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Biden’s feeble hand-raises at the debate told us a lot about his presidential campaign—and generated a lot of comedy

Yes? No? Maybe so? With Joe Biden, you might never know.

Biden’s feeble hand-raises at the debate told us a lot about his presidential campaign—and generated a lot of comedy
[Photo: Gustavo Cabellero /NBC News/MSNBC/Telemundo]

One of the most enduring images of George W. Bush, immortalized in Fahrenheit 9/11, is the president continuing to read My Pet Goat to a coterie of kindergartners long after he’s been informed about the attack on the World Trade Center. Whether it’s due to analysis paralysis or outright shock, Bush remains timid and uncertain during a moment that requires decisive action. It’s not at all what anyone would want from a president in a crucial moment.

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Emergencies aside, however, the leader of the free world would do well to avoid indecision in general. Not that a president’s thinking on certain issues can’t evolve over time, but he or she should be guided by some fixed core values and be crystal clear in communicating them. Of all the candidates in last night’s Democratic debate, Joe Biden appeared least equipped to do so.

During a lightning round where the moderators asked yes-or-no questions to be answered with a show of hands, Biden was laughably tentative, as though he couldn’t quite remember how he’d been coached to respond. When Savannah Guthrie asked about whether the candidates would support healthcare coverage for undocumented immigrants, Biden’s hand goes up along with several others, but doesn’t stay up long enough for the moderator to notice. A moment later, Guthrie asks Biden why he doesn’t support the idea.

At this point, Biden has done nothing wrong. He put his raised hand down too quickly—whoopsie daisy. Maybe just let it linger a bit more next time, and that’s that. Unfortunately for people who hate cringing, that was not that.

Here’s what happened after Lester Holt asked the next question: “Who here would abolish private health insurance in favor of a government run plan?”

[Video: NBC News]
Biden very clearly checks to see whether Andrew Yang and the other candidates on his right side have raised their hands (they have not) and then joins Bernie Sanders and Kamala Harris, kinda, by softly raising one provisional finger.

He’s learned nothing from the lesson of Guthrie not registering that he’d raised his hand. If there’s anything worse than being indecisive, it just might be the inability to learn from very recent history—especially at this particular moment.

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Did Biden learn anything from this second hand-raising blunder? Let’s go to the videotape.

“Raise your hand if you think it should be a civil offense rather than a crime to cross our border without documentation,” Jose Diaz-Balart asks. He then pointedly adds, just for Biden’s benefit, “Can we keep the hands up so we can see them?” It doesn’t quite help.

[Video: NBC News]
Again with the lone faltering little finger!

Biden’s ineptitude at definitively answering questions, and seeming reliance on watching others first, did not go unnoticed by the greater viewing public.

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Biden answered every question last night with the wishy-washy, licked-finger-in-the-wind uncertainty with which he approached his recent turnaround on the Hyde amendment, or, you know, the Iraq War. It’s as though he is making up his platform up as he goes along. By answering questions this way, anyone uncertain about Biden’s candidacy may not be nearly as tentative as they were before Thursday night.

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