Vice presidential debate surpasses low standard set by presidential debate

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As America saw Sept. 29, the first presidential debate of this election year was quite frankly a complete disaster and chaotic mess. Chris Wallace did his best to moderate between President Donald Trump and former Vice President  Biden, but despite his valiant efforts, viewers across the nation saw two children bickering.  

This week, however, with Vice President Mike Pence and Sen. Kamala Harris behind the podiums, we had the opportunity to focus less on the adolescent argumentation and more on the policy differences of their platforms. Pence and Harris of course took jabs at each other’s credibility, but overall, they set the stage for how a national debate should proceed, especially considering the tumultuous nature of today’s political arena.  

The year 2020 has been most marked by the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic, which has resulted in social upheaval and a great loss of life. As a result, both the presidential and vice-presidential debates have examined the nation’s response and discussed possibilities for the future, especially if the development of a working vaccine is still far ahead of us. Pence was adamant that he and President Trump were on the best possible course, and criticized the Biden-Harris administration’s proposed plan, accusing them of plagiarism. Harris, by distinction, implicitly affirmed that yes, some aspects — namely testing protocols and vaccine creation — were similar, although the Democratic candidates seek to uphold the importance of masks and social distancing.  

Indeed, almost all of the debate topics incorporated the topic of the pandemic, including health care. As is well known, the Trump administration would like to strike down the Affordable Care Act, as they believe that it is not helping enough Americans and that it has the possibility of being cheaper. Biden, as President Barack Obama’s secondhand man during the creation of the landmark health care legislation, has and continues to be one of its supporters. Harris reaffirmed this support, noting that a large portion of the population would be affected by any proposed changes by the Trump administration, and a great number of people could lose their only opportunity for affordable and adequate coverage. Understandably, candidates avoided certain topics when prompted by their opponent, and both Pence and Harris dodged policy questions as well. Much of the backlash Harris faces is due to her long and complicated past with “locking up” Black Americans in her capacity as prosecutor and District Attorney. Given the importance of the Black Lives Matter movement to the Democratic party’s agenda, it comes as no surprise that many leftists are reluctant to support the tough-on-crime Harris.  

In light of President Trump’s recent COVID-19 diagnosis, along with the stunning revelations of the New York Times’ investigation into Trump’s tax payments, Pence used a portion of his speaking time to protect the president, although he was less verbose concerning Trump’s health. All of this comes, of course, at a time in which the nation has waited in earnest for news about the state of the president’s health, as well as answers to the questions raised about Trump’s tax history. Since his diagnosis, there has been a lack of transparency with regard to  aspects of his condition, and critics, including Harris, have been quick to point this out.  

The debate could have gone a lot better, but this is true for any election debate. Tensions are high and the standards are rather low. Harris and Pence raised the standard for their respective counterparts for the remaining presidential debates, although it is uncertain whether they will be online or remain in-person. 

The American public would prefer if candidates spent more time answering the actual questions chosen and posed by the moderators rather than spewing their own agendas and circumventing hard topics, but we live in an imperfect world. The best one may hope for is that the upcoming moderators are of strong stock, and are able to wrangle the presidential candidates better than Chris Wallace, however impossible finding such a person may seem.   

 Email Elaine Godwin at 

sgodwin@email.wm.edu.