It’s been three days since the vice-presidential debate. I purposely didn’t write about it the next day because I wanted a chance to digest it.
Both candidates had personal goals in this debate: Biden needed to show that he could carry on a successful debate without coming across as a sexist bully. Palin needed to show that she’s capable of carrying on a debate, period. Both achieved their goals.
I am in the unenviable position of admiring Sarah Palin for what she’s accomplished while abhorring the thought of her accomplishing even more: becoming the first woman vice president of the United States. There are so many reasons why that makes me uneasy, I don’t have room to go into them here.
But one of the things that I most dislike about Palin (although many people love it) is her folksiness. And the reason I don’t like it is because I believe that she is playing on her womanhood to get away with it. From the time the two candidates walked onto the stage and she asked Biden if she could call him “Joe” to her line about “Say it ain’t so, Joe!” she attempted to get away with behavior that would be considered disrespectful at best and rude at worst if a man had attempted it.
Biden respectfully called Palin “Governor” throughout the debate, even correcting himself at one point when he referred to her as “Sarah Palin.” But Palin used her folksy charm to get away with comments that lowered the tenor of the debate. When Biden called her on not answering the questions, she answered that she was more interested in talking straight to the American people than in answering questions that were put to her by the debate moderator, Biden, and the media. Huh?
I have not heard anyone in the press refer to her act as a version of the “shrinking violet” and the “iron hand in the velvet glove.” They’re probably afraid to do so because they don’t want to sound sexist. But I was raised to believe in good manners, and I respected Biden for displaying his.
To me, being a feminist doesn’t mean that you get to play on your womanly wiles to do whatever the hell you want to. Maybe I’m just uncomfortable with the fact that Palin is playing the game the way her male counterparts do. But that’s just it: she’s not. She’s using her womanhood to get away with behavior that would be criticized if a man displayed it.
Joe Biden is not Sarah Palin (thank God). Neither is he Hillary Clinton (unfortunately). But Obama could have done worse. If that’s not a ringing endorsement, it’s because I don’t really know that much about Biden. And I think that’s a glaring mistake of the Obama campaign.
The Obama campaign needs to appeal to the female swing voters in this country. Biden has a good record regarding women’s rights. Yesterday I made a link to an article entitled “Ladies’ Man” in which Biden’s efforts on behalf of the Violence Against Women Act were recounted. Biden has also co-sponsored re-introducing the Equal Rights Amendment. Even though he is Catholic and believes that life begins at conception, he supports a woman’s right to privacy when it comes to her own body.
I have found that many people are in the dark about his personal history. I was until I started researching him recently. His first wife and daughter were killed and his two sons critically injured in a car accident in 1971. Rather than pull his sons out of their school and community after this tragedy, he made the decision to commute from Delaware. He was a single parent for five years before marrying his second (and present) wife in 1977.
I’m not saying that just surviving a personal tragedy makes you a better person. But it takes a certain amount of fortitude to keep on going, especially for your children, when something like this happens. The fact that he decided to continue his political career in the midst of all this could be seen by some to be a misplacement of priorities, but it can also be seen as an example of his dedication to what he believed to be his life’s work.
Jill and Joe have a daughter, Ashley Blazer Biden, who was born in 1981. She is a social worker. Their son Joseph Beau Biden is Delaware’s Attorney General and son Robert Hunter Biden is a lawyer. The couple also have 5 grandchildren: Naomi, Finnegan, Roberta Mabel, Natalie and Robert Hunter.
I think that Biden is from the school of politics in which you don’t talk about your family or use them in any way for political gain. But Palin has broken that unspoken rule. (Or rather, McCain’s campaign handlers have.) Personally, I want to know about a candidate’s family and personal history. It will all come out sooner or later, the press being what it is. So why not be proactive and go ahead and promote Joe Biden the man as well as the politician?
Joe Biden has a problem: he has to debate the Ueberfrau of all time. Sarah Palin is far more famous for being a woman than for being a politician. But it will take delicate handling to not come across as disrespecting sacred womanhood. He needs to treat her like a serious candidate without giving her credibility. But if he is seen as attacking her, people will react as if he were a sexist bully. And we all know that it’s not right to hit a woman, even metaphorically.
What Biden needs to do is show that he is the real champion of women’s rights, without coming out and saying that she isn’t. Biden has a great record on women’s rights, but if he tries to pump himself up by saying so, it will look condescending. No one will believe that a man can know women’s minds better than a woman can. He has to come across as her equal, not make her seem like she’s not his.
Palin will probably try to make Biden look like he’s part of the corrupt, old-boy’s network that she proposes to counteract. Biden needs to sidestep her attempts while not letting go of the fact that he has far more experience and knowledge than she does. He has to explain who he is not who she isn’t. So far the average person knows a helluva lot more about Palin than he does about Biden. Biden needs to let us get to know him; that’s the only way to counter Palin’s recent celebrity. (It’s interesting that McCain has created exactly what he criticized Obama for being.)
I’m not saying that it will be easy. In fact, I think it will be damn hard. But America needs to see Biden as a real person, the way they think they see Palin. Good luck, Joe Biden. You’re going to need it.