By Tobili Hatcher
On October 7th, the United States came together to watch the first and only Vice-Presidential Debate that took place in Kingsbury Hall in Salt Lake City, Utah. Many of us, myself included, didn’t know what to expect from Senator Kamala Harris of California and current Vice President, Michael Pence. After the shitshow that was the first Presidential Debate that took place a week prior, no one was quite sure what to expect. Would this be another screaming match between the two candidates? Or could the American people expect to be respected by the way in which Senator Harris and Vice President Pence would conduct themselves?
All of our questions and more were answered as we watched the debate, which was moderated by award-winning journalist and biographer Susan Page. Much to Wallace’s chagrin, Page made sure to start the debate by clearly stating how she was there to enforce the rules that were set forth by the Commission on Presidential Debates. Page worked very hard to ensure that the Vice-Presidential candidates were given equal time to speak and use their platforms to address the American people.
Even though there were some fierce exchanges and a few questions that were left unanswered by both candidates, I think I can speak for everyone when I say that the Vice-Presidential Debate was conducted in a much easier to watch than we came in thinking. This time around, the debate was more controlled and both candidates had roughly the same amount of time to argue their prepared talking points. In fact, according to CNN, the two candidates came within three seconds of each other, with Vice President Pence speaking for 36 minutes and 27 seconds and Senator Harris for 36 minutes and 24 seconds.
Over the course of the debate, Page questioned the two on topics such as the government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, justice for Breonna Taylor, climate change, the economy and many more issues that are at the forefront of Americans’ minds as the 2020 Election is fast approaching. However, it didn’t take long for the niceties that both candidates displayed during the first two questions to quickly get thrown to the wayside; making room for a much more intense debate to ensue.
The intensity of the debate heated up quickly; in fact, as soon as the second exchange between the two candidates. After re-watching the debate in its entirety, I can now say that there was no mistake with the way in which Pence began to break the rules set forth by the Commission. Although the way in which Pence chose to cut off or interrupt Senator Harris wasn’t as loud or as crass; the style in which his boss prefers when speaking , it was very noticeable and distracting to hear his voice interject whenever Harris was given the opportunity to speak.
The interruptions began when Harris went to give her first rebuttal. It happened again when she went to answer a question that was posed to her from Moderator Page. And it continued to happen throughout the rest of the debate.
Again, and again, and again.
So much so, that Senator Harris had to state three times in various different ways, “I’m speaking”, to signify and signal that she was not one to be talked over. She made it very clear that she was here for a cordial debate, not to be walked over any which way Pence saw fit. In fact, it wasn’t just Senator Harris that Pence spoke over. There were also multiple instances where he could cut off Moderator Page, as she was trying to enforce the debate rules.
There are not many ways to look at the debate and not see how the disruptions that were made by Pence can’t be taken in a non-sexist manner. Seeing as the Vice President had no issue talking over both Senator Harris and Susan Page, this can be seen as a clear example of what women in the workplace have to put up with on a daily basis. Constantly having to put up with men who don’t want to acknowledge or respect the women in the room and will do anything to silence them.
For Senator Harris, it’s doubly as painful to watch, because I knew with each response she crafted when answering to Pence’s interruptions, she had the weight of not only being a woman in politics, but a Black woman in politics. She had to assert her dominance and take agency over her space and time in a way that wouldn’t paint her out to be an “angry Black woman” or as “overly aggressive.” When in reality, she was just taking back what was rightfully hers--her time.
According to a tally that CBS News did to compare speaking times and interruptions between the two candidates, “Pence interrupted Harris twice as many times – Pence interrupted Harris 10 times, while Harris interrupted Pence five times.”
But hey, that’s the intersectionality of sexism and racism in politics. Though, I’ll leave that topic for another day.
Throughout the debate, what I found to be most interesting was the way in which Harris and Pence chose to answer or side-step the questions they were given.
Now to be completely clear, I’m not writing this piece to openly attack Senator Harris or Vice President Pence. They both came and did what they had to do; continuing to try and reach the American people as the most historic and important election in American history fast approaches. However, it can and has been argued how Senator Harris did a much better job at handling and answering the questions she was given during the debate. Whereas Vice President Pence did a lot more bobbing and weaving when it came time to answer questions, even when the questions had more to do about himself and his qualifications as Vice President than those that talked about policy.
(Source: @MKBHD on Twitter)
The first time this happened was when Pence was given the question on whether or not he and President Trump have had any conversations around the safeguards and procedures regarding the issue of Presidential disability. Not only did Pence not answer the question, he states how he would “like to go back” to the previous question that he was asked.
Not only did he disregard the attempt that Page made to make him answer the question at hand, he asked Senator Harris to “stop playing politics with peoples’ lives .”
Those were big words coming from the mouth of a lawyer who willingly accepted the position of Vice President of the United States Chair of White House Coronavirus Task Force . One who doesn’t believe in how dangerous and deadly the coronavirus is. One who doesn’t seem to have a fundamental understanding of science or believe science to be true.
Seems like a political move playing with people’s lives to me. One that has cost the country more than 217,000 deaths since the start of the pandemic.
Then again, what would I know?
But I digress. Both candidates had their fair share of either dodging questions or simply giving answers that walked around the bush of what they really wanted to say.
In regard to the question surrounding safeguards and protections around Presidential disability; while Pence had decided to answer a previous question, Harris didn’t give a clear stance on whether or not she and Biden had discussed the possibility of her taking office, should he become unfit to do so.
Harris also declined to elaborate further or her previous support for the Green New Deal, whereas Pence couldn’t bring himself to answer if climate change represented an existential threat. When the topic of abortion came up, neither candidate was very clear or convincing on just how far backwards or forwards they were willing to go when it came to abortion rights and restrictions.
Overall, the Vice-Presidential Debate did what it set out to do. It wasn’t meant to sway or overturn any of the polls about presidential likability or sway the public into voting for a different Presidential/VP pick. It was meant to piggy-back off of the campaign work that President Trump and former Vice President Biden have been doing. The debate was meant to reassure Americans that the current VP nominators were able to stand strong on their own, while simultaneously backing their boss’s and having their best interest in mind.
If you’re still unsure as to who really won this debate (for the first time this season, American’s everywhere weren’t the loser), then take it from the fly that landed on Pence’s head.
(Source: @oranicuhh on Twitter)