Last Thursday’s vice presidential debates got me thinking about desirable qualities in a Vice President. Policies and partisanship aside, I want to see honor. I want to see self-control. I want to see kindness and intelligence behind his eyes. I want a “speak softly and carry a big stick” philosophy. I want to see good ettiquette and graciousness.
I’m an average Jane, and I will never know the true inner workings of either Vice President Biden or Congressman Ryan. I can only listen to their arguments and observe their behavior and make a desicion based on both. I don’t believe either can be dismissed; they both say far too much about a person.
For some reason, the Vice President saw fit Thursday night to interrupt the Congressman, laugh when nothing was funny, and speak in a tone that conveyed to the nation that he considers his opponent unworthy – perhaps even an enemy (then proceeded to refer to him as “my friend” every ninety seconds). The Vice President’s behavior forced Congressman Ryan to choose between two approaches: either engage in a shouting match on national television or remain within the confines of good manners. Neither option was a good one and, since he chose good manners, many of his points remain unspoken. I suppose if this was Biden’s plan, then it was an effective strategy – but it wasn’t an honorable strategy. Policies aside, the very fact that Congressman Ryan made it this far affords him a certain level of respect. Heck, the fact that he’s human affords him this respect. That Biden sees things differently, at least with regard to Ryan, was crystal clear Thursday night. To me, that doesn’t exactly scream “Vice President of the United States of America.”
Policies still aside, Vice President Biden’s relentless interruptions, inappropriately-timed laughter and blantant disregard for the rules of debate stripped the American people of our right to hear what Ryan had the right to say. He spoiled what could have been an intense, intelligent dialogue between two competent and experienced men. Instead, we got a hefty dose of bad manners.
Of course, Biden has a right to say whatever he pleases. That’s one of the beautiful freedoms of this country. But that doesn’t mean he should. His role represents what it means to be free, to be honorable, to be a gentleman who believes all men are created equal. It disheartened me to see him scrap all that in favor of strategy of bullying and condescension. No matter what he had to say, he could have said it respectfully, with an even tone and the grace and self-control to stop talking when his two minutes expired. I’m no political expert, but I’m betting the rules of debate are in place for a reason. As second-in-command to the leader of the free world, a Vice President must have the good manners and self-control to follow rules. Sure, there’s a time to break the rules, but last Thursday night wasn’t one of them.
Manners matter. They are an extension of the golden rule, without which we all fall down. When we use good manners, we convey respect for our fellow man. When we don’t, it sends an equally strong message about who we are. Good manners allow us a clear way to express that we value other people – even to go as far as to put their needs before ours. Does this line of thinking make me an idealist? Maybe. But there are some of us out here who still believe that treating others the way we’d like to be treated is the best modus operandi for any age. If we lose this, if we all begin to put ourselves first with nary a care for the thoughts and feelings of others (or even just the ones we deem less than worthy), where will that path ultimately lead?