I really don’t have much positive to say about the 1st presidential debate last Tuesday, in Cleveland, Ohio, but I feel that history ought to be clear that I was not indifferent to what I saw take place. In fact, I was happily trying to consign it to the back of my mind. I had several feelings about the event and the participants.
The moderator: I don’t watch a lot of TV, and rarely watch US political analysis and commentary shows, these days; election night coverage can be exciting. I sometimes use to watch Meet The Press on Sundays with Tim Russert (a sort of acquaintance), then with David Gregory; rarely with Chris Todd. It used to be a perfect prelude to an afternoon of American football on TV. I started that trend because of early trips to the USA, when I stayed with English friends, and that’s how Sundays began. I had grown up in England using Sunday mornings for reading the quality papers—The Sunday Times and The Observer—often sitting on the floor. It was often a great time with my first-born, when she could roam and if she felt destructive, tearing newspaper was no big deal—there was enough paper to go around the house many times. I guess I never watched Chris Wallace because I do not watch Fox News. Simple. I’ve heard him speak many times and wondered if he was a Trojan horse there.
Anyway, it was clear early on that Wallace was on a hiding to nothing with President Trump, who went exactly where I had said to my wife he would go—jugular, distracting, disrespectful, mendacious, disruptive, and a host of other ‘destabilizing’ oral tricks that I’ve seen employed in parts, but rarely in a full-bore package all the time. My experience of it has been when people rattle off a lot of information, mostly vague, often incorrect, and then stop any attempts to investigate, correct, or deal with them in any calm and collected manner—it’s bullying tactics. The ‘opponent’ then becomes frustrated and angry, loses his/her own strategy and is laid bare for the kill. So, I saw Wallace having to wrestle with this as Joe Biden was given ‘the treatment’. As they say in England: ‘Not a hope in Hell, mate’.
The president also did the ‘Devil’s work’ by labelling the moderator (known as not one of his sympathizers) as part of the ‘opposition’ he had to deal with—2 v 1–helping to frame himself as ‘victim’: “First of all, I guess I’m debating you, not him, but that’s okay, I’m not surprised…” Of the many phrases that will stick in my memory, this will be one.
His supporters latched onto that and put Wallace on ‘Team Joe’:
Quite elegant, as sabotage goes. Wallace was now totally neutralized in the role he should be playing, as the neutral referee. Job done!
But, Wallace helped to bring the wall down on himself:
The incumbent president. I took a view long before the 2016 election that it was in my personal interest to do several things regarding then-candidate Donald Trump. Its genesis was way back and had plenty to do with the ‘Central Park 5’, for whom he had called for the death penalty and staunchly refused to apologize after they were found to be innocent.
1. Do not listen to too much of what he has to say; most of it is false, in the way that anyone who follows news and developments with some attention could spot easily. I’m not ordinary in that sense, as it’s been part of my working life to do that and it went to another level when I traded foreign exchange: news moves markets and rumours are rife; one must sift rumours fast for their essential truth or falsehood, otherwise, you’ll end up on the wrong side of the market. So, I have never watched or listened to anything he said in its entirety. I was comfortable doing that because reports tended to confirm my priors, that much of what was going on was obfuscation, to give it a nice term.
2. Insurance policies are there for ‘rainy days’ to help you survive some shocks. My insurance was the insulation of the preceding actions, plus some specific things that showed I did not drink any of the ‘magic elixir’ that was being dripped onto other tongues. It helps because I am fiercely independent-thinking and have no problems drawing my own conclusions based on evidence. If I have no evidence, I try to deduce what the balance of evidence is likely saying—it also comes from trading, but also from working at the IMF, where dealing with governments was often about finding out what was the gap they did not want you to see in the information they fed you. You can usually do it by knowing what ought to corroborate what. So, if the finance minister said he did not spend, then the government’s account central bank accounts would not decline. But, it could also not decline if the minister could find a way of spending that was ‘off budget’; aha, that’s neat, but also not too hard to figure out, if you know who could possibly play that role.
The challenger: From what I have seen of Joe Biden over the years, he doesn’t come across as someone who’s afraid of getting into an actual street fight or a ‘street fight’ fit for a more refined audience. Again, as they say in England: “I don’t want to meet him in a dark alley any night.” At the risk of stereotyping, his strong Irish roots are clear to see and he has a gritty belligerence that anyone who has lived in Irish communities would spot from far away. I’m sure his briefing included advice like “You know he’s going to hit low and do it early. Absorb the pain, but don’t go low yourself. Try to stay on the higher ground. Got that?” I’m sure he nodded, sagely. But, what I know about intense contests, is that when you’re trying to stay fair and work within the rules but your opponent is just looking to bend or break them against you all the time, staying on the high ground is for angels. You give as good as you get. So, Joe will be forever famous for “Will you shut up, man?”. (It’s worth watching the lead up, including “He doesn’t know what he’s talking about”—for sure, something that the president doesn’t like to hear—and decide for yourself, if and when you would have come out with a similar phrase.)
What I also know about Biden is what we saw of him as VP to President Obama; they were complementary to each other and I took the view that Obama’s mantra of “Obama, no drama” meant that Joe couldn’t have been wilding it like an out of control of express train. Simply put, Obama did not surround himself with people who would have seemed well cast for parts in ‘One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest’. He’s obviously well-grounded in the minutiae of US representational politics—which doesn’t mean he’s straight as an arrow or lily-white clean, but has a political track record that stands up well, if it’s really scrutinized with some sort of objectivity.
Of course, the ‘debate’ quickly descended into a debacle. I gave up watching after about 30 minutes. My wife decided that another episode or ‘Wallender’ on Netflix would be calming and more rewarding—Kenneth Brangh can be like morphine. We both had a great night’s sleep.
I don’t know what people are doing trying to score this event. It was described in words I used as a ‘shit show’ (excuse my language, but it’s really apposite). Jake Tapper has the quote: “That was a hot mess, inside a dumpster fire, inside a train wreck.”
Yesterday morning, I was on the ‘train’ that was not heading to Florida for the next offering, even if it’s the vice presidential candidates; I really thought VP Biden would do the decent, but risky thing and say ‘No mas’, but that would be a clear ‘win’ for The Donald. Well, sense has prevailed for now and new rules are to be employed for the remaining debates. I was one who asked early on why the mikes couldn’t be switched off when it’s not a person’s time to speak, at least any efforts to interrupt would have to be at such volume and with such vigour as to make it see borderline truly confrontational.
New rules for the debates will be coming, though not yet fully formulated and not yet agreed by the opposing sides:
We’ll have to see if the original schedule holds: ‘The 2020 presidential debates are scheduled from 9:00pm to 10:30pm Eastern time on September 29th, October 15th and October 22nd. The vice presidential debate is scheduled from 9pm to 10:30pm Eastern time on October 7th.’ Will new rules govern the vice presidential debate? The chili already has plenty of hot pepper in it, but could it be getting even more?