The Bully Pulpit

First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” ~Mahatma Gandhi

President Teddy Roosevelt first coined the phrase, “Bully Pulpit.” He described the White House as a “bully pulpit.”  He meant the phrase in positive way, as a powerful platform from which to advocate an agenda and policies. In Roosevelt’s day, the word bully meant superb, unlike its current meaning. Roosevelt acknowledge that the office of the President, has a distinct advantage to advocate his views with his bully pulpit.

Vice President Joe Biden’s behavior at the Vice Presidential Debate in Danville Kentucky demonstrated the modern day version of the bully pulpit. His conduct was a more of a demonstration of modern bullying, than a civilized dialogue of ideas about the future of America.

As a nationally ranked debater in high school, I learned the immutable rules of debate etiquette.  A debate should always reflect the respectful exchange of ideas. The purpose of a debate is to persuade the audience of the power of your position. Since the time of the ancient Greeks, debates served to elucidate the truth and thus, to expose the intelligence and character of the debater. Debaters are judged on the quality of their presentation. Are they facile on their feet, knowledgeable, well-prepared, sincere, and honest? Do they have a grasp of the facts which support their argument? Moreover, debaters are not only rated on the substance of their arguments, they are also ranked on the their delivery, comportment, and debating etiquette.

These rules guide all debate etiquette, yet they were woefully absent from the Vice President Joe Biden’s performance during his televised debate with Rep. Paul Ryan.

The hallmark of a good debater are:

  • Never use slang words. Words, such as, ‘malarkey’ make the debater look unintelligent and ill prepared. Sound familiar?
  • Never be patronizing or condescending to your opponent. Why? Respect is the hallmark of intelligence. Arrogance is a transparent disguise for weak arguments.
  • Never be mean, brutish, or dismissive of your opponent. Why? It makes the debater look like a bully, and nobody likes a bully.
  • Never be rude to your opponent, such as laughing or rolling eyes while your opponent is talking. Why? It makes you look desperate to distract from the powerful and persuasive arguments of your opponent. Sound familiar?
  • Address your opposing colleague by their given name, not some diminutive, such as “my friend.” Demeaning another, only demeans you.

Debates are critical and valuable in a free democratic society. They serve as an important forum so that the electorate may be educated about the beliefs and policies of its politicians.  Ideas matter.  The courteous presentation of ideas provides unfiltered information to the public so that they can make an informed decision on election day.  An educated body politic is the hallmark of a democratic republic.

Compromise is the art of politics. With a robust two party system, compromise is the only way to avoid gridlock.  Yet, there will never be compromise when one party openly derides another. Ask any children on the playground. Everyone has to play by the rules and treat each other with respect. Apparently, Joe Biden never learned those schoolyard lessons.

Laughing at your opponent, and derisively rolling eyes exposes Biden’s true character;    He is desperately trying to distract the public from Ryan’s persuasive arguments. The American electorate want and deserve an honest and thoughtful articulation of ideas without demeaning drama and empty histrionics. Name-calling or belittling ideas as “marlarkey” is the hallmark of the left. Can we have a civilized debate about abortion? No, pro-lifers are “extreme wackos” and who are conducting “a war against women.” Can we have a thoughtful debate in this country about gay marriage? No, supporters of traditional marriage are dismissed as “homophobes” who spout off “hate speech.” There is a troubling pattern that has emerged in stifling an honest, fact based debate on the important issues of our time. Pope Benedict correctly described it as “the dictatorship of relativism.”

The behavior of the Vice President in his debate with Representative Paul Ryan typified how base, crass, and demeaning the culture has become. Sadly, the Vice President reflects the coarsening America culture. He acted like the loud mouth bully in the school yard who won’t let anyone else talk and makes fun of the smartest kid in class.

Is it any wonder there is an epidemic of bullying in our schools among our children?

The Kentucky debate was touted as the first historic Vice Presidential debate between two Catholic Irishman. Biden’s derisive Colgate-optic white toothy guffaws reminded me of an old Irish Proverb: There’s anger in an open laugh.

© Elizabeth Yore-2012 All Rights Reserved.

Elizabeth Yore is the former Special Counsel at Harpo, Inc.where she served as Oprah Winfrey’s Child Advocate. She was also the former General Counsel at the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.



35 thoughts on “The Bully Pulpit

  1. Nerinab says:

    A sincere question for Rich – if Biden wasn’t acting like a bully, how would you describe his behavior? It certainly appeared “bully-like.” I have 5 kids in public school and since October was “Bullying Awareness Month” they have all gone to presentations about bullying. All of them said that Biden was acting like a bully.

