Read a book. Listen to a song. Watch a movie. Witness an accident. Your viewpoint might be very different from someone else’s, even though you’ve each experienced the same thing.
The million-dollar question campaigns try to figure out when it comes to elections is: What will resonate with voters and how do we get our message across?
Of course, there are campaign signs and speeches, policy platforms and plans, records to stand on or hide from, catchy slogans and sound bites, fundraiser dinners, slick ads, social and mainstream media, press conferences, debates and the great little town halls where Americans have the opportunity to ask candidates the questions that are important to them.
Through it all, the candidates take on certain personas, and voters form certain perceptions. For instance, Biden has a heart. Trump is mean and tough. Joe is sleepy and a gaffe machine. Donald never sleeps — he’s the Energizer Bunny. The former VP’s plan for COVID-19 is a national mask mandate. The president wants people to be able to make that choice. Biden never lies. Trump has an ongoing tally.
Talk to nine people witnessing the same event at the same time, and you’ll get nine different versions — same as at a crime scene.
But elections aren’t crime scenes. At least, they’re not supposed to be. After all, we live in a democracy where freedom is the bedrock of our founding principles. It’s what makes America great.
So on Thursday night, millions of American families tuned in to or live-streamed two last-minute town halls, with Biden on ABC and Trump on NBC. As if things aren’t exciting enough, they aired at the same time! Between my iPad and the television, it was a challenge to watch.
And for all those who watched, I’m sure there are just as many take-away moments that starkly differed. This was especially clear to me this morning when I read On Politics in the New York Times, by Lisa Lerer: “Welcome to a special dueling-town-hall edition. …” The blue and red boxing-glove icons facing off symbolized that politics is a kind of blood sport that comes with punches and knockouts. One that riles crowds and needs a fair referee to call the shots. And Trump and Biden are in the ring.
With elections a handful of weeks away and a third stunning SCOTUS confirmation likely underway, there’s lots to take in.
Comparing NBC to ABC, the moderators were like night and day: Savannah Guthrie a blasting fire hose at a five-alarmer, and George Stephanopoulos a dripping faucet over an old sink. Lerer saw it differently, characterizing the candidates at the start by comparing their styles to TV shows. Biden’s sized up with programs like “Washington Week” and “The West Wing,” “This Old House” and “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.” And then there’s Trump, a “Breaking Bad” figure slugging it out with fake moves on “WWE Raw,” “The Real Housewives” kind of guy who will say anything on Twitter.
The fighters are introduced as they prepare for the heavyweight match. Here’s Trump, who has had to fight every step of the way since a surprise upset that had many Americans digging in their heels in opposition to his win. In the other corner, Biden, an establishment politician who has been in Washington for half a century and whose plain speak says we should trust him to do something bigger and better than his opponent.
I read further and come to a link connecting to another “Gray Lady” article with headlines that read “combative Trump” and “deliberate Biden.” Says it all.
Trump seems to be fighting the press, the opposition party and Hollywood on same days. So, yes, it is as if Trump is taking on the world. On the other hand, Joe is deliberative. Deliberative like a chipmunk in fall, hiding its nuts.
On NBC, it seemed to be an aggrieved moderator, as usual, with a steady line of questioning (and commenting and … wait, was she debating Trump, too?!). Twenty minutes went by before we got to hear from an audience member. Trump struck a commanding and engaging pose, looking vibrant as he perched on a stool across from Guthrie. They sat on a red, white and blue stage in the round. Lots of Twitter comments referenced the women in the audience who kept nodding in agreement when Trump spoke. He fielded from Guthrie not only questions, but commentary, interruptions and even fact-checks off the cuff from the moderator in red. She refused to accept as legitimate the president’s former and real-time rebukes of dangerous conspiracy theories and spewed misinformation. Guthrie seemed unsatisfied with the president’s disavowals and pushed hard for stronger rebukes, calling into question his handling of the coronavirus. Travel bans, deregulation, PPE, working with governors, hospital ships Comfort and Mercy, temporary hospitals, testing, therapeutics, vaccines and COVID-19 stimulus packages. And the list goes on. A virus from which he, his family and his staff have recovered.
Lerer saw Biden as “offering details.” I saw him as dodgy and wishy-washy on issues of fracking, the “New Green Deal” — he can’t even get the name straight — and his cheat card with tax numbers was a stark contrast to SCOTUS nominee Amy Coney Barrett, who needed no notes throughout days of intense Senate hearings. Joe refuses to take a clear stance on whether or not he and vice-presidential nominee Kamala Harris will pack the Supreme Court, something the late Ruth Bader Ginsberg advised against. He promised to tell voters what exactly is on his mind sometime before Election Day, but millions of Americans have already voted. Moot.
