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‘Time to start taking choice of president seriously’

Roberts, Bill

In politics, the coming year will be what we make of it. We can go on with what amounts to mud wrestling or we can have an honest debate about the future and direction of our country. It really is up to us.

Joe Biden has a good line, “Don’t compare me to the almighty, compare me to the alternative.” That might seem self-evident in that few humans – and fewer still in politics – are godly. But given Donald Trump’s carefully honed ability to keep the focus on himself, we should remember it.

If we can include in that comparison the candidates’ actual positions on important issues, perhaps we can have a real presidential election instead of whatever it is that is going on now. For that to happen, however, we will have to insist upon it.

I left a meeting in July with thoughts like that. It was a Western Slope-based group called Restore the Balance and it is made up of thoughtful people – including some I count as friends – who are concerned about the direction our politics has taken. The group’s members are well-intentioned, and respect courtesy and civil discourse.

I agree with those values. But I do question the efficacy of their approach.

For one thing, I am not sure there is a balance to restore. And such an attempt sounds to me too much like “bothsideism” – sometimes called “false balance” – the tendency to treat opposing views as equally valid or meaningful.

I think doing so would be a distortion of the clear facts. While Biden’s presumptive opponent continually demonstrates the emotional development of a 3-year-old, the sitting president has been delivering a master class in what it looks like to be an adult.

How to look at what Biden has done in office depends, of course, on the observer’s point of view. Conservatives will no doubt be less appreciative than progressives. But there is no denying he has been busy. (See: https://www.whitehouse.gov/therecord.) And the way he has acted has been welcome – just the calm, deliberate behavior of an experienced grownup.

Is that an endorsement? No. There is too much time before the election and too many things could happen. But it does seem like time to start taking the choice of a president seriously.

So far, the news has been dominated – not by the issues or Americans’ honestly divergent views – but by Trump’s ability to suck all the oxygen out of the room, and television’s natural draw toward drama and spectacle. That is not fair to the other Republican candidates, Biden or the voters.

Moreover, some of the discussion seems coded. Take Biden’s age, for example. The president is 80, which would seem to be a legitimate issue. But at 77, the former president is not that much younger. What I hear when Biden’s age is brought up sounds more like an oblique expression of fear that we could have a Black woman as president.

Rather than be fearful, however, perhaps we should embrace what Abraham Lincoln called “the better angels of our nature.” While that is unlikely to become the theme for 2024, it could be a valuable yardstick. Every time a candidate speaks, we can ask ourselves if what was said reflects our strengths and aspirations or our worst weaknesses.

Trump’s legal issues are not for us to decide. But it is up to us to choose what kind of election –and what kind of country – we have. We can start by refusing to allow one individual to turn the world’s premier democracy into a soap opera.

From 1990 to 2017, Bill Roberts was Opinion editor at The Durango Herald.