Thursday, October 02, 2008
Some words about the debate
I won't be watching the debate tonight. I've got a concert to attend. It is Rocktober after all...I can't be bothered with political participation. But I've had some thoughts over the past couple days regarding debates, expectations and sexism.

My sister-in-law sent me an interesting article today. The article does a few interesting things...

First, it lends credence to the idea that the Obama camp is attempting to raise expectations about Palin's debate skills. Most people who follow political rhetoric understand that if the expectations are low for a candidate, they most always meet or exceed those expectations. The better than expected performance is often misinterpreted to be a victory in the debate. The most recent example of this was George W. Bush. Because he was able to put together coherent sentences in 2000, he was seen in (some of) the post-debate spin as a winner. Not the winner but a winner. And soon, the headline was BUSH WINS DEBATE. These types of headlines suggest that Bush was somehow intellectual enough to be the leader of the free world. Obviously, the recent press about Palin suggests that she is about to crash and burn. This means any performance she has tonight is better than expected. The Obama camp is trying to manage some post-debate spin before the debate.

Second, the article continues the question of "how" Biden will debate Palin. Palin, after all, is a proud owner of a vagina. Vaginas make debates difficult. The article echos many others in tracing the difficulty back to the Bush/Ferraro debate in 1984 when Ferraro called H.W. out for being "patronizing." Of course, Ferraro dropped the line (although I don't doubt it was prepared) after Bush had offered to help her understand the difference between Iran and Lebenon. A difference she understood after 6 years in Congress.

To combat the difficulty, Biden has been practicing against Jennifer Granholm. A woman. The article says his practice is...."making it unlikely that he will fall into some of the potential pitfalls of debating against a woman." This is where I get a bit fuzzy....Does Biden normally fall into sexist, patronizing, hurtful speech? Does he have to practice against a woman in order to stay focused in the actual debate? Shouldn't it be true that Biden is as committed to a respectful, equal debate no matter the sex organs of his opponent? I'd like to think so. And I'd like Biden to come out and say so. I place much of the blame for this fuzzy analysis on the media and their pre-debate spin and (sudden) propensity to cry sexism. But I also am skepitcal of this essentialist handling of debate prep by the Obama/Biden campaign.

As a proud attendee of debate camp, I do not disparage the value of practice for debaters. I do not deny that Biden's biggest weakness during the debate will be his propensity to shout. Shouting=bad. Shouting does not seem presidential. Shouting does not sound calm and rational. And shouting can be sexist....when the words someone is shouting are sexist. But practice does not prevent falling into sexist traps. Nor does practicing against someone like Jennifer Granholm prepare Biden for debating Palin. As far as I can tell, Granholm and Palin can not be more different.

If Biden has to succumb to essentialist practicing to prevent sexist language from spewing out of his mouth, we have bigger issues than the debate....

[edit] Salon's take here

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