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Kamala Smiled. Mike Smarmed.

The Careerist

October 9, 2020

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Yay, lawyers!

I bet we can all agree that the vice presidential debate Wednesday was much more relaxing than that first presidential debate. This time, I only poured myself two glasses of wine, while during the Trump/Biden fiasco, I almost downed a whole bottle.

I think one reason everything went smoother is that Kamala Harris and Mike Pence are both lawyers. Lawyers are pros. Why leave it to amateurs?

I’ll go so far as to say that it’s in the public’s interest to limit debates to those with legal training. 

Even if tasked to make an outrageous argument, (like Pence’s insistence that the Trump administration's climate policy is based on science), a lawyer would at least frame it in a cogent fashion. Imagine how chilled we’d all be if one of President Donald Trump’s lawyer-minions took his place at the next debate! (May I suggest White House Counsel Pat Cipollone, who seems so low-key that he’s almost invisible?)

But back to reality: Let’s talk about the Harris/Pence battle. Personally, I’m simply relieved it’s over.

I know a lot of women were nervous going into it. While some couldn’t wait to see Harris nail Pence with her prosecutorial skills, many were also worried that Harris might come off as too tough and thus unlikeable, evoking the dreaded trope of the angry bitch.

Women are awfully touchy about these issues. When I tweeted during the first quarter of the debate, “So far @KamalaHarris is aggressive,” I got pushback; some accused me of using negative stereotypes.

But, hey, Harris was aggressive—appropriately so—and what’s wrong with that? I think “aggressive” is a perfectly fine word, usually a compliment in the world of law. It’s not an inherently sexist adjective, like “castrating” or “abrasive”—so embrace it.

In fact, Harris was tough, yet she managed to be (brace yourself) likable. She highlighted how Pence was hogging the stage (“Mr. Vice President, I’m speaking” and “He interrupted me, and I’d like to finish”) without making it sound whiny. And it was quite effective the way she smiled with charming incredulity at Pence’s self-righteousness. (Note to self: Smile more. Breathe. Don’t get so worked up.)

And Pence? Well, I think he did what he had to do, which is to show he’s saner than Trump. But as for the other mandate—bridging the gender gap? Oh, that’s too funny!

Before the debate, there was speculation about how he’d handle a strong woman like Harris. As we all know, he has a policy of never dining alone with a woman or attending an event where alcohol is served without his wife. And even now, his COVID-19 Task Force is predominantly male, with only two women among the two dozen men. So he's a guy's guy. Or very repressed.

I know there’s a lot of buzz (no fly jokes, please) about how Pence behaved toward Harris—was he a chauvinist or just disturbingly polite? I don’t think his behavior was horrible. Just a bit creepy at times.

The kindest thing you could say is that he was paternalistic. Besides interrupting Harris and ignoring some of the moderator’s questions and her warning that his time was up, he was supercilious. At one juncture, he turned to Harris and said, “I want to congratulate you ... on the historical nature of your nomination.” Some might think that gracious, but I thought it was yucky.

And remember how Pence shot back at Harris about her reluctance to embrace a Trump-endorsed vaccine? He said with a straight face, “Stop playing politics”—like an old schoolmarm scolding a precocious eighth-grader.

Is Pence sexist or just smarmy? It’s hard to say because he essentially operates on two modes: he’s either unbearably condescending or he's obsequious (remember, he’s the sycophant-in-chief to our Dear Leader).

All this is to say Pence is a guy who’s hard to like and much harder to trust. He’s like that boss, that teacher, that coach, that uncle—someone in a position of authority—who’s always telling you he’s got your best interest at heart. And you believe him at your peril.

So who won the debate? Arguably, Pence is much craftier. But does any of it really matter? I’m just glad it’s over.

vchen@alm.com

Twitter: @lawcareerist

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About The Careerist

The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: VChen@alm.com

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