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COVID-19 and Restaurants


Maxine, Marilyn, Keith and I have developed a dining ritual of sorts over the last 8 or 9 years: we go to Waterbar, the seafood restaurant on San Francisco’s Embarcadero, underneath the Bay Bridge, and have a couple dozen platters of the oysters du jour, with Champagne or Muscadet or some other suitable wine. The oysters during the lunch hour are only $1 each; with the spectacular views—the Bridge, sparkling San Francisco Bay, Treasure Island and, in the distance, the East Bay Hills and buildings of Oakland—it’s one of our favorite destinations, especially to celebrate a birthday.

This morning, I got an email from Waterbar. “We Miss You!” it said, advertising the restaurant’s “new Take-Home program,” starting June 4, and adding, “We will let you know as soon as we begin table service.” Well, my first thought was, I’m not going to go to Waterbar to buy oysters to take home. I can walk down the block and buy fresh oysters at Whole Foods—and they’ll even shuck them for me. The whole point of going to Waterbar is for the dine-in experience. But there’s hope! Waterbar is determined to re-open as soon as the local authorities—in their case, San Francisco’s Mayor and health officials—allow them to.

We don’t know when that will be. COVID-19 cases continue to rise in California, and there continue to be troubling “hot spots.” When restaurants are allowed to re-open, I think we all know the parameters they’ll be forced to adapt: masks (on servers and diners) and six-foot physical distancing, not to mention (probably) disposable knives and forks, paper napkins and salt and pepper packets instead of shakers. Of course, you can’t eat while wearing a mask, so how will that work out? And will we have to wear latex gloves? Will we still want to go to Waterbar under those less-than-glamorous circumstances? The view will be the same; the oysters and wine will be the same. But the experience will be less.

And there’s also the fear factor. Maxine, Marilyn, Keith and I all are senior citizens. Some of us have underlying health problems that increase our risk of getting COVID-19 and possibly dying of it. Will be feel comfortable in a public dining room, no matter how far apart the tables are? For that matter, would the four of us be able to sit at the little tables they have in the bar area (our favorite place), with so little distance between us? Part of the charm of Waterbar is bantering with the waitstaff. Will that feel comfortable?

It’s not just Waterbar. I’m going through the latest guidebook on San Francisco’s Top 100 Restaurants, from the S.F. Chronicle, and I have to admit I don’t see how some of these places will ever get back to normal. Take Atelier Crenn, the three-starred Michelin seafood-and-vegetable restaurant, where the tasting menu is $363 and, if you want wine, you’ll pay an additional $220. San Francisco is hemorrhaging jobs. It’s still a rich city (for the moment), but who’s going to be interested in paying close to $600 for dinner per person in our apocalyptic post-coronavirus environment? And the same considerations that apply to Waterbar apply to Atelier Crenn, with the masks and distancing and so on. Will people want to go there when it feels more like a hospital cafeteria?

Then there are steak houses, like the House of Prime Rib, a staple of carnivores for decades. The old-fashioned booths are spaced close together; the meat carvers pushing their tableside carts get right up close and personal to diners; and the conversation level is loud. It’s one thing to go to French Laundry and feel like you have to speak in a whisper or else the ghost of Escoffier will rise up and haunt you; but no one goes to a steak house to whisper. What will that experience be like, post-coronavirus?

And then there are communal-table places, like Lazy Bear. Two long tables sit 20 people each; bumping elbows and overhearing everyone’s conversations (and them overhearing yours) is part of the ambience. How does Lazy Bear crowd diners at communal tables post-COVID-19? Answer: They don’t.

Going through the Chronicle’s Top 100 restaurants is a sobering experience. How many will be forced to close forever? And it’s not only these top restaurants, it’s every place in town: dim sum palaces, sushi bars, burger joints, Afghan-style, Ethiopian food, fast food, kosher…no restaurant is safe. We’re already being told that such iconic institutions as public transit, the office-centered workplace and sports events are threatened, and will have to adapt to the new normal if they want to survive. The same applies to restaurants.

