Opinion: Pence’s lack of charisma paved way for Harris to win debate

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The first and only vice presidential debate of 2020 took place Wednesday night between current Vice President Mike Pence and Senator Kamala Harris, and was far more civil than the first presidential debate of this election season. However, Pence avoided many of the questions he was asked and was dismissive of Harris’ statements. Ultimately, his lack of charisma paved the way for Harris to win this debate. 

Pence’s task in this debate ― to normalize this past week of President Donald Trump’s presidency ― was a feat that many would consider impossible. Regardless of how difficult this task may have been, the vice president’s comments on COVID-19 only worsened the public’s view of the Trump administration. 

When asked about the presumably “super-spreader” Rose Garden event last week, during which many mask-less senior members of the Trump administration and conservative congressional officials were exposed to or contracted COVID-19, Pence dismissed the fact that many of our national leaders are incapable of following CDC guidelines to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Though Pence was asked how he expects the American people to follow COVID-19 guidelines while White House officials cannot, he steered clear of this question and commented instead on Americans making judgments based on the facts given to them. 

“We’re about freedom and protecting the freedom of the American people,” said Pence. 

While protecting the freedom of the American people is perfectly acceptable in many instances, when it comes to public health, compliance with CDC guidelines is crucial in avoiding tens or hundreds of thousands more from dying in the United States. 

On the other hand, Harris eloquently laid out Biden’s plan for controlling the coronavirus, which involves much-needed federal action. 

“In spite of all of that today, they still don’t have a plan,” Harris said. “They still don’t have a plan. Well, Joe Biden does and our plan is about what we need to do around the national strategy for contact tracing, for testing, for administration of the vaccine and making sure that it will be free for all.” 

Pence’s comments on COVID-19 were not the only insensitive remarks made over the course of the debate. The Vice President denied the existence of systemic racism in law enforcement and claimed that law enforcement officers do not have a bias against people of color. 

“I must say this, this presumption that you hear consistently from Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, that America is systemically racist is a great insult to the men and women who serve in law enforcement,” Pence said. “And I want everyone to know, who puts on the uniform of law enforcement every day, that President Trump and I stand with you.”

Despite Pence’s claims, racism is inherently present in the law enforcement system. This is clearly seen in the history of police forces. According to a Time Magazine article about the origins of police forces in different regions of the United States, “In the South… the economics that drove the creation of police forces were centered not on the protection of shipping interests but on the preservation of the slavery system. Some of the primary policing institutions there were the slave patrols tasked with chasing down runaways and preventing slave revolts.”

When an officer kneels on the neck of a Black man for eight minutes and 46 seconds, ultimately killing him, the systemic racism present in the law enforcement system is clear. 

One of the major issues with Pence’s debate etiquette was the presence of his condescending nature toward Harris. 

While it is common in debates for candidates to speak over one another, women experience this type of situation all the time when expressing their beliefs and opinions. Women are regularly spoken over by men as if what they are saying does not matter. Harris is not new to this sort of interruption. In 2017, Harris was interrupted by two Republican senators while questioning Attorney General Jeff Sessions, according to The New York Times

Despite the consistent interruptions from Pence, Harris responded with  “Mr. Vice President, I’m speaking.” 

Harris’ comment was an empowering moment in this debate. The consistent interruption she experienced throughout the debate is a mutually experienced situation amongst women in many historically male-dominated fields that are beginning to change, such as government and STEM.

Regardless of her early assertion against Pence’s interruptions, these interruptions continued throughout the debate. However, I believe the moderator did a commendable job in eliminating interruptions and providing candidates the opportunity to respond when this desire was clearly conveyed. 

Regardless of the turnout of the 2020 presidential election in January, the 2020 president-elect will be the oldest U.S. president in history. This raises questions about presidential disability, which is why it is so crucial to be informed on the vice presidential candidates’ positions on major national issues.