Last night’s debate may not have had a clear winner, but Joe Biden might not have even been in the running. In the last major debate, Biden advised African-American parents to make sure they had their “record player on at night” in order to build their child’s vocabulary, an answer that was considered both racist and hopelessly anachronistic. That set up last night’s apparent stumble — or maybe, maybe an attempt at humor that ended in a faceplant. YMMV:

Clipping coupons? We”ll get back to that, but it wasn’t Biden’s only problem in this answer — although you’d never know it by reading the New York Times transcript of the exchange. I included in bold what they left out:

BIDEN: No, look. Demonizing wealth — what I talked about is how you get things done. And the way to get things done is take a look at the tax code right now. The idea — we have to start rewarding work, not just wealth.  I would eliminate the capital gains tax — I would, I would raise the capital gains tax to the highest rate of 39.5 percent. I would double it. Because guess what? Why in God’s name should someone who is clipping coupons in the stock market pay a lower tax rate than someone who in fact is, like I said — a schoolteacher and a firefighter? It’s ridiculous, and they pay a lower tax. Secondly, the idea that we, in fact, engage in this notion that there are — there’s $1.64 trillion in tax loopholes. You can’t justify at minimum $600 billion of that. We could eliminate it all. I could go into detail had I the time.

Did Biden get confused about which audience he was addressing? That’s not really a mere slip of the tongue. Eliminating the capital gains tax, a longtime conservative/Club for Growth position that has not gained much traction in these populist times, and might be a bit anachronistic itself for that reason. It sounds as if Biden is having trouble keeping up and keeping his arguments straight, and that’s not a good look for a candidate who can’t manage to spike the football even with the other team mainly on the sidelines.

One has to wonder why the NYT didn’t transcribe that part of Biden’s answer, too. Do they make a habit of cleaning up Biden’s rhetorical missteps? If so, what other Biden-friendly edits have they made for their readers in the past?

It’s possible that Biden was being sardonic with his “clipping coupons in the stock market” line. It could be read as a sarcastic comment on the oh-so-tough lives billionaires lead, in a “while you’re broke and clipping coupons in the supermarket, these guys are clipping coupons in the stock market” class-warfare sense. It sounds like something a speech writer might have dreamed up for Biden to say as a lead-in to a typical class-warfare argument, a way to zing billionaires while charming his way into working-class hearts.

If so, Biden is terrible at delivering those punch lines. Even with that generous assumption, Biden injected only half of the zinger in the middle of a serious point that he’d already screwed up, as the NYT noticed as well. Put that together with his previous musings on the importance of record players in raising children, and it’s not charming at all. It looks more like a pattern that suggests Uncle Joe should seek retirement soon and maybe watch a little more Hee Haw than Maddow.

Finally, just on the substance of the answer, Biden’s still all wet. Even if one could wave a wand and eliminate $600 billion a year in deductions without harming the economy, that’s only a drop in the bucket when it comes to what Biden and his fellow Democrats want to add in spending. Medicare for All alone would add at least three trillion dollars a year, let alone the rest of the Green New Deal projects being pushed at these debates. Pretending that Biden and Democrats can lower the tax bill for the middle class while spending all that cash is even more incoherent than “clipping coupons in the stock market,” and Biden’s hardly the only one on stage suffering from that incoherence. Or dishonesty, but YMMV on that one, too.