Friday, October 3, 2008

Joe Biden's Sympathetic Nodding

I only got to see thirty minutes of the debate last night as I had school. But DU had the debates on in the Moot Court classroom, so I stopped in there between classes. Honestly, I was hoping for good entertainment. Poor Governor Palin, so hopelessly average, can't put two sentences together. And then there's Our Guy, Senator Biden and his plagiaristic past (embarrassing) and his plainly stupid present. He recently said that when the stock market crashed in 1929, President Roosevelt got on T.V. and calmed the nation. (More embarrassing).

What I saw were two very rehearsed, professional-looking people doing their best not to screw it all up. The Senator was keeping his foot out of his mouth and the Governor was doing her best to remember what she'd memorized earlier this week.

So I watched the interaction between them. I was particularly interested in seeing what Senator Biden was going to do in light of the fact that his opponent is a woman. Ordinarily, I don't see why it would matter that she is a woman. The Speaker of the House is a woman, for goodness sakes. But there has been this weird use of the word "sexist" lately. I am perplexed as to why it has been suggested that Senator Biden had to be careful not to look sexist when debating Governor Palin. It was suggested that he might be too aggressive. I don't get that. Isn't it sexist to suggest that Governor Palin is too delicate to be debating a man? Should she worry that he is going to be mean? Is he going to reach over and tug on her hair?

Now, don't get me wrong. I think there has been some misogyny in the campaign, but particularly in reference to Senator Clinton being like a school marm or a shrew. Governor Palin has been lucky that her serious lack of substance makes her a mockery, so no one has had to make ad hominim attacks on her womanhood.

Governor Palin is many things, but she certainly isn't delicate. And when she's scripted she's a pretty good public speaker. Add to that that as a high school debate coach, I see boys and girls in deathmatches against each other all the time. The girls expect no favors for being female, and the boys certainly don't hold back on their attacks. Debate is about winning.

So it interested me that Senator Biden, in his effort to show respect to Governor Palin, listened intently as she spoke and even added nods. You know those nods -- the ones that men are supposed to use when listening to women, to show that they have sympathy, that they "understand," and that they are "there for" them? Clearly, he had been coached. Some one on his campaign has read Men are From Mars, Women are From Venus.

The nodding was artificial. Why do the American people expect sympathy and "understanding" in a presidential debate? Nodding in deference to your opponent's gender in a debate is demeaning to your opponent, not respectful. If one of my boy debaters did that in a round against a girl, I'd bench him.

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