Student Opinion: Vice Presidential Debate More Civil than Presidential Debate

Photograph by Justin Sullivan / Pool / Getty

By Jose Orozco

The Vice Presidential debate came with many jabs towards the opposing Presidential candidates. So, how important is the Vice Presidential debate when it seems to be another campaign ad? If the position of the candidates does not really matter, then why pay attention? 

Well, for one, this might be the only civil debate we will get to see. Even though the debate seems inconsequential, major achievements occurred during the debate, while the issue of respect was in full display.

Senator Kamala Harris became the first Black and South Asian woman, as well as the first graduate of a historically Black college or university, to be chosen as a major party candidate’s running mate.”

The importance of this cannot be understated during this time of social unrest and injustice.

“[She] went into [the debate] aware of the various dynamics and to thread the needle on balancing being assertive and letting it go at points,” Brandon Tensley of CNN reports. “Women are judged differently. It’s a needle we have to thread all the time, and of course she has been the only woman and the only Black woman in many spaces.”

And indeed, Senator Kamala Harris was assertive with Vice President Mike Pence. 

She continually reminded him, saying, “Mr. Vice President, I’m speaking.” Harris did not take interruptions lightly and in general, she did not allow Pence to take his way. 

Before the debate, for instance, Senator Harris demanded a plexiglass barrier for the debate. Vice President Pence disagreed with this sentiment, but in the end, Harris won. 

Even though both Harris and Pence tested negative for COVID-19 before the debate, one can never be too cautious. And Pence’s bloodshot eye definitely raised some eyebrows on whether he himself was sick with the virus.

Unfortunately, the Republican candidates have not shown themselves as taking the pandemic seriously. 

President Trump has once more surprised us, or unsurprised us, by taking off his mask while being infected with COVID-19. During his debate, he also had a large following without masks.  

The Vice-Presidential debate began with an argument on whether or not to take COVID-19 precautions seriously, while the Republican side was clearly against. Not just that, but at the end of the debate, the candidates’ partners clearly displayed the two different positions.

As The New Yorker reports: “Harris’s husband, Douglas Emhoff, a lawyer, wore a mask, as he had throughout the debate. Karen Pence had worn one [only] while sitting in the audience, as the rules required.”

She had no choice since wearing a mask was made mandatory, since Trump’s family and others broke the rules in the first Presidential debate. Additionally, the organizers enforced guidelines this time by declaring that anyone who did not wear a mask would be kicked out.  

“But, as Karen Pence approached the stage, she took hers off.” 

Was this an act done to undermine the guidelines by imitating Trump?

When the topic of COVID-19 came up, Harris began saying, “The American people have witnessed the greatest failure of any presidential administration in our country.” 

These acts of defiance by the Republican candidates prove this statement and did not go well in their favor. Instead, it serves to amplify the Democratic position. 

The CNN instant poll gave recent information that 59 percent of registered voters who watched the debate said Harris won, while 38 percent thought that Pence was the victor.

Regardless of who won, the debate brought up the important issue of respect.  

BBC has delved into this topic by considering whether gender played a role during the debate, alluding to a 2014 study that found speakers to interrupt more readily when speaking with a woman. 

More recently, a 2017 study shared that these interruptions do occur in higher positions, “with male Supreme Court justices interrupting female justices three times more than they interrupted each other.”

They tallied the number of interruptions with Pence having ten and Harris having five. 

Of course, this is nothing compared to the 71 interruptions of President Trump and the 21 of Mr. Biden.

Personally, I found the debate to not really have a gender issue. 

Nonetheless, this is something to keep in mind since it deals with respect. And respect, to me, seems to be the main issue in this election where defiance and ethical dilemmas go hand in hand. 

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  1. Keith Olsen

    Yes, it was a very cordial debate on both sides for the most part.  I had to laugh, after the first time Harris scolded Pence not to interrupt her Harris herself immediately interrupted Pence when it was his turn.  To me Harris came across as very condescending with her continual smirking, eye rolls and shaking her head.  Pence came across as much more presidential like while Harris didn’t at all.

    Personally, I found the debate to not really have a gender issue. 

    I agree, the best sentence of this article.

    1. David Greenwald

      I think a lot of women would disagree especially when you have Mike Pence (a man) talking over two women.

      My Republican friend from Indiana and I were chatting during the debate and his belief was that this would exacerbate the gender gap – if that’s even possible given how wide it was.

      1. Alan Miller

        I think a lot of women would disagree especially when you have Mike Pence (a man) talking over two women.

