Culture of Kindness

Tonight’s vice presidential debate differed in many aspects from last Friday’s presidential debate, but both Joe Biden and Barack Obama’s performances shared one thing in common: kindness. Kindness is emerging as one of the democratic candidates most powerful weapon in the wake of nearly eight years of a Bush-Cheney culture of combat.

Tonight Gov. Palin gained credibility as a debater, despite getting several facts wrong and getting feisty. She did many things that worked in her favor: she looked straight into the camera, she stuck to the things she knows, and she dodged questions she could not answer. She also went on the attack far more than Biden did.

Senator Biden, on the other hand, appeared reserved. He looked like he was holding back, letting his head, rather than his heart, control the words coming out of his mouth. And that is exactly what he had been training to do. In fact, he may have over-trained, as he missed several opportunities to challenge Palin’s false claims, such as the argument that McCain “knows how to win wars.” (I mean no disrespect to the time he served as a POW, but I believe the United States lost the Vietnam War). Although he missed several opportunities to stick it right back to Palin, Biden demonstrated a much subtler, and perhaps less traditionally valued, quality: kindness. He did not look directly into the camera lens, but he did sustain eye contact with the moderator, Gwen Ifill, as well as with Palin. He smiled in a genuine way on several occasions and he exercised restraint when given the opportunity to crush his less-experienced and less-knowledgeable opponent. In certain aspects, this expression of the nicer side of human nature is similar to that which Obama displayed last Friday when debating John McCain.

It’s hard to say how the American electorate will respond, if at all, to this emerging culture of kindness in politics. Yet if national politics in any way reflects the values and beliefs that individuals embrace in their day-to-day lives, then perhaps a culture of kindness can sway the vote.

–Jamie Wong