GELFAND’S WORLD - Remember when Americans of all stripes were united in opposing Stalinist incursion against western democracy? When we resisted Russian power by staging tanks and troops in NATO countries and by developing the full nuclear triad?
Now let's imagine how Americans would have reacted had President Eisenhower admitted that he was a conscious agent of the Russian empire (as the John Birch Society accused him). So where is the astonishment, the outrage, the anger, when Donald Trump all but admits that he is doing the bidding of the once-Soviet dictators of the new Russian Empire?
The main difference is that Trump did not sheepishly confess the facts under interrogation. He bragged and preened about leaving Russia to do "whatever the hell they want" to any NATO country that doesn't keep up with the level of military spending that is expected.
I bring these things up to introduce a bit of context to the latest story about Joe Biden -- the story that a special prosecutor referred to Biden as elderly and forgetful, even as he absolved the president of any criminal obligation for having some boxes of government files in his garage.
On one side, we have a reckless, impulsive individual who always believes he knows best, even when experts and his own advisors tell him different. On the other, we have the current president, admittedly four years older than he was when he ran in 2020, and a man who has always had difficulty getting his words out. We might frame the difference as between a man who can think and a man who can talk.
The right-wing apologists, recognizing Trump's mental deficits, have been trying to tar Biden with the same difficulties. They claim he is senile, old, demented -- you name it and we have heard it -- even though Biden's close advisers and members of the press say the opposite.
So how will the American people get a chance to evaluate the competing candidates? As much as it pains me to say so, the last, best chance will be in some sort of candidates' debate. Let's once again pit them against each other and see what happens. If Biden is exactly what the experts say he is, then he will have the chance to demonstrate himself on live television.
Here's a wild thought. Instead of redoing the modern debate standard, where some news anchor asks Gotcha questions, we go back to an earlier style.
A much earlier style -- Give each candidate time for opening remarks, and then give each candidate a longer period of time (maybe 30 minutes) to say whatever he likes. Then go around for another 30 minutes. Go back to the 1800s.
It might very well be something that could appeal to both candidates. Trump likes to speak at length. Biden isn't all that good at coming up with a snap response to the gotcha question but does well when he has time to think. Trump will have the chance to appeal to his supporters at length. Biden will have the chance to frame his argument carefully, without rushing his words.
Aside: Many commenters like to refer back to the Kennedy - Nixon debates of 1960. You can get a feel for them by watching the first debate here. It's true that this debate had a panel of newsmen who asked questions (and they used gotcha questions, particularly against Nixon), but the format included 8 minute opening statements from the candidates. Another interesting point is that John Kennedy framed the question as between Democratic and Republican Party philosophy and rule. Just as Franklin Roosevelt spoke proudly of liberalism, Kennedy spoke of Democratic Party governance as a positive good.
The other point about the 1960 debates that modern people will find somewhat refreshing is that the candidates treated each other with respect. (I wonder what would happen were Joe Biden to start talking about Donald Trump with a little bit of respect -- as the former president.)
There is no doubt that Biden had a bad day when he attempted to respond to the special prosecutor’s report. You are not going to win a lot of votes by saying angrily, "My memory's just fine." And the fact that lots of people criticized the special prosecutor for going out of his lane wasn't really helpful to Biden. If he wants to get past this, he needs to communicate who he is and what he is doing.
Sixty minutes of stupor in the Super Bowl
It's like the old joke about what it's like to be an anesthesiologist: Hours of boredom and moments of terror.
In what may have been the most boring Super Bowl of all time, and certainly the most boring first half, the Kansas City Chiefs won in overtime by a score of 25 - 22, thereby sealing a victory for Joe Biden in the 2024 presidential election. At least that would be the case if we were to take the latest MAGA conspiracy theorizing seriously. Remember when it was claimed that the year-long plot had been for KC to win, and for Taylor Swift to join her boyfriend Travis Kelce in endorsing Biden at halftime? I wondered how Kelce could get out of the locker room and Swift could get onto the field, and Usher would be pushed aside, all so that the big announcement could be made. But conspiracies work in mysterious ways.
In any case, KC couldn't be bothered to mount a field - length touchdown drive during the regulation 60 minutes, waiting until the second overtime possession to put together a cohesive offense.
Whatever. You have to give them some slack when it comes to 3 Super Bowl victories in 5 years. One of them is allowed to be a stinker.
Remember when people looked forward to the commercials? We had to wait hours to get even one Budweiser Clydesdale ad, but when it came it had a dog and a sort of Santa's sleigh/Rudolph plot to it.
The most jarring moment on Super Sunday was the Robert F. Kennedy Jr presidential ad, which featured some of the musical jingle from the John F. Kennedy campaign of 1960. RFK Jr's own family immediately complained, since they do not support him (and his anti-vaccine views). RFK Jr apologized to his family, but pointed out that the ad was done by an independent political action committee.
Political scientists are trying to figure out which major party candidate would be hurt more by an RFK Jr candidacy. Biden supporters worry that the Kennedy name will draw some Democratic votes. Trump supporters recognize that a Libertarian Party campaign could draw votes away from the Republican side. Is RFK Jr a potential Ross Perot, or just one more name attached to a third party?
(Bob Gelfand writes on science, culture, and politics for CityWatch. He can be reached at [email protected].)