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The Presidential Debates Can’t Be Fixed but They Can Be Eliminated

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When President Trump and a hazy and dimwitted Joe Biden engaged in the first and, as it turned out, the only presidential debate of this election cycle, these are the questions faced by each candidate from Fox News’s Chris Wallace over the course of the affair. I want you to take just a few minutes to read them.

  1. President Trump, you nominated Amy Coney Barrett over the weekend to succeed the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the court.

You say the Constitution is clear about your obligation and the Senate’s to consider a nominee to the court. Vice President Biden, you say that this is an effort by the president and Republicans to jam through an appointment and what you call an abuse of power.

My first question to both of you tonight, why are you right and make the argument you make, and your opponent wrong? And where do you think a Justice Barrett would take the court?

2. Mr. President, the Supreme Court will hear a case a week after the election in which the Trump administration, along with 18 state attorneys general are seeking to overturn Obamacare, to end Obamacare. You, in the course of these four years have never come up with a comprehensive plan to replace Obamacare and just this last Thursday, you signed a largely symbolic executive order to protect people with pre-existing conditions five days before this debate.

So my question, sir, is what is the Trump health care plan?

3. President Trump, you have repeatedly either contradicted or been at odds with some of your government’s own top scientists. The week before last, the head of the Centers for Disease Control, Dr. Redfield, said it would be summer before the vaccine would become generally available to the public. You said that he was confused and mistaken. Those were your two words.

4. President Trump, you have begun to increasingly question the effectiveness of masks as a disease preventer. And in fact, recently you have cited the issue of — of waiters touching their masks and touching plates. Are you questioning the efficacy of masks?

5. I want to ask you both about one last subject because your different approaches has even affected the way that you have campaigned. President Trump, you’re holding the large rallies with crowds packed together, thousands of people. Vice President Biden, you are holding much smaller events with people with masks. All right. In any case, why are you holding the big rallies? Why you not? You go first, sir.[Biden never answered this question.]

6. The economy is, I think it’s fair to say, recovering faster than expected from the shutdownin the second quarter. The unemployment rate fell to 8.4 percent last month. The Federal Reserve says the hit to growth, which is going to be there, is not going to be nearly as big as they had expected. President Trump, you say we are in a V-shaped recovery. Vice President Biden, you say it’s more of a K-shape. What difference does that mean to the American people in terms of the economy? President Trump, in this segment you go first.

7. But first, Mr. President, as you well know there’s a new report that in 2016, the year you were elected president and 2017 your first year as president, that you paid $750 a year in federal income tax each of those years.

I know that you pay a lot of other taxes but I’m asking you this specific question, is it true that you pay $750 in Federal income taxes each of those two years.

8. Mr. President, we’re talking about the economy. I’d like to ask you about your plans going forward because, Mr. Vice President, your economic plan if you were to be elected president focuses a lot on big government, big taxes, big spending.

I want to focus first on the taxes.

You proposed more than $4 trillion over a decade on new taxes on individuals making more than $400,000 a year and on corporations. President Trump says that that kind of an increase in taxes is going to hurt the economy as it’s just coming out of a recession.

9. The issue of race. Vice President Biden, you say that President Trump’s response to the violence in Charlottesville three years ago when he talked about “very fine people on both sides” was what directly led you to launch this run for president. President Trump, you have often said that you believe you have done more for Black Americans than any president with a possible exception of Abraham Lincoln. My question for the two of you is why should voters trust you rather than your opponent to deal with the race issues facing this country over the next four years?

10. This month, your administration directed federal agencies to end racial sensitivity training that addresses white privilege or critical race theory. Why did you decide to do that, to end racial sensitivity training?

And do you believe that there is systemic racism in this country, sir?

10. There has been a dramatic increase in homicides in America this summer particularly. And you often blame that on Democratic mayors and Democratic governors. But in fact, there have been equivalent spikes in Republican-led cities like Tulsa and Fort Worth. So the question is, is this really a party issue?

11. You have repeatedly criticized the vice president for not specifically calling out Antifa and other left-wing extremist groups but are you willing tonight to condemn white supremacists and militia groups and to say that they need to stand down and not add to the violence in a number of these cities, as we saw in Kenosha and as we’ve seen in Portland?

12. When a president – I’m going to ask a question. When the president seeks a second term, it is generally a referendum on his record, but Vice President Biden, you like to quote one of your dad’s sayings, which is don’t compare me to the almighty. Compare me to the alternative. And in this case, sir, you are the alternative. Looking at both of your records, I’m going to ask each of you why should voters elect you president over your opponent?

13. The forest fires in the west are raging now. They have burned millions of acres. They have displaced hundreds of thousands of people. When state officials there blame the fires on climate change, Mr. President, you said I don’t think the science knows.

Over your four years you have pulled the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Accord. You have rolled back a number of Obama environmental records. What do you believe about the science of climate change and what will you do in the next four years to confront it?

