(Photo: Dan Delzell)
The vice presidential debate in Kentucky definitely provided a teachable moment for parents all across the country. Parents of all political persuasions in our nation tend to teach their children that it is right to show respect to others....and wrong to constantly interrupt people while they are talking. Many liberals and conservatives alike were embarrassed for Joe Biden, and even appalled at his level of condescending behavior toward Paul Ryan. It gave parents an opportunity to teach their children what not to do when discussing opposing ideas with someone.
If we were to poll Americans, my guess is that less than 10% of all adults would say they want their own children and teens to be that disrespectful toward others. Biden and Ryan obviously have very different views on various issues, but the vast majority of Americans seem to understand that Joe Biden's behavior was way out of bounds and a poor example for the youth of our country. Joe Biden would probably say that he aspires to be a role model for youth....but would he also say that he wants young people to imitate the way he treated Paul Ryan? I guess that is a question that only Joe Biden can answer for himself.
Perhaps Joe truly believes that manners do not matter anymore. I am sure his parents and grandparents didn't hold that view. It's one thing to have a strong disagreement with someone. It's another thing altogether to throw civility out the window. The question is this....do we care if our young people learn the value of respect? Or is that just another prudish value that we can let slip away along with all the other values which have been going by the wayside in our country in recent decades.
Many have commented on Joe Biden's "smirking, clownish demeanor" in the debate. Some say it was just "Joe being Joe." If so, does that excuse it? Many people are tempted to be condescending toward those with whom they disagree....but not everyone acts on those temptations in such a blatant and public way. The message to young people is obvious....if the Vice President of the United States cheerfully behaves in such a manner, doesn't that make it alright for me to do the same thing? I am not sure what point there is in having a moderator for a debate when one guy is allowed to interrupt his opponent 82 times as Biden did so brazenly.
I heard one commentator say what a great guy Joe is and that he would give you the shirt off his back if you needed it. Well....most people Joe encounters don't need his shirt....but they would appreciate him demonstrating the kind of manners that we teach young people to exhibit in a civilized society. Paul Ryan demonstrated tremendous restraint in the face of such abuse. Ryan did what most of us teach our children and teens to do....and that is to treat others with dignity and not keep interrupting them when they are telling you something.
If Joe Biden were to become President, is this the way he would treat all Republicans and everyone with whom he disagrees? Condescending behavior is ugly no matter who does it....and no matter how many smiles you flash in the midst of your arrogant assault. The problems America faces are great and we need competent leaders like never before. If the people at the highest levels of government are not able to show respect for one another, what message does that send to our young people....and how does that help us to solve the problems that require urgent attention?
All of us face the same temptation Joe Biden faces when confronted with opposing ideas. We all need the Lord to help us love those with whom we disagree. That can only happen by having the Lord of the universe come and dwell within our heart through faith. Even then, we are continually tempted to show disrespect to our opponents. It happens in politics....and in sports....and in business. Almost every area of life holds the potential for people to demonstrate a lack of civility and respect.
One of the craziest things about the whole Biden affair is this....I'm not sure Joe even sees anything wrong with what he did....even after all the criticism from liberals and conservatives alike. Maybe that lack of self-awareness is just another example of "Joe being Joe." It's uncanny how many blind spots we all tend to have in our lives....and how others can sometimes see things that we don't see in ourselves.
One of the biggest lessons all of us can learn from the vice presidential debate may be this....when many even on "your side of the aisle" are disgusted by your behavior, it is probably time to look in the mirror and truly evaluate your actions and attitudes....rather than simply applauding yourself and enjoying your smile.