Lerer claims that “some news was committed.”
Like a crime?
Seems like a weak offering for Americans to bank on a Biden promise at this point. He’s been at it for 47 years and thrown a stick in the spokes of social justice and foreign policy, to name two biggies. So when I read “Mr. Biden promised George Stephanopoulos of ABC News that he would clarify his views before Election Day on expanding the size of the Supreme Court” as some kind of news and “a notable pivot for a candidate who has refused to get into the issue,” I’m left with a “no” vote feeling.
Maybe the perception of a nice, old uncle is more comforting than the truth and facts. But the American people have tough questions, and they deserve answers. Sure, it’s nice to call for unity at a time when our country needs it most. I wholeheartedly agree. Every mom understands that when her kids are feuding, it’s not a good time for anyone in her family. And Biden not being straight with the American people isn’t the good-faith step needed to mend broken hearts.
And, yes, Biden is long-winded, meandering down the faraway paths of his childhood and sometimes falling down rabbit holes while his questioners stand for what seems like a very long time, just staring.
Lerer stated, “These weren’t just different channels; they were different worlds.”
She went on to catch, as most Americans probably did, the strange and defeatist answer to what would happen if he lost the election. Was Biden telegraphing when he waxed melancholic for a second there?
“It could say I’m a lousy candidate and I didn’t do a good job,” he said.
But then with a divisive, one-two punch to the president and all of his so-called deplorables, he said, “But I think — I hope — that it doesn’t say that we are as racially, ethnically and religiously at odds with one another as it appears the president wants us to be.”
“We” meaning, of course, with emphasis, the Left.
These last couple weeks have been bad for moderators in general. C-Span suspended Steve Sculley, the man slated to moderate the second debate that never happened, scrapping any future moderating after he admitted he lied about his Twitter account being hacked after he sent a message to a former Trump aide who turned attack dog and who also happens to be on the “unbiased” debate commission that chose Sculley in the first place. A series of COVID-19 cases within the Trump campaign following news that Hope Hicks had tested positive for coronavirus squashed that scheduled debate anyway, and thank goodness, for obvious reasons.
Suddenly, though, we ended up with distanced debates on separate channels. And did anyone mention that Guthrie’s husband, Michael Feldman, worked as a democratic political aide? Nah.
And you have to ask why the networks are so quick to quash some science and promote other science. It’s like they have selective science hearing. We all know science is about looking at all the data and there is, counter to Guthrie’s dismissive tone, evidence out of the WHO looking at Sweden’s open approach, suggesting that the use of face coverings, with their little to no efficacy, should be left up to the people to decide.
President Trump, meanwhile, does exaggerate. What else is new? Everything’s huge, or fantastic, or perfect. But a fervent Guthrie rushed in repeatedly to call out the president with a little too much vim and vigor. Seems less neutral, more antagonistic. The president wants Americans to have the right to choose whether to wear a mask, and by that he means, as we all do, a cloth face covering, not to be confused with an N95.
The insinuation that Trump would have stepped onto the first debate stage knowing he was sick was pretty strong from Guthrie. If the president “danced around the question” about testing, fair enough, but still. At the same time, Biden declared that he has been tested every day with the “long swabs.” OK.
It was peculiar that neither Stephanopoulos nor the town-hall guests questioned the former VP about a breaking story in The New York Post alleged damning emails between Biden and his son, Hunter, over shady money. Not a one.
And does Joe want us to know about his tax plan, which will slam everyone from the low-wage workers and the elite corporations to those middle-class families in between? He says under $400,000, but I’m not so sure. Plus, I need more than Moody’s Analytics to prove Joe’s going to hammer out 18.6 million jobs when exorbitant taxes will probably reverse course and send decent jobs away from the USA for good.
For every expert on the left, there’s one on the right.
Lerer is left unclear which side won the argument on Thursday night, but one thing is clear to me: Two messages came through. All talk or all show. Establishment politician or game-changing outsider. Ashamed of America or proud as hell of her.
It’s all perception.
Bonnie J. Toomey teaches at Plymouth State University and writes about writing, learning and life in the 21st century. You can follow Parent Forward on Twitter at https://twitter.com/bonniejtoomey. Learn more at www.parentforward.blogspot.com or visit bonniejtoomey.com.
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