The best and worst moments in modern presidential debates

Republican presidential candidate, businessman Donald Trump reacts during a Republican presidential primary debate at Fox Theatre, Thursday, March 3, 2016, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

Published: Fusion (September 26, 2016)

As millions of Americans prepare to watch one of the most anticipated presidential debates ever, between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, it’s worthwhile to evaluate previous debates for a sense of what we should look for this year. What have been the best moments? What were the worst? When did our presidents and presidential candidates remind us of the best that our democracy has to offer—and when did their gaffes make us cringe for our country?

The Best:

John Kennedy (1960): Of all the televised presidential debates that have since become the stuff of legend, none are as important as the very first one. Seventy million people tuned in on September 26, 1960, to see Democratic candidate John Kennedy face off against Republican candidate Richard Nixon. The expectations couldn’t have been higher for Kennedy, whose comparative inexperience caused many to doubt whether he was up to the job of being president. Fortunately for Democrats, Kennedy instinctively understood what it took to excel in this format—namely, that you had to talk to the camera rather than your opponent. As journalist and historian Theodore H. White laterexplained, “For Mr. Nixon was debating with Mr. Kennedy as if a board of judges was scoring points; he rebutted and refuted, as he went, the inconsistencies or errors of his opponent. Nixon was addressing himself to Kennedy—but Kennedy was addressing himself to the audience that was the nation.”

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A Tribute to Junk Food

Photo: Flickr - sanfamedia.com/"Chinese Food Canton"

Published: Sweet Tooth Nothings (September 25, 2016)

Yes, you read that correctly. This is a sincere tribute to junk food, as written for the blog of a certifiable health nut (looking at you, Ariel).

I offer this without apology and only a modicum of regret. The regret, of course, is for the years of life I have irretrievably lost due to the damage these years of excess have left on my body. If I don’t improve my habits, even more will be lost in the future. This is the dark cloud that hangs over the head of every junk food aficionado.

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Why we need trolls: Even offensive clowns like Milo Yiannopoulos can be good for the left

Photo: Flickr - Uncalno Tekno/"Twitter"

Published: Salon (September 22, 2016)

Breitbart columnist Milo Yiannopoulos is perhaps the most famous troll in the world right now, in large part because he was banned from Twitter last month and because the head of Breitbart News is now the CEO of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. This, of course, makes it all the more disappointing that Yiannopoulos repeatedly flaked on me when I tried to interview him for this article. (He did, however, participate in a video shoot for Salon and Out magazine featuring my colleague Amanda Marcotte, which produced memorable results you can watch below.)

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Mike Pence, a heartbeat away from the presidency? Now that’s frightening

Photo: Flickr - WFIU Public Radio/Mike Pence

Published: Salon (September 22, 2016)

Why isn’t Mike Pence a major issue in this campaign?

In any other election, Pence would be to a Republican presidential nominee what Sarah Palin was to John McCain back in 2008 — that is, an extreme right-winger whose presence on the ticket is widely regarded as a liability. Of course, this is the year in which the GOP tapped Donald Trump to be its standard-bearer, and when the main attraction is that prone to controversy, it makes sense that anyone running with him will wind up being more or less ignored by the media.

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Back When I Thought the GOP Would Nominate Rand Paul…

Photo: Flickr – DonkeyHotey/”Rand Paul – Caricature”

Published: The Good Men Project (September 20, 2016)

Roughly one year ago, I participated in the group conference call for one of the publications where I freelance. Both I and the other writers were asked to figure out which Republican presidential candidate we thought would be nominated in 2016, under the presumption that we could then cover that individuals campaign if he or she was indeed tapped to be the nominee.

While this plan didn’t pan out for a number of reasons, I still marvel at who I chose and why: Much to my retroactive chagrin, I believed Senator Rand Paul was going to be the Republican presidential candidate this year.

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Hillary’s health and history: She’s not the first candidate to face major medical questions

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton listens as she testifies before the House Select Committee on Benghazi, on Capitol Hill in Washington October 22, 2015. The congressional committee is investigating the deadly 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, when Clinton was the secretary of state.         REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst - RTS5NA6

Published: Salon (September 16, 2016)

After Hillary Clinton nearly collapsed at a 9/11 ceremony earlier this week, allegedly due to pneumonia and overheating, the American public is naturally concerned. On the one hand, people wonder whether Clinton is healthy enough to assume the presidency. On the other, they face the fact that ruling Clinton out for health reasons may lead to the election of a truly dangerous man. What should the voting public do?

In situations like this, recent history can be a useful guide. Although many presidents have struggled with health issues, there are three from the last century or so who did so during the thick of an election campaign: Franklin D. Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, and John F. Kennedy.

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Jews must speak out against Islamophobia: Standing with our Muslim brothers and sisters is critical

Photo: Flickr - Cycling Man/"Jerusalem"

Published: Salon (September 14, 2016)

When news first broke earlier this week that a mosque in Orlando had been set on fire, presumably because it had been attended by Omar Mateen, the man who in June shot 49 people to death at the nightclub Pulse, I immediately thought of Alaa Basatneh. Three weeks earlier I’d interviewed the Syrian-American journalist and activist and had been struck by her optimism.

“I do have faith that, down the road, just like the Jews faced a lot of negativity in the past in the U.S. — and the Irish, the Italians, the Japanese, you know the entire list— things are going to be the same for Muslims,” she had told me. “It’s going to take a lot of time and effort from the Muslim-American community.”

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We must defeat Trump regardless of Clinton’s health problems

Photo: Flickr - Michael Kovac/"hillary clinton"

Published: The Good Men Project (September 13, 2016)

It seems gauche to say this, but the argument has to be made:

Even if the worst rumors about Hillary Clinton’s health are true, she still needs to win this election.

This is a critically important observation, and yet it seems to have been lost amidst the conjectures as to the deeper meaning of her health scare at a 9/11 commemoration earlier this week. There are only two possibilities: Either Clinton is telling the truth – that is, she was diagnosed with pneumonia on Friday and it alone caused her stumble on Sunday – or she is concealing something far worse. There has been plenty of speculation as to the possible details of the latter. Indeed, because a cottage industry of conspiracy theories regarding Clinton’s health pre-existed this recent incident, it’s inevitable that the most outlandish conjectures are going to now assume an aura of legitimacy.

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