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EDITORIAL: Unwatchable debate obscures policy differences

Updated October 2, 2020 - 10:10 am

America is the greatest country in the history of the world. You wouldn’t know it from watching Tuesday’s presidential debate.

The first one-on-one confrontation between President Donald Trump and Joe Biden was borderline unwatchable. There was so much crosstalk and such a lack of decorum that it was often difficult to hear what was said.

Most of the blame lies with Mr. Trump, who frequently interrupted Mr. Biden. Even for someone whose shtick is being outspoken and demeaning, this was unpresidential behavior. Mr. Biden, of course, couldn’t resist descending into the muck and leveled his own personal insults at Mr. Trump. He called the president, among other things, a “clown” and “racist,” and told him to “shut up.” The tenor of the debate reflected poorly on both candidates.

Perhaps the best summation of the evening came from pollster Frank Luntz, who watched with a group of undecided voters. “This debate has actually convinced some undecided voters to not vote at all,” Mr. Luntz tweeted.

That would be a mistake. Although it was easy to miss among the theatrics, these candidates have two fundamentally different visions of America.

The debate was a missed opportunity for Mr. Trump. Instead of offering belligerence and confrontation, the president should have allowed Mr. Biden to showcase the depth to which radical positions such as “defunding” the police and identity politics have become ingrained in progressive circles. Mr. Biden also came close to claiming that America is irredeemably racist, which ignores decades of real progress in order to play to the far left.

In the span of a few seconds, Mr. Biden also went from supporting the Green New Deal to opposing it. His website, however, calls it a “crucial framework.” Mr. Trump rightly opposes that budget-busting scheme, which would simultaneously raise energy prices and destroy the domestic oil and gas industry. Mr. Biden said “antifa is an idea, not an organization.” The president acknowledged reality, decrying it as “dangerous and radical.”

Perhaps most tellingly, Mr. Biden refused to say if he supported eliminating the filibuster and packing the Supreme Court. He said he didn’t want his position to become an issue. What? He’s running for president. Voters need to be able to evaluate his positions. Obfuscating on an important issue isn’t the characteristic of a statesman.

It would be nice if Mr. Trump were a more polite and articulate defender of economic growth and American institutions. But, like him or not, you know where he stands. The same can’t be said of Mr. Biden.

Let’s hope next time the two candidates treat the debate stage as a forum for reaching undecided voters rather than as an unfiltered Twitter feed. But that’s probably too much to ask these days.

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