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Bruce Bialosky

The Second Great American Lie

There are many lies that Americans are told either by our government or by the compliant press that wants to manipulate us. There are two in our modern society that override all others. The first we have reviewed many times – that a college education is essential for your success in modern society. The second that has been foisted upon us since 1960 is that presidential debates are crucial for our electoral process. It is unclear which lie is worse.

The latter has been perpetuated ever since the Kennedy-Nixon debates. There were four debates, and they were consequential to that razor thin election. An estimated 70 million Americans watched the first debate versus a projection that 30 million will watch Trump vs. Biden despite a near doubling of our population.

The 1960 debates did nothing to create a demand such that there was not another presidential debate until 1976, four election cycles later. It was not until three election cycles after that in 1986 when the Commission on Presidential Debates was formed. There were, however, debates in 1980 and 1984. To tell you how stale this concept continues to be, Frank Fahrenkopf has been co-chair since the formation of the commission. He is even older (84) than the two candidates.

Can anyone tell us how these debates have enhanced our election process since that time? Has there been any substantive policy discussions in the debates since that time that has changed the course of an election? There was a comment by President Ford in 1976 that was a policy mistake, but the only memorable one since then was President Obama arguing that Russia was not the biggest threat to America in his debate with Mitt Romney.

You may remember Romney stated Russia was “our biggest geopolitical foe.” Obama came back with a planned comment stating, “The 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back because the Cold War’s been over for 20 years.” Then Mr. Obama’s party went off for the next twelve years and acted as if Romney was correct. They have made Putin into the world’s worst villain even though China is a far bigger threat to America.

That was after Candy Crowley, moderator of the second Obama-Romney debate, stepped in as a self-appointed fact checker and told Romney he was wrong about his comment regarding the Benghazi attack. That act validated the fact that most moderators are among the biggest problems with the debates.

There is virtually no way to get even-handed moderators in our current political/press environment. Does anyone think that the moderators of the upcoming two debates between Trump and Biden will be fair to Trump? They all hate him. Biden refused to do a debate with FOX journalists because Trump would have had an actual fighting chance with them. They are real journalists, just by virtue of not being certified Trump haters. Forget Trump. Does anyone believe any other Republican would have a fighting chance when the moderators are coming from the Legacy media?

Then there is the sheer stupidity of the formats that have existed. The candidates get about two minutes to comment on a question and then the other candidate gets one minute for rebuttal. In the CNN debate, there is discussion on cutting off the mics when time is up. These formats are so juvenile and lead to few, if any, informative comments.

That is why the most memorable moments are almost universally what are referred to as “zingers.” Or there is something like when George H.W. Bush was caught looking at his watch, in 1992, as if he were bored by the entire matter. The candidates are not allowed to ask questions of the opposing candidate. Thus, the moderators and their framing of questions become as important, if not more so, than the candidates.

There is the aftermath of the debates. Does anyone believe the Legacy media will declare that Trump won a debate? At best, they might say he didn’t lose the debate. If one person other than the token Republicans at NYT and WAPO were to say Trump won the debates, it would be worthy of a fainting moment.

How about those fact checkers like PolitiFact and Glenn Kessler at WAPO? They both spend the day fact checking Trump statements as a commonplace matter but let slide virtually everything Biden says. After a long diatribe, Kessler finally stated Biden was lying about the fact inflation was 9% when he came into office (it was 1.4%). PolitiFact could not bring itself to criticize the statement 15 million jobs were created during Biden’s presidency, but jobs were lost during Trump’s. Everyone knows a substantial portion of the jobs “created” by Biden were people resuming their Covid-restricted jobs, and they were the jobs “lost” during the Trump presidency. You can bet Biden will invoke that 15 million number during the debates.

Nate Silver, known for his statistical analysis, recently stated “Debates lead to a more informed public – in principle, anyway.” Yes, supposedly. He also explained, “As someone who studies these dynamics extensively and even tried to model them out, I can tell you with confidence that polling bounces created by things like debate wins have a shelf-life.” That means the June debate will have little or no effect on the election except if Biden falls flat on his face and as Silver says he gets pulled from the ticket in the Dems’ August convention.

Presidential debates are a great hoax pulled on Americans. They provide little benefit because of their inherent slant and limiting format. Most people will skip them and wait to be annoyed by the armchair pontificators’ analysis in the aftermath. The only question left is how much Adderall will Biden take before the debate?