VP debate: everybody wins!

(It just depends on who you ask)

| Staff Columnist

Like nearly all of the undergraduate students on Washington University’s campus, this will be my first presidential election. It will be the first time I cast a ballot on election day; the first time I do real, committed research on the candidates; and the first time I will truly act as a citizen of the United States.

I grew up in University City, and more than 90 percent of my high school peers were from liberal families like mine. I have been raised to believe that economic limitations hinder the possibilities of success for kids and that it is our duty, along with our government’s, to try and level the playing field. I am a strong pro-choice supporter and I believe that God is not offended by condoms or birth control. I believe it is time to change the way we live in order to treat our world and all of its inhabitants better.

At the presidential debate on Thursday, I saw an unambiguous winner (although I don’t like to think of it on those terms). Biden was clear, focused, personable, intelligent, straightforward and, without a doubt, he proved to me that he would be 100 percent capable of taking over our country should the opportunity arise. I sat in Edison Theatre surrounded by liberal minds like mine, and we smiled when Biden used data to back up his statements, when he said something profound and also when Palin repeated herself, stumbled and failed to give answers we deemed appropriate.

There were, however, Palin supporters in the mix too. They proudly and courageously wore their elephant shirts and sat among the “enemy,” watching our smiles (and sneers), and seeing something entirely different from what the rest of us saw. After all, McCain/Palin supporters say that she won without a doubt.

I’ve always been interested in why people make the choices that they do. Mostly, I wonder if I am merely a product of my childhood and genes. Did I only see Biden as the victor on Thursday night because that’s how everyone I know saw him? Did the McCain supporters see what they wanted or needed to see rather than what was right in front of them?  Would I have been able to walk out of that theater admitting Biden’s defeat regardless of what happened on that stage? I hope so.

All of this was passing through my head during the debate, and I wanted to leave knowing that my biases didn’t completely prevent me from seeing clearly—that I gave Palin a chance. I think, as far as I could have been, I was successful. Palin is personable, smart and funny, and I believe she is truly invested in the American people. I also think that, for someone who has been thrust into this political arena, she has held herself together admirably—but she is not who I want for a leader.

In the post-debate aftermath everyone scrambles for their favorite quotes, usually choosing the snippiest comments. To me, there was one moment that resonated beyond any other. It was when Biden shared a lesson he learned from Mike Mansfield.

Mansfield told him, “Joe, understand one thing. Everyone’s sent here for a reason, because there’s something in them that their folks like. Don’t question their motive.” Biden then told us, “I have never since that moment in my first year questioned the motive of another member of the Congress or Senate with whom I’ve disagreed. I’ve questioned their judgment.” As a U.S. citizen who has grown weary of those snippy comments, for me this was one of the most profound moments of the night.

I’ve thought a lot about this comment since Thursday and how I should interpret the subtle relationship between judgment and motive. I think Biden was saying that you can’t question why a person is in public office, or question whether they are motivated by greed or self-aggrandizement. Instead, we can only look at the decisions they make while they have that power, and whether the decisions they make are the best for our country.

I think the time of snide remarks and pathetic attempts at mean humor should end, or at least decrease their volume; we should stop trying to degrade the “other” side; we should think more for ourselves and rest less on what our parents and friends think; and finally, as Joe Biden said so well, we need to stop questioning each other’s motives. I will venture to say that close to all Americans want what is best for our country—we just differ on how to get there—and that should be the focus of politics.

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