Well, there are more questions than answers, as usual. We’ll have to wait and see. But for a food-centered town like San Francisco, COVID-19 is a nightmare. How the City learns to adapt is completely unknown, but we do know one thing for sure: San Francisco will adapt. In one form or another, restaurants will survive. But to be honest, I don’t know about those multi-hundred dollar tasting menus. They might have met their match in COVID-19. That would be all right with me!

They tried to ban the Beatles, too


Most of you aren’t old enough to remember the “Ban the Beatles” movement here in America. It was the summer of 1966; the Beatles were at the height of their fame, having just released Revolver, which at that time was the most progressive of their LPs. Earlier that season, John Lennon had given an interview to a London newspaper, in which he said—pretty much casually—what a lot of people were thinking: “Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink. I needn’t argue about that; I’m right and I’ll be proved right. We’re more popular than Jesus now; I don’t know which will go first rock ‘n’ roll or Christianity. Jesus was all right but his disciples his were thick and ordinary. It’s them twisting it that ruins it for me.”

By early August, protests in the Bible Belt had reached fever pitch. Led by Christian radio DJs, people at anti-Beatles rallies were burning Beatles albums, tearing up Beatles posters, and of course the Ku Klux Klan got involved. Christians waved signs that said “JESUS LOVES YOU, do the Beatles?” and “Thou shalt have no other GODS before Me.”

These Beatles haters were the forebears of fascist-clerical conservatism yet to come: the marriage of Republican politics with evangelicism, the election of Ronald Reagan, the Tea Party and, yes, the rise of Donald Trump and Trumpism. We’ve always had that rightwing fringe of Christian paranoia; sometimes it’s at low ebb, as it was for most of the middle of the 20th century, and sometimes it flares up, as it did starting around 1980 and continuing today. But it’s important to realize it never quite goes away. If we’re to have any success combating it—and we need to combat it—we have to understand its etiology.

There are a lot of photographs of the Ban the Beatles people, and they look remarkably similar to the “re-open” people and MAGA-rally people. Granted, the haircuts are different, and they’re fatter today than they were in the Sixties. But the people themselves are of a type: Caucasian, often young, their faces twisted by hatred. It’s not hard juxtaposing the Klansman throwing Beatles records onto the “Beatles Bonfire” with the open-carry freaks who closed down the Michigan statehouse last week.

Why do they never go away, these religious bumpkins? America was founded on principles of the Enlightenment, of secular humanism, of “All men are created equal” and the Constitution, which was drafted to create “a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.” Such noble beginnings. How is it possible that, despite all our progress, we still have this canker of religious whackjobs?

Your guess is as good as mine. Maybe the Catholics are right: humankind is essentially damned, incapable of rising above its primitive beginnings. Maybe the Hindus are right: these rightwing zealots are living out their awful karma, and have no control over themselves. Whatever the explanation, it’s sad to realize that for every positive step forward we take—and The Beatles represented a huge positive step forward for America and for the world—there’s a sizable group of uneducated yahoos who wants to drag us backwards.

What do they really want? It’s unlikely they understand history, since their schooling is limited. They seem to want a return to when societies were ruled by Christian prelates, who enforced their rule through the systematic use of clerical armies, who had few compunctions against torturing or murdering apostates and heretics. History does record at least one such time in the West: the Dark Ages, which extended into the 1700s as witch burnings and other forms of ecclesiastical punishment continued even in America.

Good times, the Dark Ages! People knew their place. Women weren’t uppity like they are now. Men who performed abominable acts with each other knew they had to keep well-hidden, or pay for their sins with their lives. The local seigneur or lord of the manor was the absolute law, responsible only to his King and his Christian God. Nobody had rights. Society didn’t change from century to century, for a thousand years in a row—and that is exactly how the rulers of society wanted it. Change is bad, dangerous. Thought is dangerous. Too much thinking might lead people to wonder if every word in the Bible really was true, as they were told. Thinking therefore had to be eliminated; hence, witch burnings, excommunications and banishment and other forms of religious punishment. Hence, by 1966, the album burnings. The Beatles made people think, and for Christian conservatives, that was the most dangerous thing that could happen. Thinking people might decide that religious superstitions are hokum. Therefore, they must be ruthlessly expunged. Hitler and Goebbels knew this as well as anyone. So, too, do modern theological autocrats, like Franklin Graham and Jerry Falwell, Jr., and their leader, Donald J. Trump.

