The Presidential and Vice-Presidential Debates are coming, so here is what to look for. It is impossible to imagine that anyone will be watching who is not already familiar with the candidates’ positions and records. What the debates show us is something different. How do they respond in real time under pressure, without staff or briefing books? We watch the debates to evaluate their temperament and to get a sense of how effective they can be in negotiating with Congress and with international leaders, friendly and less friendly.
If I were advising Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, I would tell them to say this:
I’m going to spend my time here making sure the American people understand how I see the problems facing this country and what my plans are to address them. I will not have time to fact-check every statement made by my opponent. I’m leaving that to my staff, who will be posting fact-checks in real time, with documentation showing our sources. They will also be fact-checking me. Any mistake I make will be corrected, again showing exactly where we get our information.
Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan used to say that we are all entitled to our own opinion but we are not entitled to our own facts. The one core foundational premise most of society has agreed on for centuries is that opinion and action should be based on indisputable facts, at least until we discover newer, better, truer ones. I understand that we are living in a time of great suspicion of authority and establishment sources. And so it is tempting to believe anyone who tells you that you are not getting the real story.
The advantage and disadvantage of getting news online is that it eliminates most hierarchies of information. Bloggers appear next to the same space as established news organizations with a record of integrity, transparency, and upholding ethical standards. Sometimes that’s good. More often it is not. The problem with undermining mainstream media is that it leaves you with crackpot/Russian bots/Qnon/OANN/social media, which Donald Trump has positioned as more valid. So he responds to tweets from randos, intentionally or inadvertently giving them more credibility.
I’m not asking you to trust me. I’m asking you to double, triple, and quadruple check all of us. I want you to see which candidates rely on facts and science and which ones use expressions like “many people are saying” without giving you a name. Which ones are transparent, releasing our tax records, making public the names of the people we meet with to talk about policy? Let me announce right here that when I am elected, we will make public every document the Trump administration has tried to hide from the American people, omitting only the information most vital for national security.
And for those of you who do not want to rely on experts and credentials, let me ask you, when you get on a plane, take your child to the doctor, decide where to invest your 401(k), are you going to rely on an expert with a proven record or something you read online?