“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.