As I watched Thursday night’s vice presidential debate, something left me feeling very unsettled. At first, I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.
The Vice President certainly seemed much more animated and engaged than President Obama had been in the first debate. And, while the candidates did delve into greater detail about their positions on some of the most pressing domestic and foreign policy issues facing our nation, well let’s just say, something was clearly “off.”
Like many, I was first struck by the Vice President laughing at nearly every comment made by Congressman Ryan on serious issues like national security, our sluggish economy, and the lack of access to sustainable and quality healthcare.
While some in the media were trying to predict what gaffe the Vice President would make, most concerned citizens were ready to listen to what he and Ryan had to say about these important topics. After all, President Obama’s debate performance left us with many unanswered questions.
But, what I don’t believe many expected to see was such incessant and derisive laughter throughout the debate. Let’s face it, it was kind of weird.
Did he have a case of the nervous giggles? After all, there was a lot riding on Biden’s performance.
You see, it finally occurred to me that, like many Latinas in the workforce (or those that used to be in the work force due to the high unemployment rate), I actually know that laugh. In fact, many women and minorities in America know that laugh all too well.
His laughter was meant to communicate a message, “Your comments are quaint, but what you have to say, well, it really doesn’t matter. In fact, I kind of find it amusing you’re even here.”
Perhaps he didn’t know he came across as an ageist toward Ryan; but what it demonstrated to me personally, was an inherit lack of respect on the part of Vice President Biden. Clearly, this wasn’t just an imprudent and nervous reaction. Rather, it was a purposeful tactic to discredit his opponent.
Unfortunately, the unintended consequence of his strategy was that it also showed a lack of respect to all Americans who were truly interested in hearing what both had to say.
Mr. Vice-President, do you know what mothers do to their offspring when they laugh, roll their eyes and constantly interrupt? I don’t think you’d like to find out!
I was taught early on that showing respect is important – regardless of who you are or what position you hold. You treat people just as you would want to be treated yourself.
Given this was the first and only Vice Presidential debate, I’m sure most would agree this is the perfect venue in which to exercise those skills and some self-restraint.
It doesn’t help Vice President Biden’s case to remind women of those few and unfortunate men who throughout our careers have spoken down to us and snickered condescendingly, at times calling us “dear” or “honey,” and dismissively patting us on the back in such a way as to suggest we could never be their equals.
I gather from the post-debate chatter that I am not alone. The Vice President’s behavior also struck a nerve with women of diverse backgrounds, who have for too long now faced this unacceptable type of behavior and disrespect, whether in their careers or personal relationships.
The Vice President’s patronizing tone is what I and many women saw in Joe Biden last night. They saw someone who didn’t find it necessary to show an ounce of respect, neither for his opponent, nor for the millions of Americans who tuned in to watch, listen and learn more about the very serious issues facing our country.
For all the talk of “Big Bird” after the first debate, last night we got “Tickle Me Elmo” and our concerns over serious issues were laughed off.
Jennifer S. Korn, a Marine Corps spouse, is Executive Director of the Hispanic Leadership Network (HLN). Previously, she served in President George W. Bush's White House as Director of Hispanic and Women's Affairs.