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shut up

the apex of civility
general reaction seems to be that last night's vice presidential debate was close to a draw, with a slight edge going to mike pence [other than among cnn's panel of independent voters, who overwhelmingly chose tim kaine as the winner]. i feel that's an accurate assessment, although it's largely a question of personal preference. pence absolutely projected the stoic, unflappable, unwavering image that many americans [not just republicans, either] seem to like and equate with strength. for my part, i prefer someone who's a little more mercurial, someone who's able to gets excited about ideas and who's able to expand on them, not just repeat talking points.

so, from my point of view, both vice presidential candidates were pretty disappointing. i found that kaine had a fantastic command of facts and history- he knew pence's voting record better than pence knew his and possibly better than pence knew his own. his opening answers were so smoothly delivered it was hard to believe that he wasn't working off a teleprompter. there was no question which man had the superior intellect between the two. but for at least three quarters of the time, he was talking about donald trump. sure, those things had to be done, but pence has more than enough weak points himself and kaine should have taken more shots at those.

pence, for his part, was a slow and steady ship. that's fine, because i think it's clear that that ship has set a course for 2020. unfortunately, a lot of his time was spent deflecting kaine's attacks about trump, which he proved incompetent at doing. it turns out that mike pence is an even more audacious liar about things trump has said in the past than trump himself, which has opened the door for an extended gag reel of pence's denials of certain statements at the debate, edited with footage of the actual statements. again, i doubt it matters to pence himself, because his plans are longer term.

but that stuff isn't terrifically influential in my assessment of the debate, because all i could think for 90% of the time i was watching was that i wanted to pump both men full of enough surgical anesthetic for them to pass out. for probably 87 of the 90+ minutes of debate, the primary voice in my head was screaming shut up!!!

if there was a clear winner in the debate last night, it was probably donald trump, or at least the sort of intellectual exchange that he represents: huge portions of the debate were comprised of both men almost literally screaming talking points over each other, as the moderator tried to restore order. there was not one meaningful or thoughtful exchange, not that these forums generally encourage them, but you'd like to think that someone could at least try.

kaine was guilty of repeated interruptions right out of the gate, although it didn't take his opponent long to match him stride for stride on that front. pence, however, had the market on facial expressions cornered, rolling his eyes, shaking his head or pointing a mocking stare virtually every time kaine opened his mouth. it was a sort of offensive spectacle, like watching two spoiled brats fighting over their toys while visiting an orphanage.

but worse than their complete disdain for the people who might actually be interested in what they had to say, was their utter disrespect for the moderator. i will warrant that she seemed woefully unprepared: despite the numerous tangents and "discussion" segments led by both men, the debate ran only a few minutes overtime, which means that the host [and her production team] had not come with nearly enough questions to fill the time unless the two men got out of control. but that said, both kaine and pence conducted themselves as if she weren't even there. they completely disregarded the actual questions and simply stuck to their talking points, no matter what she did to try to rein them in. in fact, both men, at different times, simply said that they would get around to answering her question once they'd finished saying what they wanted to. both tried to boss her around, telling her when she should intervene, when she should allow each of them to speak and when she should return to a topic that one of them wanted to discuss.

there was not one instance in the entire debate when either man heeded her admonishments to stop speaking over each other, or to return to the topic. they simply continued their incomprehensible shouting until they ran out of steam. several of her questions were difficult to hear because the previous speaker simply bellowed over her to finish his point.

some might say "that's politics", but it isn't. that's not even "infotainment" [because no one was entertained by that spectacle, believe me]. neither man may have hit the ridiculous lows of donald trump at the first presidential debate, but that can't be where we set the bar for decorum. these two are supposed to be representative of the safe middle ground, the space that most americans actually inhabit, where the national divisions are narrower. what does it say that they can't even have an even moderately intelligent discussion? or that, having agreed to a debate format where a moderator would serve as the referee and director, that they were incapable of showing any respect whatsoever? if that's the moderate middle, it says nothing hopeful about the prospects for the future.

i can say with nearly 100% certainty that the vice presidential debate will have no effect on the outcome of this election. however, its effect on me is that i find myself repulsed by both of them, not because of their ideas, because i don't feel like i heard any of them, but because, on their one big night, they couldn't even pull it together enough to act like decent human beings. 

Comments

I had exactly the same reaction to the debate (I stopped watching halfway through and came back only at the end). It seemed to me that each guy had memorized about six things that he was determined to say whether or not they corresponded to the question being asked. Kaine basically blew the first question ("why are you qualified to be VP?") by talking about Hillary Clinton for about 90% of it. And WHY would he adopt the hyper-aggressive strategy that had cost Trump his own debate? As for Pence, you're right that a lot of Americans are inclined to read his sociopathic calm as "masculine strength" instead of "total absence of personal investment in any of the topics under discussion." A Guardian commenter referred to him as a "Blade Runner replicant," which is the best description of him I've ever seen.

I was a debater in college (on the same debate circuit as Ted Cruz, and I met a lot of awful Cruz-like people), and it's amazing how different political debate is from collegiate parliamentary debate. For one thing, we would have been disqualified from a round for shouting over each other.
Kate MacDonald said…
I salute your better instincts by turning refusing to watch the whole thing. And you're absolutely right, the kind of behaviour we see at all these events is disqualifying in things like debate tournaments and model parliaments for high school and college students.

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