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From the ridiculous to the sublime

Last presidential debate goes without a hitch

By Ricky Browne

Last night’s Presidential debate was civil, and therefore a bit of a let down for the estimated 21 million viewers who were expecting an even more acrimonious debate than the first one.

There was no name calling and very little in the way of interruptions.

In fact President Donald Trump looked quite presidential, staying on topic allowing Joe Biden to make his points. And for his part Biden didn’t call the President a clown or tell him to shut up, and he didn’t drone on too much about issues that had little to do with the topic at hand.

It made the late night chat shows a little difficult. They had been hoping for some TV gold. But instead they got two contenders each acting like they were sane enough to run the United States and lead the free world.

So who won?

It depends who you talk to.

President Donald Trump during the debate

The Trump supporters will say that Trump won. He acted Presidential, he pointed out that Biden might be corrupt, he was gracious. He questioned why Biden didn’t do any of the things he’s promising to do now when he was Vice President in the Obama administration. Trump supporters may be a little disappointed that he didn’t launch a full blown attack on Biden. But they’ll like that Trump demonstrated that he is more than bluster and that he can get down to the details.

Joe Biden shows off his mask during the debate

The Biden supporters will say that Biden won. He deflected charges of corruption. He barely stuttered. He pretty much stayed on topic and spoke directly to the viewer. True that Trump criticised him for that move, saying it was a typical politician’s ploy to take the attention off the real issue at hand. But they will be glad that Biden didn’t appear to be going senile and that he was able to give a bit of bluster, like when he referred to himself in the third person.

So they both came out as winners.

But perhaps the biggest winner of the night was moderator Kristen Walker, who came in for much praise on how she handled the debate, particularly in contrast to the first debate.

Kristen Walker during the debate

She even got complimented mid-debate by Trump who told her that he thought she was doing a great job.

“So far, I respect very much the way you’re handling this, I have to say,” Trump said to Welker during the debate.

Quite high praise, especially as he had stated before the debate that he thought she would be unfair and that she was a Democrat supporter.

“I’m jealous”, said Chris Wallace, the first moderator, to Fox News “I would have liked to have been able to moderate that debate and get a real exchange of views instead of hundreds of interruptions.

Other winners included the viewers, potentially, as they were able to hear views exchanged in a civil environment. But not those viewers who wanted to see an exciting escalation in the cut, thrust and slap behaviour of the first debate.

SUBSTANCE

Over all Biden was more pessimistic than Trump. “We are going into a dark winter, a dark winter,” said Biden talking about the pandemic. “He says we are learning to live with it… we are learning to die with it.”

Biden also sidestepped who created the cages for refugee children at the border. Trump brought up that a photo that showed children in cages to show his administration in a bad light, was actually a photo that had been taken in 2014. “Who created those cages Joe?” but Biden sidestepped the question.

Biden checks the time during the debate. Photo: PBS

Towards the end of the debate, after the moderator noted that they were running out of time, Biden slipped up by looking intently at his watch.

The move was a reminder of a similar occasion in 1992 when then President George Bush (the first) did the same thing during his debate with contenders Bill Clinton and Ross Perot. It was widely thought at the time that it was another nail in Bush’s coffin when it came to his chances of winning a second term.

On the topic of energy, Biden basically said that he intended to end the oil industry. and move towards renewables. “Did you hear that Texas?” asked Trump, adding Pennsylvania, Oklahoma and Ohio to the list of states that depend on the oil industry.

“You know who I am, you know who he is,” Biden said at one point, in a remark which his supporters cheered.

Talking about the coronavirus, Trump said he was the father of a young child, (Barron aged 14) and how his son had caught the virus. This seemed to take Biden aback, and indeed it was a detail not much mentioned before, though Trump and his wife’s status was known. Actually Melania Trump had announced Barron’s status some days previously.

STYLE

Dress wise, what was interesting was Trump’s decision to wear cufflinks, and Biden to go with normal buttons. Was it an attempt by Biden to show his closeness to the grass roots, not wearing the more upmarket cufflinks? Was Trump’s decision to wear cufflinks to show the kind seriousness that a role at the top of the ladder entails?

Melania joins President Trump on the stage after the debate

Also dress wise, at the end of the debate Melania walked onto the stage wearing a face mask this time, black, matching her dress. Jill followed also wearing a mask, but her’s was a floral design cut from the same cloth as her floral dress.

The Biden’ don their masks at the end of the debate

The two appeared to be showing a different political philosophy to the divisive mask. Melania seemed to be exhibiting a soberness and seriousness, showing that masks may not be great but they are utilitarian and necessary. In contrast Jill seemed to be promoting the idea that masks can be fun and that they are here to stay, with one to match every outfit in your wardrobe.

It is doubtful that last night’s debate will have changed the opinions of anyone planning already to vote for Trump or Biden, though it may make them feel more comfortable in their decision.

Trump and Biden during the debate

For that minority of voters who are still undecided, the ability of Trump to show that he can also be level-headed, could swing some voters who have been turned off by his sometimes less-than-restrained behaviour.

On Biden’s behalf, he was successful in not damaging his image — except maybe in the eyes of voters from the all-important states that rely on oil. But it is unlikely that he moved the needle much for those viewers who have not yet decided to vote for him.

With the election less than two weeks away, the ground war is likely to escalate, with both sides becoming less restrained in their mud-slinging. Both sides appear confident of victory, though worried that the election could be stolen from them illigitmately.

In all likelihood, whoever wins, the United States will be in for a less than happy Thanksgiving. In fact, many may want to get their hands on a version of the much touted mute button from last night’s debate.

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