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Drowning My Sorrows

March 16, 2020 (1,228 words)

Last night’s big one-on-one debate between Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders turned out to be a big disappointment. At least the first half-hour or so was, after which I turned it off and went to bed.

I had been looking forward to a dramatic last stand on the part of Mr. Sanders, where he would summon his almost thirty years of consistent advocacy and eloquently make the case once again for a more just and equitable economy.

But it was not to be. Instead, the two contenders kept reassuring us that as president each of them would see to it any victims of the COVID-19 pandemic would receive the medical care they need, regardless of the individual’s ability to pay.

Both men also said any economic fall-out suffered by those missing time or even losing their jobs during this unprecedented shutdown would be made whole.

Point taken. But why keep saying the same thing, over and over again?

Partly this unnecessary repetition was the fault of the three journalists asking the questions. Though composed and professional, they were unable to go off script and improvise. This had them asking each candidate a question that had just inadvertently been answered, due to the politicians’ proclivity to get their talking points in, no matter what.

And partly this was the fault of the two candidates themselves, who were unable to step back and recognize the “new” question being asked had just been answered at the tail end of their previous responses.

So each man just plowed ahead, filling their allotted 90 seconds by regurgitating the same verbiage.

I was particularly disappointed by Mr. Sanders. He took this opportunity to stress how the new virus exposes flaws in our current healthcare system, and restate his well-known preference for a single-payer arrangement.

If there is a connection between the two, I am unable to see it. And in pressing the point Mr. Sanders struck me, an enthusiastic supporter of his, as a bit tone deaf.

an inability to properly modulate the message…

He seemed unable to modulate. Saying we need to “shut Trump up” is not the language of a leader. Coarsely describing the people who run pharmaceutical companies as “crooks” may arouse the passionate base at a boisterous rally, but was unbecoming in the intimate context of last night’s setting.

It’s not that I disagree with what Mr. Sanders said. But I deeply regret the way he chose to express himself.

I found myself reflecting on and beginning to understand what Democratic primary voters have been telling exit pollsters the last two weeks: They have chosen Biden because they see Sanders as trading in the same sort of recalcitrant rhetoric as President Trump.

And speaking of our feckless leader, I left work early today and happened to catch this afternoon’s White House press briefing on the COVID-19 outbreak live, from the comfort of my favorite chair.

This was the second briefing in two days I was able to watch for myself. The six or seven people standing behind the President were pretty much the same lineup as Sunday’s press conference. Most of them got a chance to speak both days, and everyone who spoke was equally impressive both days.

But I must say President Trump was noticeably more assured and less strident this afternoon, less defensive. He seemed more comfortable handing off tough questions to his subordinates, not worried that doing so would make him look bad. He gave the impression of a man thoroughly engaged with the problem, but not afraid to admit he lacks supreme, all-knowing expertise in this area.

And Vice-President Pence, who has made no impression on me whatsoever during his three years in office, was nothing less than a revelation today. He was able to summarize the administration’s recent efforts concisely, exhibited appealing decorum toward both the press and the President, and did right by every member of the team up there on the podium.

Maybe the administration did not respond appropriately or fast enough to this pandemic in the beginning. But now it seems they have gotten their feet under them and are hitting their stride. And yes, even Mr. Trump – judging by this afternoon’s press briefing – seems to be getting better in this matter as he goes along.

ringing a familiar bell…

But you would never know that by tuning into the cable news outlets that are dedicated to highlighting the President’s incompetence.

Immediately following the live feed of today’s news conference, one channel talked about what he did wrong yesterday. Another was discussing what he did wrong two weeks ago. And yet another was harping on the thousand or so lies he has uttered from that very same podium over the course of his administration.

I’m not here to debate recent history, folks, only to point out that this afternoon the President did good.

Some may chalk up this unexpected display to a blind squirrel finding the occasional chestnut. Or to the fact that even a broken clock tells the right time twice a day. But I prefer to attribute Trump’s effective press briefing performance to grace.

Such grace is available to any one of us, no matter the magnitude of our failings. Regardless how many times we have faltered and fallen short in the past, we can always rally. Provided we are willing to forego our own selfish agenda and start focusing on the common good.

When that happens, something is instinctively tapped that brings out the best in us.

Whether the tiny kernel of statesmanship I witnessed this afternoon proves to be a fleeting moment, an isolated incident never to be conjured again, remains to be seen.

But who knows, maybe it’s not too late for this old dog to learn something new from today, and from this crisis, and possibly build upon it.

In any event, the team he has assembled around him, as represented on the podium these last two days, will do right by us.

With that in mind, it now strikes me as almost inappropriate for last night’s journalists to have asked Biden and Sanders what each of them would do in the face of the COVID-19 outbreak, were either of them President at this very moment.

While it may be a question on everyone’s mind, it’s also a question that sows seeds of doubt. It shows disrespect for the phalanx of people who are working around the clock to figure out what to do NEXT, and how best to coordinate the effort.

To sum up then, it now appears Mr. Biden will cruise to the Democratic nomination, because Middle America has decided it wants a return to normalcy and is not ready for a revolution.

And Mr. Trump may very well win a second term, if he manages to convince Middle America from this point forward that he has addressed the current crisis in a responsible and compassionate manner.

The tragedy in all this is that whoever wins next November, we will be stuck with the same old status quo when it comes to the economic question.

Those of us who seek a more just and equitable world, and who were starting to get our hopes up with worthy standard bearers like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren in the Democratic race, will mourn a missed opportunity to begin transforming American society for the better.

Robert J. Cavanaugh, Jr.
March 16, 2020

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