The good news is that the Christian radicals were unsuccessful in stopping The Beatles. They’re more popular than ever; their influence on culture is ongoing. But the radicals never stop trying; everytime they look around, there’s a new threat to their desired theocracy: Obama, or Hillary, or Gay marriage, or immigrants, or Democrats and liberals, or scientists. There will never be an absence of threats to religious extremism because the human intellect will never die, no matter how much it’s suppressed by dictators; and the human intellect is the dragon-slayer of religious fundamentalism. So when you’re feeling blue, think of the irrepressible vibrancy of enlightened intellectual progress. It’s what makes us as the human race go forward. The temporary emergence of a Donald Trump is awful, but just like Dr. King said, the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.

Sheltering-in-place Stream of Consciousness


We’re having our first serious heat wave in California. Temps today in the inland suburbs will be well into the 100s; even here in Oakland, it will be close to 90, or higher.

People unfamiliar with the Bay Area are always amazed how the temperatures vary within a short distance. Let’s say it will be 105 today in Concord, less than 20 miles inland from the beach. Yet right on the beach, the high won’t get out of the 60s. That’s a 40-degree differential. You’d never see that on the East Coast, or anywhere east of the Sierra Nevada for that matter.

That’s one of the things I love best about Oakland. It’s right in the middle, the Goldilocks of the Bay Area: not too hot, not too cold. I once saw a weather survey of American cities and it said that Oakland has the best climate of them all. Of course, there are things about Oakland that drive me crazy. But that would be true no matter where I lived, I guess.

We’re reopening here in the Bay Area, same as everywhere else. You still have to social-distance and wear a mask, but restaurants, thank goodness, are slowly reopening, and wine stores are doing curbside. Gov. Newsom’s “Phase 3” should be here within a few weeks; hopefully it will allow gyms to reopen. The headline in today’s paper is that Newsom is allowing churches to reopen, albeit with specific safety guidelines. I believe that our Governor is doing this a little sooner than he otherwise would have preferred; but he’s been catching enormous flack from church leaders, Republican pols and Trump himself; Newsom after all is a politician, and politicians eventually have to respond to public pressure.

Fine with me. I don’t care if the churches open or stay closed. I do think it’s sad that so many so-called religious people have conflated reopening with Republican politics. But then, these people are so muddle-headed, they see everything in terms of “trump” or “not trump.” Not everything revolves around Trump, of course, but for Republicans, there is no other reality. They are truly as addicted to their leader as a junkie is to his heroin.

We’ve all been coming up with scenarios for what will happen going forward, particularly concerning the election. A new possibility occurred to me last night. Let’s say Trump wins re-election, but Democrats keep the House and regain the Senate. Then what? If it was up to me, I’d Impeach the sonuvabitch a second time, only this time we’d convict him in the Senate and throw his fat ass out of office. That leads to scenarios-within-scenarios. Trump’s followers—the NRA ammophiles, the Rapture crowd, the Pabst Blue Ribbon trailer park freaks—would go ballistic, egged on by Fox “News” and the sociopaths of rightwing talk radio. I could see massive demonstrations, with open-carry thugs threatening Democratic institutions. The police—many of them Republicans themselves—would have to make hard choices. But then, in civil uprisings, the constabulary always has to decide if it’s on the side of the Law, or of the Lawless.

Incidentally, I refer to Trump’s “fat ass” deliberately. Some people have taken me to task for “fat-shaming” him. I’m not even sure what that means. To point out an obvious fact, such as the fact that Trump is morbidly obese, is simple reporting. It’s no different from saying Trump likes to wear long red or blue neckties. To candidly state that Trump is a fat person is not “shaming” him. I’m sure that Trump wishes he weren’t so fat. I bet that Melania wishes he’d lose 50 pounds. Trump hates having his photo taken when he’s golfing (which is most of the time) because they camera always seems to catch him from the rear. Trump has no “good side” in photographs, but surely, his gigantic buttocks are one of his worst aspects. This wouldn’t be worth noting if Trump weren’t such a megalomaniac. He thinks he’s God’s gift to everything, and in his purblind eyes, he probably sees himself as the hot young guy who used to hang out at Studio 54 with Roy Cohn. Trump may actually have been a decent-looking guy 40 years ago, but he lost his looks as he gained weight, and the jowls and facial puffiness that have always marred the heads of the various Trumps have added to his generally unattractive demeanor.

