got what they wanted.

  3. Phillip

    The line going around among the “circle the wagons” crowd about “one bad debate,” with comparisons to Obama’s bad debate against Romney and Reagan’s bad first debate against Mondale just do not hold up, mostly because anybody paying attention knows Biden’s had more than 90 bad minutes over the last year or two. I must simply repeat what I said the last time I commented here way back on Feb 9 and 13:

    “I know hardly any liberal friends who don’t just feel sorry for Joe and just wish he would have reconsidered, still hope he might…. The fact that Biden is vastly more experienced in world affairs than somebody like Gretchen Whitmer or Kamala Harris becomes a completely irrelevant point if the national perception of Biden’s mental acuity and general physical fragility reaches a point where his chances of beating Trump slip away completely. Joe’s vast experience and knowledge in foreign affairs does the country no good if he’s going to lose the election. And for him not to, he’s going to have to turn around perceptions of his health and viability during what will be a brutal general election contest. And that might be something that is quite simply not within his ability to completely control.”

    It is certain that there will be more moments, probably many more moments, between now and November when Biden’s aging will be very apparent to voters. This is not something he can turn around by force of will. It would be uncharted waters were he to step aside from the race, but we are in dire straits. It would be such a sad irony and historical legacy if Biden were to be remembered as the man who first saved us from Trump but only to give him back to us four years later by not acknowledging reality.

  4. Douglas Ross

    You know that fundraising text you got wasn’t written by Joe, right? Please tell me you don’t believe he wrote that…

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      It wouldn’t be the right wording to say I “don’t believe he wrote that.”

      It would be better to say, “I would never have imagined that he did.”

      Here’s what I did think when I read that…

      I wondered about the process they had gone through to come up with that. I got stuck writing things like that two or three times early in my time working for James and Mandy, mainly because we were very shorthanded that July. It was painful work, because I HATE those kinds of messages, and wanted nothing to do with them. After my first couple of weeks, our new campaign manager Scott Hogan had things organized well enough so I didn’t even have to look at something like that.

      But we certainly never bothered the candidates with it. And that was down on the gubernatorial level.

      How on Earth, I thought, did the writer get authorization to say something like that, pretending it was Biden?

      But within a few minutes after that, I got my answer via NPR. I heard Biden’s voice saying those same things, more or less. But for the purposes of this post, I didn’t have to go back and listen again and take notes. So all I had to do was quote the text, and describe it as a pretty good summation of what he was saying himself.

      Which is what I did…

  5. bud

    I don’t want Trump to become POTUS again any more than Brad. But it’s becoming increasingly clear that Biden can’t win the election. I’m giving him two weeks to prove the debate was a fluke. After that, well, that depends on what Biden does. Trump is likely to win regardless of what the Dems do. But they really should at least give it their best shot.

    As a side note why did the Dems anoint Biden during the primary process? An 81 year old is just too old to be POTUS.

  6. Ken

    [EDITOR’S NOTE: I removed Ken’s first paragraph, which was his harrumphing lecture to me on my awful writing and poor character. I cut it so that I could publish the rest of his comment without breaking my word by publishing stuff that I’ve told y’all repeatedly I will no longer welcome here.]

    Biden isn’t Obi Wan, he’s not “our only hope.” He is not the indispensable man. And it would be perverse to mirror his opponent’s claim of “I alone.” And yet, at this point there are no alternatives – not unless he chooses to open a path for one. But that would just present us with the uncharted difficulties of coming to agreement on a replacement. No need to go into all the details. Suffice it to say that it would be terrifically messy, injurious to Democratic unity, discombobulate voters and serve as a (potentially extended) distraction from the more important job of defeating the threat posed by the Trump Party candidate.

    Biden may not be out, but he is clearly badly hobbled. And not just by his debate performance. As one astute commentator put it:
    “Ever since Biden announced that he was running again, it was always clear that this decision would allow Trump to set the terms for the election. […] It is not that Biden does not have a story of his own to tell. The successes of his administration are real and tangible: reflating a devastated economy, making the first serious attempt in the US to address the climate crisis, improving access to medicines and childcare, reversing the long-term neglect of America’s infrastructure. It is that Biden does not have the vigor, the articulacy, or the charisma to embody that story.”

    Plus, this time Biden won’t have a pandemic working in his favor. While the malign potency of Trump’s poison has only sunk deeper into the American bloodstream.

    But none of this turmoil really matters for those of us living in SC who don’t vote R. Because this state is already in the bag for Trump. And thanks to the Electoral College system, our votes simply will not count. Moreover, due to the highly gerrymandered order imposed on us here, our votes will scarcely matter in other races either.

  7. Brad Warthen Post author

    Y’all, I’ve got a few minutes today — I have a lot to do, but too many people I need to reach are off today — and I’m getting ready to turn to other topics, things I want to touch on before I’m out of pocket for awhile.

    But since I was in such a hurry in writing this post, I went back to look over it, and made some minor wording changes. I also took a more careful look at that NYT editorial. And it’s very well written, as you’d expect. It’s wrong, but it’s well executed, as you would expect. This is The New York Times. If only all bad arguments were presented with such skill, we’d leave in a less rancorous world.

    And why is it wrong? Well, I’ll cite one central point before I move on:

    There are Democratic leaders better equipped to present clear, compelling and energetic alternatives to a second Trump presidency….”

    Really? Name one. You tried to do it in 2020. You failed miserably. Thank God, that time the voters knew better. And you had about 25 eager candidates to choose from.

    That notion, that there’s an alternative — that Joe Biden doesn’t have to run, because there’s someone waiting in the wings who’s fully prepared and is unaccountably being held back — has undergirded every headline we’ve seen in the past four years about how everybody wants alternatives, everyone is so sure that Joe is too old, etc. While Joe has proceeded to do an excellent job as president.

    By reaction remains the same: We’re watching. There you are in your magician suit. There’s your hat? When are you going to pull a rabbit out of it?

    Trouble is, there is no rabbit. There are a LOT of reasons why that is not the case, why in the latest generation supremely talented and experienced people haven’t stepped forward to lead the nation the way people like FDR and JFK did. We’ve seen one such person lately, in the form of Barack Obama. But he appears so far to have been the exception who proves the rule.

    Anyway, as I keep saying, I don’t have time to write a book, or I’d recite those reasons. I’m going to move on now to other subjects…


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