14. As we meet tonight, millions of Americans are receiving mail-in ballots or going to vote early. How confident should we be that this will be a fair election? And what are you prepared to do over the next five-plus weeks, because it will not only be to Election Day, but also counting some ballots, mail-in ballots after Election Day, what are you prepared to do to reassure the American people that the next president will be the legitimate winner of this election?

15. President Trump, you’re going to be able to continue. You have been charging for months that mail-in voting is going to be a disaster. You say it’s rigged. You said it’s going to lead to fraud. But in 2018, in the last midterm election, 31 million people voted mail-in voting. That was a quarter, more than a quarter of all the voters that either cast their ballots by mail. Now that millions of mail-in ballots have gone out, what are you going to do about it, and are you counting on the Supreme Court, including a Justice Barrett, to settle any disputes?

16. In eight states, election workers are prohibited currently by law, eight states, from even beginning to process ballots, even take them out of the envelopes and flatten them, until Election Day.

That means that it’s likely, because there’s going to be a huge increase in mail-in balloting, that we are not going to know on election night who the winner is, that it could be days; it could be weeks until we find out who the new president is.

So I — first for you, sir, finally for the — for the vice president. I hope neither of you will interrupt the other. Will you urge your supporters to stay calm during this extended period, not to engage in any civil unrest?

And will you pledge tonight that you will not declare victory until the election has been independently certified? President Trump, you go first.

  1. Same question [ACB’s nomination] to you, Vice President Biden.

2. All right. I have one final question for you, Mr. Vice President. If Senate Republicans — we were talking originally about the Supreme Court here. If Senate Republicans go ahead and confirm Justice Barrett, there has been talk about ending the filibuster or even packing the court, adding to the nine justices there. You called this a distraction by the president, but in fact it wasn’t brought up by the president; it was brought up by some of your Democratic colleagues in the Congress. So my question to you, is you have refused in the past to talk about it. Are you willing to tell the American people tonight whether or not you will support either ending the filibuster, or packing the court?

3. All right, the second subject is COVID-19, which is an awfully serious subject so let’s try to be serious about it. We have had more than 7 million cases of coronavirus in the United States and more than 200,000 people have died. Even after we produce a vaccine, experts say that it could be months or even years before we come back to anything approaching normal.

My question for both of you, is based on what you have said and done so far and what you have said you would do starting in 2021, why should the American people trust you more than your opponent to deal with this public health crisis going forward? In this case, the question goes it to you first, sir. [NOTE: I don’t think President Trump ever got the chance to actually answer this question.]

4. Mr. Vice President, I want to pick up on this question, though. You say the public can trust the scientists, but they can’t trust President Trump. In fact, you said that again tonight.

Your running mate, Senator Harris, goes further, saying the public health experts, quote, “will be muzzled, will be suppressed.”

Given the fact that polls already show that people are concerned about the vaccine and are reluctant to take it, are you and your running mate Senator Harris contributing to that fear?

5. When it comes to how the virus has been handled so far the two of you have taken very different approaches and this is going to affect how the virus is handled going forward by whichever of you ends up becoming the next president. I want to quickly go through several of those.

Reopenings, Vice President Biden, you have been much more reluctant than President Trump about reopening the economy and schools. Why, sir?

6. The economy is, I think it’s fair to say, recovering faster than expected from the shutdownin the second quarter. The unemployment rate fell to 8.4 percent last month. The Federal Reserve says the hit to growth, which is going to be there, is not going to be nearly as big as they had expected. President Trump, you say we are in a V-shaped recovery. Vice President Biden, you say it’s more of a K-shape. What difference does that mean to the American people in terms of the economy? President Trump, in this segment you go first.

7. Vice President Biden, you want to respond? [To the Trump tax return question.]

8. Mr. President, we’re talking about the economy. I’d like to ask you about your plans going forward because, Mr. Vice President, your economic plan if you were to be elected president focuses a lot on big government, big taxes, big spending.

I want to focus first on the taxes.

You proposed more than $4 trillion over a decade on new taxes on individuals making more than $400,000 a year and on corporations. President Trump says that that kind of an increase in taxes is going to hurt the economy as it’s just coming out of a recession.

9. The issue of race. Vice President Biden, you say that President Trump’s response to the violence in Charlottesville three years ago when he talked about “very fine people on both sides” was what directly led you to launch this run for president. President Trump, you have often said that you believe you have done more for Black Americans than any president with a possible exception of Abraham Lincoln. My question for the two of you is why should voters trust you rather than your opponent to deal with the race issues facing this country over the next four years?

10. Vice President Biden, after the grand jury and the Breonna Taylor case decided not to charge any of the police with homicide, you said it raises the question, quote “whether justice could be equally applied in America.” do you believe that there is a separate but unequal system of justice for blacks in this country?

11. What does reimagining policing mean and do you support the Black Lives Matter call for community control of policing?

12. In Portland, Oregon, especially, we had more than 100 straight days of protests — which I think you would agree, you talk about peaceful protests — many of those turned into riots.

