I think the fly won the vice presidential debate. Staying perched on Vice President Pence’s hair took a lot of balance and savvy. Or perhaps the fly was stuck to Pence’s hair spray.
In a boring debate, it’s not surprising the unscripted appearance of the fly caught my attention.
But even if boring, at least it was a debate. Both candidates made the points they needed to make. Neither committed a grievous error. If you went into it liking Biden-Harris, you were wowed by Kamala. If you went into it committed to Trump-Pence, you were happy to wear your MAGA hat. Pence did a lot better job of defending Trump than Trump himself did in last week’s presidential scrum. Harris followed Biden’s approach of repeatedly speaking directly to the public and made forceful points on COVID-19, healthcare, the economy and foreign policy.
After the debate, I started listening to the analysis on CNN. My husband changed the station to FOX. I’m glad he did. The FOX anchors and its conservative analysts began talking about whether Kamala Harris was “likeable.” This is a red flag for those who monitor elections for sexism.
The so-called “likeability factor” was used to take down Hillary Clinton four years ago. It was bound to come up again with Harris. The trap is the equating of “likeability” with “electability,” which research has shown is a false equation.
These sexist tropes were on the radar of women’s organizations as soon Biden picked Harris for his running mate, as we pointed out in an earlier Post Alley story. At the start of the debate, Glynda Carr of Higher Heights for America tweeted: “They are coming for you @KamalaHarris #BlackWomenLead2020 #VPDebate.”
During the debate, Pence couldn’t seem to help himself from coming across as sexist and patronizing. And it didn’t go unnoticed. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted: “Pence demanding that Harris answer *his* own personal questions when he won’t even answer the moderator’s is gross, and exemplary of the gender dynamics so many women have to deal with at work.” Gloria Feldt in a retweet called it a “classic gendered communication moment.”
As the election nears, Harris will face more of this kind of sexist treatment from Trump-Pence and conservative media about likeability and temperament and other buzzwords used to challenge women candidates. Harris demonstrated once again during the debate that she can handle the innuendos, both subtle and not so subtle. She didn’t veer from the points she needed to make, and demonstrated beyond question that she owns her gender and race and did both proud.