Anyway, it’s going to be hot today, and Gus is already wiped out: anything above 75 degrees hits him hard, with his long, black fur coat. So I think I’ll let him rest today and not do anything strenuous. Myself, I’ll take my usual 3-1/2 mile walk around the Lake, maybe grab a cappuccino and chocolate cookie someplace, and bring my iPod. If you see an old dude wearing a red face mask doing dance moves out there by the Lake, it’s me, with Brown Sugar blasting in my ears.

Trump’s re-election pitch


It’s exhausting, isn’t it? I mean keeping up with all the Trump scandals. That’s why I didn’t blog last Thursday or Friday. I’m just tired of him, tired of them, of Republicans. Everyday there’s a new crime revealed, a new attempt to subvert our Republic, another nail into the limbs of America. One runs out of literary metaphors. What remains, even if there’s nothing new to say about it every day, is a dull pain, like a toothache.

With this in mind, here’s the argument Trump’s going to make going into the election.

Why you should vote for me

No President since F.D.R. has confronted as many crises as I have, and won them all.

I led and won the two greatest battles of the 21st century: I created the Greatest Economy in the History of America after the debacle of the Obama Great Recession, and I alone, single-handedly, defeated the China Virus.

Democrats and liberals will never give me credit for these Amazing Victories. No, if it was up to them, our economy would be in the toilet, like it was during the so-called presidency of the corrupt, incompetent Barack Hussein Obama. And if was up to Democrats, the American people would be dying by the millions from this China Virus. That’s what Democrats want: they want you, the American people, to be poor and sick and afraid. Only then, in their warped imaginations, will a weakened, frightened public turn to the tax-and-spend Nanny State the Democrat Party always tries to impose, the way they’re imposing on YOUR freedom now with this sick, insane quarantine lie.

Liberate America! Open her up again!

But something happened during their march to dictatorship: God sent an amazing Savior to America (and the World?). You know who that Savior is. I don’t have to tell you His Name, because it is My Name. My people—the hundreds of millions of Americans who love me—always tell me the same thing. “God sent you, President Donald Trump.” At the risk of sounding un-humble, I will confirm that, Yes, I think He did. He sent me here to undo the damage Democrats have inflicted on America, our beloved country, and to restore our country’s Greatness and Belief in Almighty God. And that is why I will be re-elected in November by an overwhelming landslide that will catch our enemies in disbelief. Because Americans want God in their lives, and they know that, if Democrats are in charge, God will be banished. And that is why God hates the Democrat Party.

And who do you think won the Battle Against the China Virus? When Democrats were ignoring the early warnings of a pandemic, it was Me who warned Americans to prepare for the coming struggle. It was me who told Americans “This could be very, very bad.” In fact I predicted 100,000 deaths months ago—although you’d never know it because the Fake News refused to report it. I knew it, because I’m a stable genius. My own advisors, including the hacks at the Centers for Disease Control, were telling me this China Virus was no big deal. But I overruled them. That’s why, all during February and March, I was rounding up our country’s greatest experts, people like Rev. Franklin Graham, to fight the virus. I was galvanizing our American industries to produce the Personal Protective Equipment and Ventilators I knew would be needed, even as corrupt politicians like Andrew “Vote For Me” Cuomo were playing golf and nobodies like The Haircut From California were moaning and groaning and lying. And it was Me who is leading the effort to produce a vaccine. If the Democrat Party had its way, the drug companies would not be working at all to develop a vaccine, because these Democrats don’t believe in Science. I’ve had to push and prod and threaten them, because only I have the interests of the American people at heart.

And now these same Democrats are trying to outlaw church services! How dare they! Just because they’re atheists doesn’t mean the American people are. I will take severe steps against ANY governor who shuts down the churches.

