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Impressions from the First Debate

Memo from the Editorial Desk: Nothing particularly insightful here. Just a few thoughts that floated through the consciousness of your oft humbled scribe in the days following Monday night's presidential debate.

I think Hillary Clinton was most effective when she laid out policy positions, less so when she went directly after Trump. Not everyone saw it that way. David Brooks at PBS criticized her for getting too much down in the weeds. He believes the presenting voters with two or three signature policies is more effective than delivering a laundry list.

Clinton's needling and jibes got to Trump and brought out, well, who he is. I did not find it appealing, but I do not need to be convinced. My opinion of Trump is formed and firm. I suppose that there are people somewhere who might still be swayed one way or the other.

Where does the act of throwing light on statements and actions that cast Trump in a bad light shade over into a focus on making the case against him instead of the case for Clinton? The common wisdom is that people may say they disapprove of negative campaigning but they are swayed by it. In fairness to Clinton, until recently the so-called liberal media basically gave Trump a pass as facile conceptions of objectivity and balance resulted in abdication of the responsibility for accurate reporting, leaving it to the Clinton campaign and a few voices crying in the wilderness to fill the void.

Michael Tomasky has written about the media's dismal performance in The Daily Beast and The New York Review of Books.

All politicians lie sometimes, and it is highly unfortunate that Clinton wasn’t always truthful about some of her personal affairs, like the email server business. But generally speaking she doesn’t lie about the world. Despite all the nonsense and millions wasted on serial investigations, no one has proven she ever said a false word about Benghazi. Trump lies about the world constantly—as well as, by the way, lying about his personal affairs far more egregiously than she.

Fact-checking can take any number of forms here. But the main hurdle is psychic. The big corporate media have to decide that they want to be in the truth business instead of the ratings business or the entertainment business or the false-equivalence-so-conservatives-don’t-get-mad-at-us business. That’s the question. Sixty days and counting. (It's Time for the Media to Step Up and Call Out Donald Trump's Many Lies)

Even so, the approach falls in the basket with negative advertising. While this may be legitimate up to a point given the circumstances, I do not care for it. Moreover, the tactic is risky even when justified. On the other hand, with that kind of thinking I probably could not be elected dogcatcher, as they say. At any rate Clinton did not sink anywhere near as low as Howard Dean went with the innuendo that Trump might be using cocaine. Yes, Dean has since apologized. He should be ashamed and Democrats embarrassed.

Will the debate change anyone's mind or vote? Or will it just firm up opinions already held, as with the Georgia woman interviewed on NPR who said that she was a reluctant Hillary supporter before the debate, an enthusiastic one after.

Facebook provides a bit of a cross-section of the electorate. My "friends," and by extension my friends' friends, run the gamut from those who supported Clinton from the outset to the ones who moved on to her after "feeling the Bern" to Hillary haters, Trump supporters, backers of Jill Stein or Gary Johnson, and purists who will not vote on the principle that to choose the lesser evil is still to choose evil. I do not altogether buy the common formulation that puts the choice down to lesser evil vs. greater evil. Be that as it may. Refusal to choose the lesser evil makes us complicit when the greater evil triumphs.

Tomasky's essay in New York Review is titled Can the Unthinkable Happen? I fear that it can. We shall see.

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