Last (Vice) Presidential Debate?

Like many others, I watched the vice-presidential debate on Wednesday evening (October 7th) with relatively low expectations. I figured that it would be much more civilized than the first presidential debate but would not have much new to offer. That’s exactly what I found. However, the next morning, President Trump announced that he would not participate in the October 15th debate due to its change from an in-person to a virtual event.

As we know, this change in venue was a response to the president’s contraction of the coronavirus. When he refused to participate in a remote presidential debate, the independent debate commission cancelled it. That means the vice-presidential debate may now be the last presidential event in this election cycle. We had better pay attention. So, another look is in order.

The normal kinds of fact checking that we discussed last week after the presidential debate will not serve us here. Sure, there were inaccuracies in the debate that can be classified as lies, fake news, etc. but there was nothing that I found to be completely outside the norms of political debates. Nor could various outlets determine a clear “winner” in terms of who persuaded new segments of voters to change their votes.

The morning after the debate, Bloomberg declared, “Harris Rips Trump Over Virus as Pence Hits Biden on Taxes, Court.”  However, the candidates had only 90 minutes to debate 12 issues. We are living in very trying times right now and all the issues raised were very important—there simply wasn’t enough time to discuss almost any of them. This was compounded by both candidates using the classic politician strategy of completely ignoring certain questions. They pivoted instead to well-practiced talking points meant to appeal to voters.

While the debate featured far fewer interruptions than its presidential counterpart, one particular exchange led to Senator Harris’ thoroughly quotable line, “Mr. Vice President, I am speaking.” That line has since been printed on all sorts of political merchandise, including shirts and mugs.

I propose an alternative approach to trying to cram such a large list of topics into such a short time: let the debaters use their opening speeches to address why they deserve re-election to the position (in the case of the vice president) or why a replacement is necessary (Senator Harris). The rest of the debate would be confined to a combination of the issues that they raised in their opening speeches and one or two responses to public questions.

Since COVID-19 is the dominant event that has shaped our life over the last nine months, it was unsurprising that Senator Harris attacked the administration on its mishandling of the pandemic. Naturally, the vice president tried to defend the administration on how it has handled this issue. In both cases, the comparison of the pandemic’s impact on the US to that of other countries (normalized for population) was relevant.

The moderator asked Senator Harris what first steps Vice President Biden has planned, should he win the election. Her response was that their administration would immediately implement all of the relevant scientific recommendations regarding coronavirus. That includes mandates on mask wearing, keeping safely distanced, washing hands, and shutting down high-contagion establishments and activities.

VP Pence responded that this is the same policy that the administration has already been implementing and accused the Biden campaign of plagiarism. This was sort of a clever jab as it tried to remind voters that over his long career, Biden has had some issues with plagiarism. That said, there’s no secret about what would help quell the virus. Part of the tragedy of the situation is that the Trump administration knows very well what needs to be done but they continually refuse to do it. Senator Harris didn’t have time to respond and had to end the discussion with a sarcastic smile. Similar dynamics took place on many of the other issues.

When the moderator asked about the availability and timeline of a vaccine, Senator Harris responded that if the scientists certify a vaccine, she will be the first in line to try to get it. If, instead, President Trump were the only one vouching for the vaccine, she said, she would absolutely not take it. VP Pence claimed this meant she would be putting the American public in danger by questioning the effectiveness of the vaccine and discouraging people from taking it.

This sort of extreme politicization of the coronavirus is at the heart of the US failure in confronting the pandemic. Hopefully, once the election is over, we can focus on following the science and making progress in our country’s fight against this disease.

About climatechangefork

Micha Tomkiewicz, Ph.D., is a professor of physics in the Department of Physics, Brooklyn College, the City University of New York. He is also a professor of physics and chemistry in the School for Graduate Studies of the City University of New York. In addition, he is the founding-director of the Environmental Studies Program at Brooklyn College as well as director of the Electrochemistry Institute at that same institution.
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7 Responses to Last (Vice) Presidential Debate?

  1. Roksana Jasiewicz says:

    I did not watch the Vice Presidential debate. I was not aware of the “plagiarism” issue mentioned, and I will look into it.

  2. Vlad Kryshtal says:

    I did not watch the Vice president debate, but from reading this, I think some matters are important like vaccine and schools. I wouldn’t personally trust a vaccine from the Trump administration or the Biden administration, however I like that Biden wanted to elect the man in charge of the Ebola virus pandemic, to be his health official. During Ebola, it was considered a very huge outbreak and was properly contaminated, so given historical context it is the right choice. With the Trump administration it made me uneasy to think about a vaccine since Trump had made insane comments on some treatments like bleach being something that helps eradicate coronavirus. It is as if our president thinks this is a joke and something that is not taken seriously. As for schools re opening, I still don’t agree with allowing state governments to be in charge of this, because children spread viruses more than anyone else. During such a time most of America’s decisions should be on a federal level in my opinion compared to state level. Without federal control, everything keeps going backwards as NY had shut down once again due to a new surge of cases.

  3. jasjot parmar says:

    I would agree with Ms Harris on her opinion on not taking a vaccine under the trump administration, due to the public health official they nominated, believed the virus was from aliens and demons and The president has on record gave various solutions as a vaccine, such as bleach and sunshine.

  4. Aidan J. Lawrence says:

    As you commented, I went into the Vice presidential debate with very low expectations. The issue of going back to school is a controversial topic. While it is necessary that we can’t judge each state on the same basis; as each state is handling the pandemic differently, it is to be made sure that each state make’s it safe and capable for students and teachers to return.

  5. Mariia Zakharova says:

    I don’t really understand why wearing masks, keeping the distance and washing hands can ever be called plagiarism. These are basic steps each one of us should take to stay healthy. Calling it plagiarism is definitely not reasonable. Even if there is no bigger plan than this one, we should at least do that to stay safe. Not mentioning these basic rules would be weird.

  6. I am glad each state can decide for itself whether it will open schools and public spaces. hopefully, this is being decided by the number of cases in each area.
    There seems to be too much back and forth between each side which can negatively affect the people.
    It is easy to tell everyone it is safe to go back to school and work when it is not you who will be affected.

  7. Siddhartha Lama says:

    I did not know, that “Mr. Vice President, I am speaking.” has been printed on political merchandise. That is interesting.

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