Kamala Harris’ high-wire act

Ever since Democratic nominee Joe Biden selected Kamala Harris as his running mate, liberals have been itching to see the former prosecutor go head to head against Vice President Mike Pence. “Kamala Harris will shred Mike Pence in the vice presidential debate,” The Nation wrote within 24 hours of Biden’s VP announcement. “About half of Americans believe Kamala Harris is a better debater than Mike Pence,” a YouGov poll found. And “Kamala Harris is as eager to destroy Mike Pence as you are to watch her do it,” LGBTQ Nation reported in August.

Though giddy Democrats anticipate a bloodbath, Harris will face an uphill battle. It’s not that she isn’t a strong debater — her most memorable moment on the national stage to date is still likely the haymaker she threw at Biden during the Democratic primary — but the fact that, as a woman in politics, she faces double standards and stereotypes before she ever steps foot on the stage. Accounting for Americans’ sexist perceptions of women politicians will be a tightrope act, and a frustrating and unfortunate secondary challenge for such an accomplished candidate.

As only the fourth woman to be on a major party’s presidential ticket, Harris has a short history to reference when preparing for her unique position in the debate. What’s clear, though, is that Geraldine Ferraro, Sarah Palin, and Hillary Clinton all endured sexist attacks that ranged from critiques of their appearance and clothing to claims that they were simultaneously overambitious and under-experienced. In preparation, Harris’ team has been diving into research about how “women are judged more on ‘likability’ and held to a higher standard to prove they’re qualified” in addition to being evaluated “overwhelmingly more on physical appearance than on what they say,” Axios reports. Even Biden is guilty of once reducing his former vice presidential debate counterpart, Palin (who was often dismissed by Democrats for her “beauty queen” looks rather than her “problematic or meaningless” ideas), to her appearance back in 2008, wisecracking: “There’s a gigantic difference between John McCain and Barack Obama and between me and I suspect my vice presidential opponent. … She’s good looking.”

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In the lead up to Wednesday night, Hillary Clinton has addressed what Harris will be up against, telling donors: “She has to modulate her responses because we know there still is a double standard, alive and well when it comes to women in politics, so she’s got to be firm and effective in rebutting any implication that comes from the other side — but do it in a way that doesn’t scare or alienate voters.”

Pence will likely try to downplay his own performance to do just that: lure Harris into alienating voters by coming on too strong. It’s a tactic he used against Democrats’ previous VP candidate, Tim Kaine, who was criticized after he came out swinging in 2016. “Kaine entered the debate under less pressure,” CNBC recapped. “Yet he followed an …read more

Source:: The Week – Politics


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