Opinion: The VP debates still left much to be desired from our politicians

By Padideh Aghanoury

Oct 9, 2020 | Editorials | 0 comments

//Sen. Kamala Harris and Vice President Mike Pence debated each other on Oct. 7. 

A recap of last night’s vice presidential debate: this one was far more watchable than the presidential debate last week. 

I’m not saying it was enjoyable to watch, just more watchable.

Vice President Mike Pence went over his allotted time nearly every time he spoke—and not just a few seconds. He went over his time significantly, sometimes by upwards of a minute. Running over the time limit has been a constant problem in these debates for the last several years, and there’s nothing to suggest this trend will change anytime soon. Rather than create a structure for the debates that forces unruly participants to adhere to the terms—like giving the power to the moderator to cut the mic when a candidate has gone over their time—we see the same fruitless tactics derail the debates over and over. It’s literal insanity, having a moderator try to regain control over the debate like a schoolteacher with an unruly classroom. And what is the point of having a moderator if they don’t have the power to stop a candidate and fact-check in real-time? Newsrooms are failing the American people when viewers have to sit in front of the TV with a computer in tow, furiously Googling the raw barrage of lies tumbling out of candidates’ mouths.   

Sen. Kamala Harris was respectful of her allotted time for most of the debate, only going over her given time a couple of times in the first hour. In the last half-hour, she reciprocated Pence’s tactic and started pushing past her time limit significantly. When interrupted or talked over by Pence, Harris responded with a curt reminder that she was speaking, a refrain she repeated throughout the entire debate.

It seemed that Pence’s tactic was to steamroll the conversation. He spoke over both Sen. Harris and the moderator, Susan Page, repeatedly and blatantly ignored the moderator’s reminders that his time was up. The constant interruptions from Pence eventually boiled over roughly an hour into the debate, when Page addressed Pence directly for his flippant attitude toward the debate rules. 

Pence kicked off the debate without wasting any time to accuse the Biden campaign of plagiarizing President Trump’s COVID response plan. Harris’ response was to point out how badly the Trump administration botched their response to the pandemic, as well as a reminder that Pence is the head of the task force. He also accused Harris of “trying to play politics with people’s lives.”  This was a bold claim given that Trump only a day before, Tweeting that negotiations for the second round of stimulus checks would be halted until after “the election when, immediately after I win, we will pass a major Stimulus Bill (sic).”

Harris had a number of snappy retorts. She challenged Pence on the truthfulness of some of his more dubious claims. Overall, Harris’s experience as a district attorney and prosecutor was clear during this debate. Her direct responses to Pence were strong, but her answers to the questions posed by the moderator came off as weak at times. For example, both candidates were asked about the health and ability of their bosses, as they are both the oldest presidential candidates in U.S. history. Rather than discuss the transparency around Biden’s health, Harris seized on the “transparency” topic and used it to pivot to discussing Trump’s tax returns. Not a good look for the VP pick of a presidential candidate who looks on the brink of death. 

Pence, however, hardly answered the questions asked of him either. Often, he used the time given to answer a new question to return to the previous one and continue arguing. When asked how he felt about abortion as a state right, specifically for his state of Indiana, he only talked about the Trump administration’s Supreme Court pick, Amy Coney Barrett. 

One particularly grim exchange during the debate surrounded the topic of fracking. Pence claimed that Biden was against fracking, and Harris was quick to reassure viewers that Biden supported the fossil fuel extraction process. It was absolutely nauseating to sit there and watch two politicians vying for the second-highest office in this country trip over themselves to assert that their candidate will NOT ban fracking. It feels chilling to listen to those discussions over a pounding migraine brought on by three months of endless wildfire smoke from all across the western United States. It’s terrifying to hear fracking be defended during a global pandemic that may have theoretically been brought on by a disease that only came to existence because the natural habitats of animals are destroyed to the degree that animals that have never, ever in the biological history of this planet lived together—such as bats and pigs—are now cohabitating and creating mutated viruses that wreak havoc on humans. 

The outcome of this debate? Both candidates are weak on the environment, arguably the most pressing concern for the entirety of the planet. So no matter who wins, we sure as hell better have a plan to fix carbon emissions now or get better at pandemic response. 


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