Over the weekend, Bill Clinton Press Secretary Joe Lockhart urged Joe Biden not to debate Donald Trump. Lochart’s rationale was that the president has “made more than 20,000 misleading or false statements.” Putting aside the questionable accuracy of the claim (Lockhart picked it up from the Washington Post), so what? The purpose of the debates in large measure is for candidates armed with solid facts to expose their opponents’ lies. A Biden supporter should welcome the opportunity for his candidate to take Trump down.
Of course doing so would presuppose that Biden is truthful, which itself is a pretty big reach. In any case, as Lockhart acknowledges, skipping the debates is a gamble.
Today a writer for the New York Times carried Lockhart’s recommendation to its illogical conclusion. Elizabeth Drew argues that the presidential debates as a custom should be scrapped altogether. “The debates,” she writes, “have never made sense as a test for presidential leadership. In fact, one could argue that they reward precisely the opposite of what we want in a president. When we were serious about the presidency, we wanted intelligence, thoughtfulness, knowledge, empathy and, to be sure, likability. It should also go without saying, dignity.”
When we were serious about the presidency? You mean Drew is currently not?
As one who is quite serious about the presidency, I couldn’t disagree more about the debates’ validity as a test for presidential leadership. The debates provide a rare opportunity for voters to hear the candidates speak at least partly extempore. They also provide a unique test of a candidate’s ability think on his feet.
Besides, the real reason Drew favors abolishing the debates is the unsteadiness cognitively speaking of one of the two current major party candidates. I’ll let you guess which one.