In Praise of Lester Holt

For a stint in my teens, I baby sat three young boys with my sister. My sister had far more experience than I when it came to babysitting. The boys were all under the age of 8 and recently got a puppy. One weekend, my sister wasn’t able to watch the boys so the parents opted to give me a shot at solo duty. The boys were very well behaved…when my sister and I were there. But when it was just me the dynamic changed. The numbers were against me. Mutiny was inevitable. In addition to the puppy, the boys added a hamster to their burgeoning petting zoo.

Wrangling three young boys isn’t easy, especially when fights erupt over allegations of cheating at Super Smash Brothers. One of the boys “hit” the other. Tears began to form. Whether or not they were mine or the boys you’ll never know.

I managed to keep them entertained and out of the ER for the evening. When it was bed time, the two older boys put on their pajamas without incident, but the little guy proved to be more of a challenge. His jammies were of the Superman variety and included a cape. Beyond my pajama envy, there was a problem. He didn’t want to brush his teeth. Rather than be the cool babysitter who didn’t care whether or not he brushed, I feared my future as a babysitter rode on his dental hygiene. His parents would ask him during breakfast if he brushed his teeth and if he answered negatively, my future at getting tenure as a babysitter was gone like Superman out of a phone booth.

Opting to be the stern, but reasonable, babysitter I tried to play Let’s Make a Deal with a three-year old. If he brushed his teeth, I would put on his cape. I explained that Superman brushes his teeth twice a day. Logical, right? Cause and effect. But three-year olds don’t care about logic. They want their cape and they want it now.

Last night’s presidential debate reminded me of the impossible task of wrangling an irrational toddler. Try your best, they will beat you. That was the task Lester Holt signed up for when moderating the debate.

The initial online comments about the debate centered on how Lester Holt was a weak moderator. When the cameras displayed Lester for the first time, I felt bad for him. In any other election year, moderating a presidential debate would be an enormous get, but this political season it is more of a punishment, the Melba of broadcasting.

Preparation was brought up by the candidates. In a normal year with normal candidates, the moderator could focus on policy differences and clarifying statements from previous interviews. But not this year. You might as well burn any notes you had. How does Lester prepare for the whirling dervish that is Donald Trump?

For the future broadcasters penalized with the task, the only way to prep for a debate with Trump is to gather a gaggle of toddlers, load them up with fructose, plug their ears and ask them basic questions. They won’t form a single cogent argument. Instead you will get half ideas, and if you’re truly lucky, some finger pointing and yelling.

Lester did as good a job as possible. He could have attempted to minimize Trump’s interjections and meandering tirades. But by allowing Trump to be Trump, Lester did his job. We learned more about Trump’s true temperament. As Lester mentioned at the start, the goal of the debate was to showcase the candidates, not Lester’s ability to play referee or game show host.

Trump’s greatest sign of maturity came toward the end of the “debate” when he declared that he could have said “something extremely rough” to Hillary, but I didn’t. TV therapists call this personal restraint and growth.

After I attached the little guy’s cape, he brushed his teeth. I read the boys a few stories before turning out the light. On my way downstairs I discovered their hamster shit in another room. Like the outcome of this election, I hope someone doesn’t have to clean up the mess later.