Who does the world look to for leadership in fighting the China Virus? America, which means: Me. All these foreign leaders, they wouldn’t have a clue if I didn’t show them the way. They all follow me on Twitter. They don’t dare do anything without checking first to see how Trump will react to it. I can’t name names—you’ll have to use your imagination. But every day I get calls from Japan, from China, from Canada, from Russia, from Brazil, from Iran, from Korea, and they’re asking me, “Donald, what should I do?” That’s why I tweet a lot. Americans should know how lucky they are that I was here in 2020, instead of some shithole Democrat traitor.

People want to know, will we have an election in November? I don’t know. We’ll have to wait and see. It depends. The Constitution is silent on that. I may have to cancel it—temporarily, of course—but I hope not. That’s something I would not like to do, even though the Schumer-Pelosi loser Democrats are begging me to cancel it because they know they’ll lose, and badly. These polls are all crooked, anyway (except the ones that show me winning). We learned all about liberal-lefty polls in 2016, didn’t we? Lots of people have been asking me about the 22nd amendment to the Constitution, which as I understand it limits the president to two terms. How undemocratic is that? What if the American people demand a third term for a beloved president, such as me? Wouldn’t he owe it to them? I might want to go back to Mar-a-Lago in 2025 and live out the rest of my life playing golf, but if the American people beg me to stay, who knows what’ll happen? We’ll just have to wait and see, folks. That’s all I can tell you. MAGA!

Trumpism as the COVID-19 of our culture


I loved it when Speaker Pelosi called Trump “morbidly obese.”

Trump is a guy with a high estimation of himself. He thinks he’s (to use an old Bronx phrase) “shit on wheels”: the greatest guy ever, smarter, richer and handsomer than anyone else. Well, he might be richer than most (we’ll find out when the Supreme Court makes him hand over his taxes). But he’s certainly not a handsome man. He inherited his father’s boxy, chinless head, squinty eyes, pinched Dutch mouth with its gopher teeth, and jowls—traits his two sons, Eric and Junior, have in even more exaggerated form. (Poor Barron looks okay now, but he’ll probably turn into an ugger like his brothers. Can’t escape those genes!) But the thing that drives Trump crazy—the thing he’s most ashamed of, and can’t hide—is his extreme fat. He has a huge ass—we see it whenever he plays golf and some paparazzi gets a picture—and even though he tries to hide his belly and love handles under that oversized blue suit jacket and low-hanging tie, we still know that Trump is exactly what Nancy Pelosi called him the other day: morbidly obese.

I’m not fat-shaming him. I have friends who also are a bit on the heavy side. But most of my full-figured friends at least try to diet, and limit their food intake to healthier fare. Not Trump. He celebrates the high-calorie, high-fat fast foods he lives on and eats in apparently huge quantities. Eating occupies nearly as much of Trump’s time as tweeting.

We’ve had obese presidents before, but Grover Cleveland and William Howard Taft are not known as two of our better ones, and certainly, our best presidents—Lincoln, F.D.R., John F. Kennedy, Barack Obama—were lean and well-built. Even Reagan carefully watched his weight. Now, Trump joins the other fatties in the tubber hall-of-fame.

What must it feel like to be Trump and be so fat? Surely, his shame at his obesity accounts for a great deal of his hatred of Obama. Trump grew up in a racist household—his father, Fred, has been documented as a follower of the Ku Klux Klan—and it must hurt Trump like hell to be compared, unfavorably, to a colored man, not only performance-wise and popularity-wise, but in terms of his body. Obama is so slender and sexy, while Trump is disgustingly fat. Trump always has fancied that the porn stars and strippers he lusted after liked him for his “good looks.” What he’s now having to face up to is that Stormy, Melania and all the rest were after him for his money.

Well, being morbidly obese is Trump’s problem. I, personally, hope it shortens his lifespan. What a terrible thing to say, right? But it’s true. Trump is a danger to my country and my planet, to the values of decency and reason I cherish, to my freedom and yours. Why would I not want my country and my world to be rid of such pestilence, the same way I want to be rid of the coronavirus? In so many respects, Trump is a virus, and Trumpism is the COVID-19 of our culture: a killer that strikes down whole segments of the population, in this case, rural, under-educated people of the “Christian” persuasion. They are the most vulnerable to the disease called Trumpism, which kills minds as well as bodies. It’s too bad that scientists aren’t searching for a vaccine to prevent the spread of Trumpism. Oh, wait: they are: the vaccine is called the Democratic Party, and you can protect yourself and your loved ones from being infected with Trumpism simply by voting Democratic this November.

