Finding Hope in the Post-debate Fog

The Presidential Debate.  Progressive Christians and most democrats were knocked off balance by President Joe Biden’s dismal performance in the highly-touted Presidential Debate on Thursday, June 27th.  Indeed, given Biden’s strong record as president, coupled with former President Trump’s penchant for endless lies and “full-blown crazy,” many of us Democrats were eager to tune in for what we were confident would be a marked contrast in leadership style and competence–all of which would strengthen Biden’s prospects for a robust win in the election on November 5th.

On a whole range of issues–from immigration reform and reproductive health care, to our support of NATO and Ukraine in its war with Putin’s Russia, and on to climate change and the tremendous success the Biden administration has had with the economy–we were confident our president would make his case to the American people.

To say Biden “fumbled” would be an understatement.  For starters, it turns out he had a cold, which left him looking pale and with a raspy, weak voice.  From the moment he responded to the first question put to him by CNN moderators Jake Tapper and Dana Bash, he seemed “off,” to where we couldn’t believe what we were witnessing.  Other than scoring a few points about Trump being a whiner and a pathological liar, he missed opportunity after opportunity to score points on many of the above-noted issues.

The panic that followed Biden’s poor debate performance.  As panic settled in across the country, we found ourselves mired in a fog of confusion bordering on despair.  Indeed, the shock of Biden’s debate stumble ignited an over-reaction on multiple fronts.  To be sure, behind closed doors, there was a lot of buzz about replacing Biden at the top of the Democratic ticket.  Even the editorial board of the New York Times opined that, for the good of the country, Biden should step down.

What is amazing about the overreaction is the lack of understanding about how complicated it is to change a presidential candidate with only four months left until the election.  First off, Biden would have to agree to step down.  Given his nature, along with his strong post-debate performance the following day in Raleigh, North Carolina, that is unlikely to happen.

At that rally, toward the end of his remarks, Biden said something to the effect:

“Look, I know I’m not a young man anymore, to state the obvious.  I don’t walk like I used to walk.  I don’t speak like I used to speak.  I don’t debate like I used to debate.

“But I know what I do know.  I know how to tell the truth.  I now how to tell right from wrong.  And friends, I know how to do this job.  (pause) And I know what all Americans know: that when you get knocked down, you get back up.  (another pause)  Friends, the stakes are too high.  I can do this job.”

“Wow,” we might say a few days later.  “Where was this guy on the debate night?”  Other than having what seemed to be a minor cold (he certainly displayed cold-like symptoms), what else was hampering his debate performance?  Was he over-prepared, with too many facts and numbers pounding in his brain?  This might well be the case.  So, what are we to do?

Getting back up” and resuming the fight.  On the positive side, most leaders in the democratic party have rallied around President Biden.  While not sugar-coating his performance, they acknowledge that it was only one ninety minute debate and that, sometimes, everybody has a bad day.  Once the post-debate fog clears, what democrats and other Biden supporters need to do is remain firmly in the Biden camp and applaud his fighting spirit.

Biden’s age has been an issue from the start.  This is exacerbated by the fact that he looks old and acts old.  But on the positive side, it is not his age that makes presidential decisions; he makes the decisions.  And, truth be told, his presidency has been one of the most successful in recent decades.  He functions well at doing what we need the President of the United States to do.  His infrastructure success, along with his inflation reduction program, have been positive achievements.  His leadership with NATO, along with the strong coalition he put together in support of Ukraine, have been outstanding.

When Biden says, “I can do this job,” he’s right.  He can.  So, again, what do we do?  What we do is help get Biden back on track and then turn the focus of our attention again on to Trump.  There doesn’t need to be a referendum on Biden’s age.  He’s old.  Everyone admits that.  The referendum needs to be on Trump and his alarming unfitness for office.

We have four months until the November election.  Over these months, the American public should be reminded every day that Donald Trump is a felon.  Before a jury of his peers, he was convicted of 34 felonies.  He is a criminal.

Raising high the banner of our Christian faith.  And for us at Progressive, Donald Trump is the antithesis of a Christian.  In spite of the shameless support he receives from conservative-evangelical Christians, he couldn’t be any more un-Christian.  When does Trump ever “love his enemies?”  When does he “turn the other cheek?”  And when does he ever quiet his tongue and not “judge not that he not be judged?”  Trump has no concept of the Golden Rule: to “do to others as he would have them do to him.”

The hope that rises up through the post-debate fog is precisely the hope that a majority of Americans will continue to see the goodness and decency of Joe Biden, in stark contrast to the corrupt and contemptible ways of Donald Trump; and that this majority–in order to save our democracy and preserve our freedoms–will cast their vote for President Biden on November 5th.

The Rev. Dr. Jeffrey Frantz is a retired United Church of Christ minister.  He had long-term pastorates in San Diego County and in Miami Lakes, Florida.  His service as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Panama in the late sixties spurred his commitment to social justice ministries and to a spirit of ecumenism as a local church pastor.  He holds a Doctor of Ministry degree from the Pacific School of Religion. He is the author of The Bible You Didn’t Know You Could Believe In, The God You Didn’t Know You Could Believe Inand his just-published book: The Jesus You Didn’t Know You Could Believe In. Dr. Frantz and his wife, Yvette, are now retired and living in Florida.

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