Mr. Vice President, you say that people who commit crimes should be held accountable. The question I have though is, as the Democratic nominee — and earlier tonight you said that you are the Democratic Party night now — have you ever called the Democratic mayor of Portland or the Democratic governor of Oregon and said, hey, you’ve got to stop this. Bring in the National Guard, do whatever it takes. But you’d stop the days and months of violence in Portland.

13. When a president – I’m going to ask a question.When the president seeks a second term, it is generally a referendum on his record, but Vice President Biden, you like to quote one of your dad’s sayings, which is don’t compare me to the almighty. Compare me to the alternative. And in this case, sir, you are the alternative. Looking at both of your records, I’m going to ask each of you why should voters elect you president over your opponent?

14. Vice President, I’d like to respond to the president’s climate change record. But I also want to ask you about a concern. You proposed $2 trillion in green jobs.

You talk about new limits. Not abolishing. But new limits on fracking, ending the use of fossil fuels to generate electricity by 2035, and zero net emission of greenhouse gases by 2050. The president says a lot of these things would tank the economy and cost millions of jobs.

15. As we meet tonight, millions of Americans are receiving mail-in ballots or going to vote early. How confident should we be that this will be a fair election? And what are you prepared to do over the next five-plus weeks, because it will not only be to Election Day, but also counting some ballots, mail-in ballots after Election Day, what are you prepared to do to reassure the American people that the next president will be the legitimate winner of this election?

In this final segment, Mr. Vice President, you go first.

16. Vice President Biden, the biggest problem in fact over the years with mail-in voting has not been fraud, historically. It has been that sizable numbers, sometimes hundreds of thousands of ballots are thrown out because they have not been properly filled out, or there is some other irregularity where they missed the deadline. So the question I have come are you concerned that the Supreme Court, with a Justice Barrett, will settle any dispute?

17. Vice President Biden, final question for you. Will you urge your supporters to stay calm while the vote is counted?

And will you pledge not to declare victory until the election is independently certified?

The entire debate could best be summarized by “Mr. Vice President, tell us why President Trump is a very, very bad man and totally unsuited for the position he holds.” Not only did Wallace actively push lies (this would be the “very fine people” lie), some of the questions are asking for Biden’s critique of Trump administration policies and don’t faintly resemble a debate. While we are served up a bullsh** question on climate change in the context of California forest fires that have zero to do with climate change, major policy debates are ignored. Where were the foreign policy questions, like Chinese expansionism, China trade, the TikTok and WeChat bans? How about NATO funding and the US role in Europe? How about tariffs and trade policy? Immigration? Not a single question on DREAMers was asked. We know Biden was cowering in the White House situation room when bin Laden was killed; why was this not contrasted to Trump ordering Qassem Suleimani killed? In short, there was not really a substantive question that was anything more than Joe Biden being asked how he, in theory, would do something better than Trump.

Now we’ve seen the Commission of Presidential Debates act to rescue Joe Biden from being boat raced once again by abruptly changing the rules agreed to by both candidates in favor of some kind of nonsensical “virtual debate.” There was no need for this, as Trump has been cleared to go back on the campaign trail. On the heels of the debacle of the virtual debate, we got a glimpse at another side of the debates. C-SPAN’s Steve Scully, who was scheduled to moderate the now-canceled debate, was apparently engaged in a behind-the-scenes conversation with Trump pal, and now Trump nemesis Anthony Scaramucci. A missent tweet gives the impression that the two were strategizing how to sandbag President Trump. Scully claimed that his Twitter account was hacked without proof or credibility, an excuse he’s trotted out twice before. Scully was somehow chosen to moderate the debate despite having worked for both Joe Biden and Ted Kennedy on Capitol Hill.

If we look back over the last few years, we find all the problems identified with this year’s debate are recurring. In 2012, the singularly misnamed Candy Crowley white-knighted President Obama on the one occasion that a supine Mitt Romney looked poised to score points. We’ve seen prominent Democrat activists used for moderators under the excuse that they were now acting as “journalists” and, as such, could not possibly be biased. In 2016, Donna Brazile was caught passing on debate questions to Hillary Clinton. Now it seems like that she may have simply been caught doing what has always been done. I don’t think any sane person believes Scully’s twitter account was hacked, which points to the debates having become merely another political weapon.

Some on our side are all-in for the debates:

I think this is lunacy.

In these debates, several things happen. Our candidates are grilled by people who are hostile to them and their vision for the nation. Their opponent is given softball questions. The past statements and employment history of proposed moderators and their relationships with prominent Democrats do not seem to be disqualifying in any respect.

I’m with my friend Ben Domenech in adding ineffectiveness to malice and political shenanigans.

The presidential debates are nothing more than the political equivalent of WWE. You have crowd favorites, crooked refs, and scripted moves. It might be entertainment of some bizarre variety, but it is not useful to the process of selecting a president.

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