Originally published on the Star Tribune Blog.
Today I saw a headline on Buzzfeed that read “Both Campaigns Agree: The VP Debate Was Painful to Watch.” While Buzzfeed is not a very reliable news source, I think they got this headline right. In fact, I would like to re-write the part of the title and it would say “Most of America Agrees: The VP Debate Was Painful to Watch.”
I can’t say I have watched a lot presidential debates and I certainly did not watch the last vice presidential debate between Biden and Ryan (or any other vice presidential debates for that matter). But in the midst of this unconventional campaign season, I was expecting a rather conventional debate from Kaine and Pence. In all, I hoped it would be low on the theatrics that were evident in the first presidential debate. I trusted their running mates to carry on a lively, but civilized debate.
My expectations were shattered in the first 5 minutes. Kaine and Pence were interrupting each other within the first few minutes of the debate. Indeed, not ONLY did they interrupt, they constantly talked over each other, Kaine being the most aggressive. They also ignored moderator Elaine Quijano’s requests to stop talking over each other. At one point Quijano had to remind that candidates that no one can understand them when they both talk at once. In addition, both candidates insisted on extra time to fact check or correct their opponent despite Quijano’s assertions that it was time to move on to a different subject or that that particular subject would be covered later in the debate. I agree there is a need for fact-checking, especially in a presidential campaign where facts are often treated as merely opinions. However, when the moderator has set time limits for responses and is asserting that it is time to move on, so as to cover more topics, the fact-checking could have been left to the campaign websites or virtually any news/media site.
While the bickering was annoying, perhaps it would have been acceptable had it pertained to the questions at hand. Instead, Kaine and Pence went wildly off subject on multiple questions. On the subject of national safety, Quijano posed a question regarding the cyber safety of America. Pence brought up Clinton’s private email server, as an example of how she and Kaine are unfit to protect American security. Using the email server is an old and worn tactic, but I will say that this is probably one of its fairest uses. Of course I would expect Kaine to fire back and defend Clinton. However, the candidates just became entangled in the finer legal proceedings of the email lawsuit. The next question surrounding the duty of America to protect Syrian civilians turned into a squabble about Trump’s evasion of taxes. And finally, a question about preventing North Korea from developing a nuclear weapon turned into the candidates flinging insults about the Clinton and Trump Foundations. Quijano even had to step in and remind the candidates that her original question was about North Korea. Pence laughed but continued to talk about the Trump foundation. Kaine would interrupt him with a few quick refutations. Finally, after another prompt from Quijano, the candidates returned to the subject of North Korea. I understand that there are certain key phrases and ideas such as the emails and the tax evasion that these campaigns want to keep in the minds of Americans. However, I was offended and put-off by how often these candidates referred back to these catch phrases while evading serious questions about American security and foreign policy.
Parts of the debate were positive, particularly when each candidate defended and outlined their running mates’ economic plans. However, their bickering, lack of ability to stay focused on various questions, and disrespect for each other and Quijano forms my overall impression of this debate. I had hoped that this debate would be void of the insults and the overall theatrics of the larger campaign. I was sorely disappointed.