Biden's Debate Disaster Changes Nothing. There's Only One Path: Forward.

President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump debated Thursday night in Atlanta.
President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump debated Thursday night in Atlanta. Kyle Mazza/Anadolu via Getty Images

During the 2020 campaign, I remember hosting a minister’s breakfast in South Carolina when Congressman Jim Clyburn leaned over and said to me that he would be endorsing Joe Biden. Even then, many discounted Biden and called him too old; not able to withstand the competition or win the election. He beat all the other Democratic presidential candidates and went on to defeat then-President Donald Trump. Time and again they say Biden isn’t up to the task, and time and again he delivers.

Over the course of the next few days and weeks, there will be extensive parsing of Biden’s and Trump’s first debate of the 2024 campaign, the ramifications for each candidate and for the election itself. Already, much of the coverage is zeroed in on Biden’s underperformance and on whether he should drop out of the race. Not only is this premature, but it is also highly insulting to dismiss a president’s entire track record and platform because of one bad debate several months out from November. Everyone is already chiming in and calling for him to step aside, but I would argue that the president himself is the only one who can even entertain this notion. The real question is: Has Biden not earned the right to make this decision himself?

Watching the debate Thursday evening, I’m reminded of my own words at the Democratic National Convention two decades ago: Our vote is soaked in the blood of martyrs, and it cannot be given away nor bargained away; those that earned our vote will get our vote.

It was Biden’s leadership that rescued us from the disastrous Trump presidency and helped the nation correct course. In the midst of a historic global pandemic (one that Trump downplayed and mishandled entirely, I might add), Biden stepped in and helped us recover. His policies increased job growth, creating nearly 11 million jobs, with more people working than at any other point in American history. Under President Biden, a recession was prevented, and more people have health insurance than ever before. The president delivered historic student debt relief, signed executive orders protecting reproductive rights, signed the Respect for Marriage Act protecting marriage for LGBTQ+ and interracial couples, delivered on the most aggressive climate and environmental justice agenda, nominated Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court, passed the Inflation Reduction Act and so much more.

How can anyone honestly viewing Biden’s presidency and list of accomplishments call for him to drop out because of one bad debate performance? And what about all of Trump’s lies last night? In about 90 minutes, he lied about the insurrection on Jan. 6, immigration, his handling of COVID, the economy, abortion, and the list goes on. Are we really saying that showmanship is more important than substance? There is far too much on the line for people to make such rash decisions. Whether it’s voting rights, criminal justice reform, reproductive rights, representation across the board, hate crime protections or democracy itself, the question isn’t what will happen to Biden but rather what will happen to us?

As the conventions fast approach and the campaigns kick into full gear, the president can, and should, remind the nation about what he represents and what his opponent does not. He has to speak to the needs of the people of this country and what is best for America’s future ― progressing forward or reverting to an era of division, injustice and inequality.

Have we forgotten the deaths of over a million people from a deadly pandemic that Trump mishandled, or the Charlottesville march during his tenure, or his Supreme Court nominees who have already rolled back many of our gains, or the demonization of marginalized communities or the climate of hate in this country?

Biden has remained true to his vision and has followed through on many of his campaign promises. He is the only one who can say that they were a part of two major recoveries, first as vice president in the Obama administration and then in 2020. He helped the country recover from the Bush recession and disastrous policies (both domestic and international), and then helped us recover from the Trump trauma and the catastrophic state we were in. He has more than earned the right to decide where he goes, and we ought to give him more than 24 hours to make such a monumental decision.

Twenty years ago, I myself ran for the presidency. The nation was still recovering from the worst terrorist attack at home and still reeling from the George W. Bush administration’s disastrous handling of the crisis, including misleading us into unnecessary war. Though I did not win the Democratic Party’s nomination in 2004, I continued to push for the Democratic candidate because I understood what was at risk and the significance of that election.

In 2004, I reminded everyone that we didn’t come this far playing political games. Today I say we will not continue to move forward if we indulge in political theatrics. Did President Biden show up to the debate like he did when he delivered the 2024 State of the Union address? No. But as I’ve often stated, he is the ultimate comeback kid. I wouldn’t count him out just yet, and anyone who cares about this nation can’t afford to do so.