So, Just How Bad Was the Debate? Are You Sitting Down? (2024)


Biden didn’t look like he is up to the job.

By Ben Mathis-Lilley

So, Just How Bad Was the Debate? Are You Sitting Down? (1)

Welcome toHow Bad Is This, Really?, a recurring feature in which we take the temperature of the presidential race and what seems likely to happen in November.

Joe Biden may not be too old to run the country, per se. He can still deliver a speech, and his administration’s positions on issues like Israel suggest that he is still responsible for determining its—aw, forget it, we know what you’re here for.

Which is: The president got absolutely lost during Thursday night’s debate while attempting to make a point about … something, possibly Medicare enrollment, and it looked terrible. Here is the video.

Out of professional obligation I transcribed this entire answer, including the 20 seconds of waking nightmare Chernobyl-meltdown silence at the end, rather than doing what I wanted to, which was finding a baseball game to watch and trying to forget it happened:

What I’m going to do is fix the tax system. For example, we have a thousand trillionaires in America—I mean billionaires in America. And what’s happening? They’re in a situation where they in fact pay 8.2 percent in taxes. If they just paid 24 percent, 25 percent, either one of those numbers, they’d raise 500 million dollars, billion dollars, I should say, in a 10-year period. We’d be able to wipe out his debt, we’d be able to help make sure all those things we need to do—child care, elder care, making sure we’d be able to make every single solitary person eligible for what I’ve been able to do with the, uh, with the COVID, excuse me, with, um … dealing with everything we have to do with … uh … look … if, we finally beat—Medicare.





(The reference to “his debt” is to the budget deficit built up under Donald Trump’s administration.)

Well, what can you say? Maybe you could say that it would be nice if the people whose votes will determine the outcome of the Biden-Trump election considered the matchup in a larger context. As president, Biden has in fact done what the average voter tends to say a president should be doing on a range of issues, from protecting abortion rights post-Dobbs to negotiating a bipartisan gun safety bill and a bipartisan border security bill. (The latter didn’t become law.)

That’s the sad irony here: that on a substantive level, Biden has governed for the well-intentioned-but-kind-of-checked-out regular person who thinks that politicians should get together and be practical and fix things. The conservative American Enterprise Institute think tank recently wrote that the CHIPS Act, which Biden signed, and which subsidizes domestic semiconductor manufacturing, has been “surprisingly successful.” The American Enterprise Institute! Don’t voters understand the significance of that? It’s a leading think tank!!!


But of course the median undecided voter probably hasn’t heard of the CHIPS Act or the American Enterprise Institute. (When Biden brought the former up during the debate—in response to a question about his age—it registered as a non sequitur.) Legislation is for dorks, and swing voters get to choose a candidate based on things like whether they think he “seems like he’d be good with cats” or “has a relatable haircut.” In the most important moment possible—the very start of the first presidential debate!—Biden conveyed to such voters that he is physically frail and declining mentally. It was ugly.


So regardless of what the Democratic Party does next—I’d suggest starting here—the one thing it can’t do is order voters to judiciously contextualize what they saw. That’s not how the game works—nor, jokes aside, should it work that way. In a democracy, it’s your job to appeal to them, whatever their criteria might be. If they’re voting on haircuts and you’re losing, it’s time to convene a new-haircut focus group.



We conclude this column with a rating on theShovel Meter, a measure of exactly how sedated you might want to be, on a scale of one to five shovel blows to the head, if you’re concerned about Trump’s reelection. Tonight, and only because the art department was too busy to make “six shovels and an oversized, threatening hammer,” the rating is five shovels.

So, Just How Bad Was the Debate? Are You Sitting Down? (2)

Like, a David Fincher hammer, hanging on the wall in some pervert’s garage as it slowly dawns on the audience that a truly terrible thing is about to happen. Anyway, have a good weekend, July Fourth is coming up!

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So, Just How Bad Was the Debate? Are You Sitting Down? (2024)
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