These Trump sons are the worst of the worst

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Trump’s modus operandi, of course, is to portray his many and repeated failures as “lies” from Democrats and the “fake media.” Anytime Trump gets caught with his tiny, fat hand in the cookie jar—whether it’s hiding hush-money payments to porn stars, bribing Ukraine, or lying about the size of his inaugural crowd—he has a fallback response: “Democrats invented this lie to hurt me.”

The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. The other day, it was one of Trump’s sons, Eric, who was out there spreading the disinformation. Coronavirus and COVID-19, he alleged, are “propaganda” from Democrats designed “to hurt Trump.” There is no problem with the virus, Eric asserts; sure, it’s killed a few people, but it’s just the flu, and these victims would have died of something else at some point, anyway. Same with Trump’s other crimes and scandals. “[Democrats] tried to do [it] with the Russia thing, they tried to do it with the Ukraine scandal, they tried to do it with impeachment. Now, they’re trying to do it with coronavirus.” 

Well, coronavirus seems pretty real to me and to the 90,000 Americans who have died from it and the 1.5 million and counting who are infected by it. And lest there be any doubt about it, most Americans know that Trump blew his response to coronavirus very badly. He refused to even admit it exists, and when he couldn’t lie about that anymore, he lied that cases would soon be “down to zero,” and when he couldn’t lie about that, he lied that his administration was fighting the virus better than any other country in the world. And now he’s lying that the growing list of COVID-19 deaths and cases is Obama’s fault (!!!), or the CDC’s (!!!), or China’s (!!!)—anything but his ineptitude and incompetence.

Look: it wasn’t “propaganda” when Robert Mueller found Trump guilty of multiple counts of obstruction of justice in the Russia-Trump scandal, and would have indicted Trump had it been legal for him to do so. It’s also not “propaganda” that Trump was caught bribing the President of Ukraine, for which he was justifiably impeached by the U.S. House of Representatives. What is propaganda is the craven attitude of Trump’s enablers in government, and the lies they tell to distract attention from their boss’s crimes and misdemeanors. Trump does bad shit; Republicans circle the wagons, deny the facts with straight faces, and then turn reality around and accuse everybody else of doing the bad shit Trump did.

I don’t like anyone in that Republican-clerical-fascist crowd, but the two Trump sons are especially annoying. We have got to see Eric and his older brother, Donald, Jr., for what they are: spoiled, rotten little twerps and bullies, who have gotten away with crap their entire lives. They think they’re better than you and me, which makes them entitled to have anything they want. Never held accountable to anyone or anything, sure that they deserve everything they have due to their inherent moral superiority, they’re the poster children for lucky sperm brats, arrogant and amoral, whom the country would be better off without. Can you name one single, noble thing any Trump spawn has ever done? What a horrible, sickening contrast they are with truly admirable Presidential children, like Sasha and Malia Obama and Chelsea Clinton.

Well, Trump remains underwater in his polls, largely as a result, I suspect, of his hideous personality; even Americans who might like his notions of lower taxes, smaller government and a strong military are turned off by him. Among his other lies the other day, Eric Trump said something that’s a real howler: “the American people love him [Donald Trump].”

It’s just not true. More than half disapprove of him, according to five different surveys compiled by in the last ten days. Another poll found his support among independents rapidly dropping, while a third poll shows that only 23% of Americans trust anything Trump says about coronavirus.

So I don’t know what planet Eric Trump inhabits. The fact is, most Americans don’t “love” Trump; most want him to go down to defeat in November, and various polls (for instance, here) have shown that two-thirds of Americans think Trump is a criminal. My own preference, when Democrats regain the presidency, hold the House and retake the Senate, is to reopen criminal investigations into Trump and his family, including the two sons. There’s been so much nefarious activity by this klepto Trump family, and that’s exactly why we have Federal prisons: to lock up rogues and thieves like them.

