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Opinion At the Democrats’ climate town hall, Joe Biden takes it on the chin – and the eye

There’s no shortage of over-the-top comparisons these days. An acquaintance of mine, picking up on the well-mined criticism of Joe Biden as having been in the ring too long, compared him to Canadian heavyweight George Chuvalo: Took too many shots to the head, didn’t know when to quit.

So Mr. Biden appears at CNN’s marathon seven-hour town hall on climate change Wednesday and what happens? Midway through an answer, his left eye fills with blood. Like a vessel has been broken by a shot to the head.

The right-wing media – only the right-wing media – are all over the eyeball malfunction with their coverage. The image of a zombie-eyed Biden goes viral.

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Adding to his woes, the Democratic front-runner got into a bit of a rhubarb when a questioner revealed that for the next evening he’d scheduled a campaign fundraiser co-hosted by none other than former fossil-fuel titan Andrew Goldman, who helped found the natural gas company Western LNG. Mr. Biden claimed he didn’t know about the fellow’s background.

And the night was not without its share of befuddled observations by the candidate becoming known for them. In wrapping up one of his rambling answers, Mr. Biden blurted, “The fact of the matter is, where are we?”

He provided much ammunition for his criticism, but not in the way other Democrats did. While Mr. Biden put forward moderate ideas to combat climate change, the others were full of end-of-the-world-is-nigh talk. While they’re correct in grasping the urgency of the problem, it’s the type of alarmist stuff that allows Republicans to paint them as unhinged pinko radicals.

Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who is second to none among the candidates in intellectual capacity, led the pack on this with a world-war comparison. Of the climate crisis fight, he said, “This is on par with winning World War II, maybe more challenging than that.” The Second World War claimed 417,000 American lives. Mayor Pete had to explain to a questioner why, if it was so serious, he hadn’t devised a major plan for his own city of South Bend.

Before the young mayor, Bernie Sanders had come forward to outline his plan – which would cost a whopping US$16-trillion. Elizabeth Warren further radicalized herself, saying she would oppose the building of new nuclear plants and work to phase out existing nuclear power sources. That idea was countered by other candidates, such as Senator Cory Booker, who said the country can’t decarbonize fast enough without nuclear energy.

Mr. Booker, a vegan, wants beef-producing farmers to adopt sustainable practices. Asked whether he was saying Americans should eat less meat and dairy, he got all uppity over criticism by the right. “‘Booker wants to take away your hamburger!’ – that is the kind of lies and fear-mongering they spread.”

He wouldn't do that, he said. “Whatever you want to eat, go ahead and eat it.” Hah. So generous of him.

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The night no doubt did a lot to scare off Republicans. But it graphically demonstrated that the Democrats mean business on the climate crisis. Their plans were detailed and far-reaching. Their policies cast the Democrats as the country’s forward-thinking party in contrast to the Republicans, who on this issue – as well as on guns, trade, immigration – are in the retrograde corner. The choice in next year’s election will be stark, maybe as severe as it ever has been.

The town hall was well-timed in that it came on the heels of Hurricane Dorian. Scientists say climate change increases the intensity of hurricanes because of warming water temperatures. And on the same day of the town hall, the backward party moved yet again to roll back Obama-era environmental regulations – this time, weakening federal rules that would have compelled Americans to use much more energy-efficient light bulbs.

“The Democrats’ destructive ‘environmental’ proposals will raise your energy bill and prices at the pump,” U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted. “Don’t the Democrats care about fighting American poverty?” He has claimed that policies to combat climate change would be “totally disastrous, job-killing.”

Job-killing? There are what you might say are some slightly contrasting views here. Mr. Buttigieg says his plan would create three-million jobs. Mr. Biden promises as many as 10 million.

Bernie Sanders outdoes them all: How about 20 million?

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