Presidential Debate Commission Clearly Not Playing With a Full Deck

We may earn a commission from links on this page.
Workers install plexiglass protections between the debaters on the stage of the debate hall ahead of the vice presidential debate in Kingsbury Hall of the University of Utah October 6, 2020 in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Workers install plexiglass protections between the debaters on the stage of the debate hall ahead of the vice presidential debate in Kingsbury Hall of the University of Utah October 6, 2020 in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Photo: Eric Baradat (Getty Images)

The first telephone was invented in 1861. The underlying technology evolved greatly over the next 100 years, but it wasn’t until the 1950s that Americans stopped seeing home phones as an extravagance. (The 1920s also saw the invention of the two-way radio, hand-held versions of which were later dubbed “walkie-talkies.”) Nokia arguably ushered in the most profound development by introducing rectangular cellphones that could slide easily into the front pocket of a pair of Levi’s. Video conference took off only a few years later thanks to the internet revolution; first for businesses, and later, as high-speed connections became more available, the rest of us schmoes.

For 150 years, human beings have harnessed the power to converse in real-time across vast distances... which is only one of the reasons that it’s so astonishing, during the worst pandemic in a hundred years, the Commission on Presidential Debates has decided the vice president and potential future vice president should debate each other with only the length of an average-sized alligator between them. This only days after the president himself was hospitalized covid-19 and a slew of White House aides have been confirmed infected.


So how dumb, exactly, is the Commission on Presidential Debates? It’s very dumb! And so we’re not talking about some faceless dumb entity, here’s who comprises this super dumb group:

  • John C. Danforth, former U.S. Senator
  • Charles Gibson, former anchor, ABC World News with Charles Gibson
  • John Griffen, managing director, Allen & Company LLC
  • Yvonne Hao, managing director and co-founder, Cove Hill Partners
  • Jane Harman, director, president and CEO, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars
  • Antonia Hernandez, president and CEO, California Community Foundation
  • Reverend John I. Jenkins, president, University of Notre Dame
  • Newton N. Minow, senior counsel, Sidley Austin LLP
  • Richard D. Parsons, senior advisor, Providence Equity Partners LLC
  • Olympia Snowe, former U.S. Senator

There’s a highly contagious and deadly virus going around. Possibly you’ve heard about it. Since March, it’s killed over a million people; 210,000 of them right here in America. Predictably, the outbreak finally spread to the highest levels of our incompetent government. The president was hospitalized briefly. His wife and several of his top aides are also sick, including two military aides whose job it is to carry what is mind-numbingly referred to as “the nuclear football.”


Monday, the vice commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard tested positive, sending the Joint Chiefs of Staff—literally the highest-ranking military officials in the country—scrambling for cover. U.S. defenses have not been compromised, however, because, unlike the Commission on Presidential Debates, the Defense Department doesn’t rely solely on technology that was new during the Eisenhower years.

If only there were some way to speak simultaneously to both Kamala Harris and Mike Pence while in different rooms and watch live footage of them both on the same TV screen at the same time.


In what is perhaps the looniest solution that one could devise to this super-solvable predicament, the Commission on Presidential Debates—who it should be noted at this point, as babies, possibly slept in cribs brushed with lead paint—have erected short, plexiglass “barriers” between the two desks the candidates will sit at tonight.

Oh yeah, that’ll work.
Oh yeah, that’ll work.
Graphic: Eric Baradat (Getty Images)

Even this “precaution” was against the wishes of the incumbent vice president, who has reportedly tested negative for the virus despite have been photographed indoors and in close proximity to several aides and the president who’ve all confirmed they’re covid-19-positive.

For anyone lacking basic common sense or just unaware of the self-evident characteristics of how airborne viruses work, a pair of five-foot-tall plexiglass dividers is not what serious experts consider a strenuous safety measure. Ask yourself this: Would a rational parent set their infant child down on the desk Kamala Harris will debate from tonight if a person across from her—who has repeatedly been exposed to a highly communicable pathogen—is sitting the length of a long fishing rod away? No. Of course not. (Conversely, who the hell knows who Harris has been in rooms with.)


The CDC confirmed just this week that the novel coronavirus can “linger in the air for minutes to hours” and travel farther than previously thought. This is different than the guidelines issued before, which said the virus can piggyback on “respiratory droplets” produced when people exhale, sneeze or cough. The virus can also travel—probably to a far lesser extent—via aerosols, which are microscopic. Because of their size, aerosols are not pulled to the ground by gravity like the larger droplets of moisture expelled from a human mouth. They can linger, potentially for hours, just waiting for someone to inhale them.


All of this is to say that the guidelines people who actually care about ending the pandemic have been following for nine months are not bulletproof. And when it comes to protecting the man or woman who’s number one in the presidential line of succession, “bulletproof” is literally the word you’re looking for. There’s simply no good reason to roll the dice on this one, certainly not for “the optics,” which is the only thing driving decisions around the logistics of tonight’s debate.

And now, three random jokes about the Commission on Presidential Debates:

1) The Commission on Presidential Debates is so dumb it tried to surf a microwave.


2) The Commission on Presidential Debates is so dumb it can’t find the “any key.”

3) The Commission on Presidential Debates is so dumb it got a black eye from a punchline.