Biden needs to change his approach, and fast


I saw Joe Biden and Stacey Abrams together on one of the news stations yesterday, and as I watched with increasing horror, I thought, “We’re going to lose the election.”

Biden and Abrams have been appearing so frequently in joint appearances lately that it’s hard to escape the conclusion that she’s Biden’s choice for vice-president. I’ve been saying for weeks now that Biden needs to pick a Black woman; that would seem to eliminate people like Amy Klobuchar, who’s been running for Veep for a year. But, based on what I saw yesterday, I don’t know if a Biden-Abrams ticket can be successful.

It’s not all Abrams’s fault. She’s a nice enough person, and her values seem solid enough. But she was so scripted last night that it was painful to watch her try to remember her lines. She didn’t connect with viewers at all; in fact, she disconnected. All I could think was, “If Biden died in office and Abrams was launched into the Presidency, could she do it?” And what I saw was an ambitious, careful pol, not an inspirational leader.

As for Biden, he was doddering to the point of near senility. I really hate to write that, but it’s true. Joe Biden has got to stop answering questions in the lawyerly, pedantic way he has. Asked a question that should have permitted him to wax eloquent, Biden instead began with his tedious, “First, two things.” Uh oh, I thought, here comes another parliamentary speech that’s about as inspiring as reading the telephone book. Mr. Biden, “First, two things” is not the way to begin talking to the American people. It makes us cringe: if your very first point has two sub-points, then your second point probably has at least two sub-points, and so on. We’re going to need a pocket calculator and a chart to keep track of your points; you’re going to lose peoples’ attention almost immediately. In last night’s case, Biden’s “First, two things” devolved into a complicated (and memorized) recitation of past Senate legislation nobody ever heard of and no one cares about.

That’s when I had the horrifying thought. “We’re going to lose.”

No matter what you think of Trump—and no one in this country has been harsher on him than I—he’s good on T.V. He’s got the charisma to make you keep watching. Granted, watching Trump is like rubbernecking a multi-car collision on the freeway: you watch in horror. But you’re still watching. Biden and Abrams last night, by contrast, were really unwatchable, like the most rank amateurs on Dancing With the Stars. It’s too late for Democrats to choose another Presidential candidate. It’s Biden. But, based on Abrams’s performance, she is not qualified to be Veep, and it’s not too late yet for Biden to pivot and choose someone else for his running mate.

Unless Biden can up his game, Trump is going to destroy him in the debates. He’ll call him “Sleepy Joe” and the T.V. audience will notice Biden’s droopy eyes and stammering, will hear the misstatements and false starts and umms, will see him trying to recall some boring statistic his team planted in his mind. It will not be pretty. Granted that Biden’s policies are infinitely preferable to Trump’s. Granted that Trump is a clear and present danger to America and to the world, and that his amorality is simply disgusting. Granted all that: but swing voters will still see in Trump someone who seems strong and committed, while seeing Biden as a vague smear of a politician, and Abrams as the most unqualified vice-presidential candidate since Sarah Palin who, at least, had the credential of having been a Governor.

As I say, it pains me to make these observations. There are two things Biden can do to get back into his game. First, don’t pick Abrams! She’s just not ready. Kamala Harris, maybe, or Michelle Obama or, if it can’t be a Black woman, Klobuchar or Whitman of Michigan: someone with experience, who can speak off the cuff instead of spouting rehearsed talking points. As for Biden himself, throw away the talking points! Stop with the “First, two things.” Just talk to us straight. We know you’re a good man. We know you’ve personally suffered a lot in this life. Show us the inner Biden. Let Joe be Joe, not the automaton we’ve been seeing. It’s not too late to make the change. The most effective (from a communications point of view) modern Presidents—Reagan, Clinton, Obama and, yes, Trump—have the ability to look into the camera and connect emotionally and spiritually with viewers; they have, for better or for worse, the appearance of authenticity and spontaneity. Joe Biden, as far as I can tell, does not. I think he can do it, but it’s going to require a revolution in the management of his candidacy, as well as in his own head.

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