  2. ArlandNichols says:

    Well said. Here is Dr. Donald DeMarco’s commentary on the debate.

  3. abadilla says:

    “Please! You dare to speak of Bullying in this website.” If this troll feels this way, why does he come in here to spew his hate?
    Thank you Elizabeth, you wrote a wonderful post. Just this Saturday I took 11 students to Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles for a debate, and in the car their leader reminded the kids not to behave like Biden if they wanted their debate to be taken seriously. If Ryan had behaved with such disrespect, I could never support him, even though I’m a Republican.
    A democrat spoke on behalf of the President and even though my kids do not agree with his thoughts, they never interrupted him or made fun of what he said. These kids are 17 year olds, definitely not as old as Biden is, but they knew better than to behave like a fool.

    1. Rich says:

      Not quite sure that you have credibility insulting Biden for the same behavior you practice in your comments. But then maybe you are in the do as I say, not as I do school of situational ethics.
      I am sure though that you are a much better person in person than you allow your online persona to be. Your message to the children was probably done for their growth even though you use the story to tell how bad the VP is.
      I hope you are able to show through example how true you are about respecting people like the VP – that was the moral of the story – wasn’t it?

  4. John son of John says:

    thank you i debate every once and a while but, i have occasionally noticed a certain disrespect for people lacking in them.
    God Bless

  5. My thoughts exactly. In our opinion, Vice-President Joe Biden came across as a bully.
    Well said and “right on”.

    1. Joe M says:

      Not coincidentally, he thus came off as the voice of the left to me.

  6. Rich says:

    Please! You dare to speak of Bullying in this website. Have you even taken a second to look at the posting of the other bloggers on this site. It was a carefully crafted attack on the Vice President, but completely a subjected one. Paul Ryan was not being bullied and to suggest so is to deny that Bullying is a real problem. You have people on CV who, though stating that it is ok to hate the sin but love sinner, make the most horrible statements about the LGBT Community and who insist that people are going to hell for opinions that disagree with them.
    If you really have concern with Bullying, then you need to help clean the CV house before your words have any strength of authority. If you ignore this plea, then you are becoming the the Bully that you want to warn against. Caring about others means more than just placing an “assessment” of one of the candidates (and leaving the rest to be believed as either victim or saint) on a hate-filled website. You need to explain yourself better than just being a national high school debater. How about being more of a Catholic leader, and not just a partisan operative.

    1. In my opinion, your comment shows that you are being deceived.
      When we look into a mirror, we are often surprised at who looks back.

      1. Rich says:

        Thanks for your analysis, but you have not idea of what you are talking about. I invite you to pray about who is truly being bullied and let me know if Ryan reached the same degree of unwarrented hatred as the LGBT community does on CV.
        When we look to Christ, then to the mirror, we all know that we have quite a way to go before we can say, no, not I, but Christ in me. But I am not sure that this was the message that the writer was promoting. I cannot stop you from Hating, but I can confront you on using Catholicism to justify it.
        If the article really wanted to be about Bullying, then it would need to be much more expansive, and not Champion Paul Ryan on not being a Bully, nor to try and say that Joe Biden is the real, true and only Bully. The writer actually violates a lot of her premise in trying to manipulate faith and the english language to create an enemy that does not exist.
        If you are really willing to say that Catholicism and the Romney campaign are the same thing, then maybe you will also swallow the crap that Biden is a Bully of the type that real advocates for Children are fighting against. Her attempt at political assasination is unbalanced and rather a poorly written article as it is based on her opinion, but tried to be laid forth as factual. When a person is only interested in bringing down a person, and willing to claim an expertise that is really not theirs, one should be running away asking what is the snake oil she is selling. But the average CV “reader” is already prepared to believe the lies put forward, many pretending that it is the goodness of faith that motivates them rather than the truth that it is more to do with their personal biases and prejudices, including homophobia and racism.

        1. John son of John says:

          for part of my young life i was a bully but, i found forgiveness and mercy and i stopped.
          thank you for pointing out lies.
          there has to be a way to counter them every time.
          God Bless

          1. abadilla says:

            If you feel CV is a bully, why are you here? Do you enjoy being bullied?

          2. John son of John says:

            No one ever has been able to beat me up mentally or physically.
            Sure I’m always open to corrections because of my self but, if you have never been a bully you would not understand.
            I not understand what you mean CV is much more charitable and gracious than nearly every website I’ve visited Except catholic answers.

