OPINION: Biden remains the better choice in the election (2024)

When it comes to the issue of debates, perception is often just as crucial as reality and substance.

There is no way to codify the fact that Joe Biden’s debate performance last week was nothing short of dismal. The ferocity we witnessed at his State of the Union earlier this year was absent, although his performance did incrementally improve as the evening progressed.

The debate was an opportunity for Biden to ask the American people about what direction they wanted the nation to go: an optimistic future or a dystopian one. Unfortunately, on both counts, the president failed to deliver.

That said, former President Trump had a poor night as well. Admittedly, in contrast to Biden, he began the evening strong, but as the debate continued, he appeared and sounded more incoherent. Every answer he gave contained a considerable degree of lying. Even more disturbingly, he steadfastly refused to state he would abide by the results of the 2024 election. True to his character, he was abrupt, combative, and ruthlessly negative. As Trump sees it, the nation is a few steps away from implosion.

Trump’s positions on anything and everything shift and slide at will, and he lies about his own past with pathological confidence — during the debate, he denied that he had sex with Stormy Daniels while alternatively praising the white supremacists who emerged on Charlottesville in June 2017. He ignored questions and talked about what he wanted to — asked about the opiate crisis, he resorted to stories about sex crimes, out-of-control borders, immigrants taking “Black and Hispanic jobs,” and other dishonest nonsense.

In an effort to reassure some demoralized supporters, the president delivered an energetic speech in North Carolina the day after the debate, where he candidly confessed “I don’t walk as easily as I used to, I don’t speak as smoothly as I used to, I don’t debate as well as I used to.”

He went on, “But I know what I do know. I know how to tell the truth. I know right from wrong. I know how to do this job,” to rousing applause.

Prominent Democratic operatives such as Barack Obama, Bill and Hillary Clinton, and the Democratic National Committee have made it clear that they stand behind the president amid nervous calls for him to drop out of the race. It is interesting to note that many of the mainstream press, save for the Philadelphia Inquirer and a small number of pundits, did not suggest that President Trump resign, despite the fact that he is a convicted felon, sexual harasser, insurrectionist etc… Double standards seem to abound when it comes to critiquing both men.

The importance of presidential debates themselves is, in fact, up for debate. Many credit John F. Kennedy’s narrow victory in November 1960 with the fact he looked more appealing and telegenic than Richard Nixon. Some believe Gerald Ford may have forfeited the 1976 election when he mishandled a question about Soviet military strength in Eastern Europe. An ill-advised decision to keep looking at his watch became a memorable footnote in President George H.W. Bush’s defeat against Bill Clinton in 1992.

A first debate does not always guarantee a final outcome. Ronald Reagan in 1984, Barack Obama in 2012, and Grover Cleveland during his first presidency in 1884 (he was elected twice) were seen as the underdogs after their initial debate performances, yet went on to win their elections decisively.

It is troubling the Republican Party has refused to deeply consider the type of person it has decided to support as its party nominee. Trump’s own behavior, past and present, should be grounds for disqualification. He lied brazenly and repeatedly about his own actions, his record as president, and President Biden. The Republican Party has been sabotaged by Trump’s ambitions. Thus, it is up to the nation’s voters to decide whether they will place the interests of the nation above the ambitions of an unhinged, immoral man.

Joseph Biden was the first vice president to serve under a president of color. He is the first president to serve with a Black vice president, and the only president to serve with a female vice president. In a nation that historically has been deeply politically ingrained in racial conflict, such a fact itself is glaringly noteworthy. Regardless of whether Biden remains the Democratic nominee, this is a fact that will be permanently etched as a part of his administration’s history and presidential legacy.

Elwood Watson is a professor of history, Black studies, and gender and sexuality studies at East Tennessee State University. He is also an author and public speaker.

OPINION: Biden remains the better choice in the election (2024)

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