        I don’t get your point.   ‘talking over’ in what way?  What is the gender issue or gender gap you are referring to?  I’m wondering what you are seeing that I’m not. And why the need to point out Mike Pence is a man? I think most of us could see that.

        1. Ron Oertel

          Probably because (as a man), he’d be too busy talking over you to hear anything you say.  😉

          In general, I don’t doubt that this occurs (more often to women). But, there may be more than one reason for it.

          In close relationships, I suspect that this occurs in the opposite way, as well.

  2. Tia Will


    Thanks for the article, and the smile.

    Personally, I found the debate to not really have a gender issue. 

    This is the line that prompted my smile. I had not noted your gender before reading the article. But, I could easily surmise it from this one line. Every woman I have talked with since the debate recognized the pattern of behavior that almost all women have had to deal with all their lives. That is the assumption made by most men that what they have to say is more valid than what a woman has to say, even when she is an expert in a field and they are not. As women, we encounter this is nearly every aspect of our lives, from shopping, to house repairs, to our profession whether as chefs or architects, sports trainers or surgeons. I suspect you did not notice it because it is not part of your lived experience. But I believe that the 2 to 1 ration of interruptions reflects the experience of nearly every woman.

    1. Ron Oertel

      That is the assumption made by most men that what they have to say is more valid than what a woman has to say, even when she is an expert in a field and they are not.

      That in itself is a sexist statement.

      1. Tia Will

        It is based on direct personal experience. Even on our Ob/Gyn administrative team, men talked over the women, including the first female head of the department more than they did each other. You may consider it sexist, I consider it to be fact. Many studies in different situations, professions and have found this to be objectively true. I see your comment as the equivalent of calling someone “racist” for calling out objectively observable racism.

      2. Ron Oertel

        “That is the assumption made by most men . . .”

        I have not seen anything, anywhere to support that claim.  How do you know what “most men assume”?  (For that matter, how would ANYONE know that?)

        This is equivalent to saying things like this:

        “Most women assume that . . .

        “Most black people assume that . . .

        “Most white people assume that . . .

        “Most Asians assume that . . .

        (What follows the ellipsis is irrelevant, in all of the examples above.)

    2. Chris Griffith

      Tia,I know this might get you wound up like a Tencent balloon but women don’t communicate the same way men do. They never have and they most likely never will. Men and women follow different rules when communicating. Men are hard-wired to use overt communication. Because WE are rational. We say what we mean, and we mean what we say. We take words at face value. Women, on the other hand, are hard-wired differently. They use covert communication. Because women are not rational – they are emotional…
      Just my opinion….

      1. David Greenwald

        Given that I think you are accurate that women do not communicate the same way men do – why does Kamala get held to a different standard than Pence? Why is it acceptable for Pence to talk over women (who he has a louder voice than) but not for women to talk over men?

        1. Keith Olsen

          Who is complaining about Kamala talking over men?  All the complaining I’m reading here is some felt Pence talked over her.  It’s a debate, people end up talking over each other.  Is Kamala supposed to be treated with kid gloves because she’s a woman?

      2. Eric Gelber

        Chris Griffith – Women are “hard-wired” differently? So, women are genetically irrational and emotional? Welcome to the 1950s.

        Let’s take as an example, the candidates in the last presidential election—Clinton vs. Trump. You tell me which candidate was the more rational and which one was more emotional? (Hint: The words rational and Trump have never been used in the same sentence, before this one.)

  3. John Hobbs

    These Student pieces have been great.

    My take on the debate is that Pence had bullet (bullsh*t) points to make, mostly lies and half-truths, and Harris engaged in debate.

    Does anyone seriously doubt Pence’s 19th century view of women and their place in society?

    The other thing I noticed was the absence of Karen Pence’s mask, an obvious violation of the rules and completely disrespectful to everyone else in the room. At this point prominent people within Trump’s infection circle should be charged with reckless endangerment for such an act.

    1. Tia Will

      It is not “simply politics” to dislike policies that allow babies to die alone in cages, to attempt to ban an entire religion from entry, to cover up the murder of a journalist, to not speak out against bounties on service members, and to not formulate a national plan while allowing over 200K Americans to die.

      1. Bill Marshall

        Chris G…

        I respectfully suggest you lose the emoticon thingy… unless you really want the intended/perceived nuances to ‘flavor’ your posts…  use your words, is my suggestion… but only that… friendly suggestion…

  4. Chris Griffith

    Bill Marshall,

    Thank you very much for the constructive criticism. I do get carried away with the Emojis.

    I consider politics whether it’s Republican or Democrat to like watching soap operas on television.



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