            God bless.

          3. abadilla says:

            “No one ever has been able to beat me up mentally or physically.” Some would call this “perseverance” some call it “stubborness.”

          4. John son of John says:

            yep, that is it.
            i am stubborn.

        2. Joe M says:

          The left always gets the most upset when they realize that they are guilty of what they accuse others of doing.

          Biden just used his position as Vice President to send the message to the public that we shouldn’t even have an actual debate on the merits. Instead, he would like us to buy into insulting the other side, skip the merits and just move along to voting for him.

          Remember that kind of person in high school? The typical bully.

          1. Rich says:

            Please! What a partisan bunch of crap.
            Argue if you want, but at least use something real and something original. As for the Bullying, you may want to review you type of comments over the past few days. I am not sure you have credibility to speak. Bullying in schools is a real issue, and the comments that you make and dividing people into camps as to who you respect and who you do not – based only on your opinion and not even on their behavior is known as prejudice, and when you act on it to exclude others – even when you use it to exclude others from being called Catholic is nothing short of a Bullying move. Show me that there is compassion in your heart, and your words about Bullying will sound a little more true. But don’t try and make anyone believe that Paul Ryan was a victim of Bullying. That is such “stuff.” and I think you know what I mean.

          2. John son of John says:

            What if he is trying to imitate what Fulton Sheen calls an “authentic Catholic”?

          3. Rich says:

            The he had better be doing a lot more practice at his imitation. Not many would confuse Sheen with Rush.

          4. abadilla says:

            Who is he? If Rich is an authentic Catholic I’m Benedict XVII!

          5. John son of John says:

            you never know what is in anyones heart unless you are a saint.
            i am giving him the benefit of the doubt.
            because God is Merciful and you never know.

          6. abadilla says:

            Be my guess. This is a free country, and if you want to be naive, so be it!

          7. John son of John says:

            Is naive a dance?
            I only know one dance how many do you know?


          8. abadilla says:

            If you don’t know what “naive” means, look it up in a dictionary or google it and stop the bull with “Shalom” when you don’t mean it!

          9. John son of John says:

            Sorry about that just looked up.
            I can be simple but if you need to correct me please do.

            I mean shalom when I say it.
            I admire youre way of thinking because it is different than many people I know.

            God bless you

          10. abadilla says:

            It is just hard for me to believe you don’t know the word “naive” because it is a very common word. Now, if you are a 12 year old, then I get it a twelve year old’s vocabulary is just beginning to expand.
            I don’t know what you admire about my writing because most of the time, all I get is “insults” from trolls at CV.
            Sorry if I was too harsh with you.

          11. John son of John says:

            My memory has been degrading for a long time now.
            So if I knew that word a few years ago,

            I do know it again now.

            I admire how you write and how you are always staunch In you’re principles.

            While It can be hard for me it seems easy for you.

            God bless

          12. abadilla says:

            “My memory has been degrading for a long time now.”
            My goodness, what is wrong with you if I may ask? I will keep you in my prayers even if you can’t or you won’t tell me what is wrong.

          13. John son of John says:

            I wish I knew but no one I know will tell me.

            Thank you.

            You are in my prayers also.


          14. John son of John says:

            no one I know has had the courage to tell me yet.


            You are in my prayers too.

          15. abadilla says:

            It’s not a matter of “courage” it’s a matter of integrity on the part of any doctor. Now, it could very well be you know what it is but it is too painful to acknowledge such a reality.

          16. John son of John says:

            I forgive you.

          17. abadilla says:

            “Remember that kind of person in high school? The typical bully.” Yes, I remember from the days when I was in high school long ago, but I had friends who were stronger than I was and they defended me. That was a blessing.
            Today, as a teacher, I make it my mission not to allow any kids to bully anyone. This school year a young man I taught came to work for us and he said to me “I never forgot when you defended me against the class bully.” I had forgotten the incident but he reminded me of it and I felt so proud I acted the way I did. Bullying is an awful thing but to accuse Elizabeth of it, simply because she expressed her opinion, is to diminish the concept of bullying, especially coming from someone who daily bullies eveyone in this blog.

      2. abadilla says:

        John, please don’t waste your time in replying to him because this is the treatment you will get from this troll. “Thanks for your analysis, but you have not idea of what you are talking about.” You name an issue the Church supports and this troll is against it, and then he has the nerve to get “spiritual.”

    2. Think About HIM says:

      I agree 100%

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