Ten Ethics Observations:
1. I showed a photo from the first Presidential debate in 1960 to introduce the post Chris added his comments to, earning his Comment of the Day. Maybe I should have shown a video. Jack Kennedy was a Machiavellian phony of more style than talent, and Richard Nixon was more talented but just as ruthless and more unstable. Yet both conducted themselves as dignified aspirants to an honored office and role in our government, with sober and substantive answers to neutral questions that never betrayed the intense dislike the two men had for each other. Compare that event to what was on display last night. There are reasons for it, but no excusing it. Both men harmed the nation and the office last night with their ugly attitudes toward each other. As a result, they harmed the process, and democratic institutions.
2. The lack of a handshake was inexcusable, and shame on both campaigns and the debate commission for permitting this departure from traditional civility, as well as all concerned for giving the fake excuse of caution regarding the Wuhan virus. The two adversaries could have worn gloves and masks; hell, they could have worn suits of medieval armor for all I care. They needed to signal the traditional respect of each other even if they have none.
Shame on everyone.
3. Trump’s constant interruptions of Biden and “bullying,” as it is being described in many forums, were bad form and poor strategy: Biden was vague and sometimes incomprehensible. Ethically, the President’s rudeness raises a familiar tit for tat dilemma. In his 2016 debate with Paul Ryan, Biden’s tactic was to mug, sigh, cackle, mock, and generally do everything he could to interfere with poor, polite Paul Ryan’s attempts to talk about policy, while moderator Martha Raddatz made Ryan look weak. Trump decided that if that was going to be Biden’s game again—and it was—he wasn’t going to make Ryan’s mistake and be passive. So he acted as rude and jerkish as Biden, and made his contempt for and distrust of the moderator clear from the beginning.
4. I suspect Biden was drugged. He looked drugged last night; his pupils looked huge. The Trump team wanted to require a drug test, and though that was partially gamesmanship, it was also a fair request, given legitimate questions about Biden’s health, which should be the equivalent in this race of what Trump’s taxes were in 2016.
5. I don’t like either of these men as personalities, as elected officials, and as leaders, potential or otherwise. The difference is that President Trump has never pretended to be any different than he appears and sounds. W.S. Gilbert had a libretto he was inexplicably obsessed with about a magic lozenge that turned people into whatever they were pretending to be. (It helped break up his partnership with Sullivan, who refused to set it to music.) If Donald Trump ate that lozenge, it would have no effect at all. If Joe Biden did, he would turn into a nice guy. His supposed appeal is that he’s decent, trustworthy official, whatever his other deficits. He isn’t, and last night it was obvious that he isn’t. I can’t see anyone who was inclined to vote for Trump being put off by last night’s debate, but I can see Biden losing the votes of those who want someone more “Presidential.”
6. The real ethics villain last night was moderator Chris Wallace. Debate moderating can define a career; why a veteran broadcast journalist like Wallace wouldn’t be determined to play it straight is a myster. Ask fair and clear questions, let the candidates answer, and allow the opposing candidate to offer a response. How hard is that? Yet he couldn’t do it.
Wallace seemed to think the debate was just another set of interviews on his Fox News show. He repeatedly interrupted both candidates, especially the President, challenging some statements while leaving others oddly untouched. When Trump made a crack about having to debate both Biden and Wallace, he was exactly right, and I doubt that it was lost on the TV audience.
7. Wallace should have shut down the ad hominem attacks, insults and incivility. He didn’t. Biden told the President of the United States to “shut up.” A fair moderator would have admonished him and penalized him.
8. Essentially, Wallace’s whole performance as moderator should have made it clear to any semi-conscious, social-media brainwashed fool that the news media is all in now trying to carry Biden over the finish line. His questions to Trump were framed as accusations. He assumed facts not in evidence, like linking the California fires to global warming. He used at least two Big Lies on the list. Wallace deceived viewers, calling Critical Race Theory training “sensitivity training.”
Biden wearied noticeably as the night wore on—there’s a reason he wanted to take breaks every 30 minutes—and Wallace appeared to be trying to help him finish the night without incident. Unethical, of course.
9. The media will be doing its usual list of Trump “lies,” but Biden was equally if not more dishonest last night. He denied so many positions that he has supported that an effective ad could be made using contrasting video clips. Does he support the cretinous “Green New Deal” or not?
Biden’s refusal to say whether he would support packing the Supreme Court and eliminating the filibuster was more damning than anything either candidate said they would support, and I suspect when all shakes out, it will be regarded as the most important statement in the debate. However, if we’re talking lies, Biden’s insistence that his ne’re do well son did nothing wrong regarding his position with Burisma is a self-evident whopper. Hunter Biden accepting any position with Burisma was per se influence peddling, creating an unethical conflict of interest for the then-Vice President of the United States.
10. The fact that (I assume) the media consensus will be that Biden “won” the debate because he didn’t faint or start singing nursery rhymes shows just how unethical it is for him to be the Democratic candidate. This really is an election strategy relying on hate, and that is unethical, just as the entire 2016 Post Election Ethics Train Wreck has been unethical. Biden’s statement that he, and not the socialist Bernie Sanders is the Democratic Party may have been a serious mistake, as Trump suggested when Biden made it.
I remain dubious that a sufficient number of progressives who don’t like, respect or agree with Biden will still vote for him. We shall see.
Below, via screenshot, are the comments that were transferred to the next post when I did whatever it was that I did.