By Edward Achorn
Will the raging cancel culture now cancel the presidential debates? A former press secretary to Bill Clinton hopes so.
Joe Lockhart argued the other day that Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden should not participate in any forum in which President Trump can express his views.
“We saw in the debates in 2016 Hillary Clinton showed a mastery of the issues, every point she made was more honest and bested Trump,” Mr. Lockhart told CNN. “But Trump came out of the debates doing better I think because he just kept repeating the same old lies: ‘we’re going to build a wall and Mexico is going to pay for it,’ ‘we’re going to keep all those Mexican rapists out of the country,’ and ‘we’re going to make great trade deals’ — none of these things have come to pass.”
The Democrat continued:
“Giving him that national forum to continue to spout — get him to 21,000 or 22,000 lies — I think just isn’t worth it for the Democrats or for Biden.”
And Mr. Lockhart is not alone. Biden backers are applauding the University of Notre Dame and the University of Michigan for canceling scheduled presidential debates, citing COVID-19 concerns.
Some on the right insist this has nothing to do with either President Trump’s politics or COVID-19. Democrats, they say, are terrified of presenting Mr. Biden on the same stage as the president because of the 77-year-old Democrat’s supposed “cognitive decline,” allegedly displayed in his strange comments and difficulty completing sentences.
Conservative commentator Dan Bongino tweeted Sunday: “Not a joke and not hyperbole — I’m hearing from people close to the situation that Biden’s cognitive decline is rapidly worsening and becoming increasingly difficult to mask. The Democrats are going to have to make a decision soon.”
Political hyperbole is the essence of American politics these days.
But as a political independent who loves this country, I am troubled by the notion, seemingly gaining ground by the day, that the way to combat speech you do not like is to silence it.
America is not about silencing voices you oppose. It is about the opposite: Putting the people in charge and protecting their right to make up their own minds.
Self-government is impossible unless the people have access to a wide range of ideas and opinions, not just those sanctioned by the left (or right). America’s greatness is founded on tolerance for dissenting views and trust in the people to sort through different ideas.
That philosophy seems to be under all-out attack. Last week, Twitter went after the account of Donald Trump Jr. because he retweeted the video of a press conference by some doctors on the steps of the Supreme Court building. One of those doctors was fired for comments she made about the best way to treat COVID-19 patients.
Is this America anymore?
If these doctors are indeed quacks, the public can figure that out. Since no one has a lock on the truth, how about letting the people hear from all sides? That approach has served this country magnificently since 1776.
Mr. Lockhart professes to believe that one of the two major-party candidates for the presidency — the president himself, to boot — should be blocked from debating because he would disseminate lies. Can’t have the public exposed to lying politicians!
Presidential debates are a relatively recent phenomenon in the life of our republic, but they have served the public well by presenting the candidates in a somewhat unscripted environment. Yes, the format has its limitations. But the public is certainly not hurt by having access to discussions of important public issues — from the left and right. Nor is the public hurt by being armed with impressions of how these politicians perform under pressure.
I would hate to see the debates canceled — not only because the American people would lose this forum, but because another assault on free speech would succeed.
I also think it might backfire. Some swing voters might wonder if Mr. Biden is fit to lead if his supporters will not permit him to participate in presidential debates.
(Read Edward Achorn’s books about American history.)