Matt Lauer image by David Shankbone
Last night's "Commander and Chief Forum" was billed by NBC as a close examination of the candidates’ views on "national security, military affairs and veterans’ issues."
While there were questions on these topics, what was noteworthy was what moderator Matt Lauer left out.
There were no questions about why the United States needs to spend more on its military than the next eight countries combined. And certainly there were no follow-up questions like: Do we need to have more than 800 foreign bases? Do we need to keep our military ready to fight two full-blown wars at the same time?
Questions about preventing potential terrorists from easily obtaining assault rifles in the United States? Nope. Or Ammonium Nitrate—the key ingredient in the Oklahoma City Bombing? Nah.
Bush Doctrine of pre-emptive wars or the implications of corporate trade deals for our national security?
Ummm . . . sorry . . . no time.
There was time, however, for half of Hillary Clinton's time to be spent discussing the propriety of using a private email server to communicate government business while she was Secretary of State.
Clinton fielded seven loaded questions on the topic from Lauer—including an absurd one where he wondered aloud if the email kerfuffle should have "disqualified" Clinton from running for President. Finally, it took an audience member falsely claiming that if he had done what she had done while he was in the service, he would be in prison, that prompted Clinton to put together a solid answer:
Lauer not only spent the first half of Clinton's time on the emails, but he did it in a strident manner that set the tone for the rest of Clinton's time. With Trump, Lauer noticeably lapsed into his easy-breezy, Today Show sofa conversational persona. Here's a taste of Matt "Jekyll and Hyde" Lauer tone with the two candidates:
No wonder Clinton seemed to struggle to find her footing. At one point an audience member said she was concerned that Clinton's "hawkish foreign policy will continue" and "what is your plan to end wasteful war campaigns, in which our peers, servicewoman and men continue to be killed and injured?" Instead of jumping in with a crisp, reassuring answer that she'll avoid war at all costs, she offered up two recent face-palms that audience member might be referencing—Iraq and Libya:
Trump, on the other hand, seemed right at home with Lauer's kid glove treatment and, overall, much easier questions and follow-up questions. In one especially cringe-worthy segment, a wide-eyed Lauer asked Trump about his recent classified security briefing. This was the perfect topic for Trump, allowing him to stoke fears and trash Obama through the use of innuendo. Lauer offered no resistance:
Overall, though, Trump clearly had the better night, thanks mostly to Lauer failing to call him on obvious lies (like his assertion that he opposed the war in Iraq). There was also a dearth of substantive questions for both candidates, but especially for the walking reality TV show star and TV ratings magnet who is now, in real life, running for President of the United States.
Jud Lounsbury is a political writer based in Madison, Wisconsin and frequent contributor to The Progressive.