Who Won the VP Debate 2012: Why Biden Won, But Still Sort Of Lost the Vice Presidential Debate


After the fallout from the presidential debates with democratic supporters decrying Obama's loss and lack of verve, Biden was under a lot of pressure for a good performance in the vice presidential debate. Pulling through for the party, Biden worked his strengths and came out on top by the closing statements. 

But Biden and Ryan, in their discussions of foreign policy, revealed that there's more work to be done towards changing the way we linguistically frame having pride in the United States. The discourse of politics in the U.S. all too often pushes those in (or aspiring to) elected positions to a place of hyper patriotism in order to prove themselves, unnecessarily creating an enemy of anything and anyone set up as the "other." In this way, Biden and Ryan both lost by allowing their patriotism to turn into a nationalistic sentiment of the U.S. as the "world's babysitter."

The harm that nationalism can wrought on the collective cultural conception of a very diverse, nuanced amalgamation of individuals, cultures, and countries can be most clearly seen in Paul Ryan's sweeping statements about the Middle East as the "world's largest sponsor of terrorism ... they call us the Great Satan" and are dedicated to "wiping an entire country off the map." In one breath, Ryan effectively levels the countries of the Middle East into a culturally and politically similar coordinated whole whose primary goal is the destruction of the U.S.

Simultaneously othering this constructed idea of the Middle East as essentially counter to all things United States by using words like "us," "them," and "they," erases the very real differences among countries and people in the Middle East and creates an enemy of the U.S. that is larger than life and harmful to those it speaks about.

This sort of language is oftentimes to be expected from those in the Republican party. But, proving that we have a long way to go in the efforts towards a patriotism that is judgement free, Biden repeatedly commits the same blunders. When discussing how the U.S. should respond to Iran's nuclear weapon potential, Biden set up the U.S. government as the babysitters and gatekeepers of the country saying things like "We will not let them acquire a nuclear weapon" and "We will not allow the Iranians ..." While the threat of nuclear weapons is very real and worthwhile concern, Iran is referenced and discussed in a clearly delineated hierarchy of power of which the United States is at the top. 

To preference the U.S. above all others is seen as a positive, necessary attribute of our political leaders. But to follow in the footsteps of Biden and Ryan and repeatedly homogenize entire countries as a whole (that is against us) and place the U.S. as being morally superior to, and the caretaker of the rest of the world, does a disservice to how far we've come in our efforts to become more accepting and informed. More egregiously, it does a disservice to the countries and people that are being spoken of by reinforcing the stereotypes of all Middle Easterners being anti-U.S. terrorists hell-bent on killing everyone. 

While much malarky was being thrown around in the debate, one thing is clear; if a U.S. politician has a real and true desire to establish positive relationships with other countries (and move the U.S. to a more progressive future) they should begin by changing the way that we speak of and conceptualize said countries. Until then, no one can truly win a debate.