More to Presidential Debate Than Issues

U.S. President Barack Obama (R) speaks as Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney (L) listens during the second U.S. presidential debate in Hempstead, New York, October 16, 2012.
U.S. President Barack Obama (R) speaks as Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney (L) listens during the second U.S. presidential debate in Hempstead, New York, October 16, 2012.
June Simms

U.S. President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney held the second of three nationally televised debates on Tuesday. The two debated issues including the economy, energy and foreign policy during a town hall-style meeting at New York's Hofstra University.

Jennifer Sclafani is a visiting professor of linguistics at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. She says the debate was very different from the first presidential debate two weeks ago.

"Last night I would say that we really saw the president back on offense and taking control of the floor, both figuratively and literally. And of course Romney was also quick on offense and concise in outlining his own position for most of the debate. So he described very succinctly what he saw were weaknesses or broken promises in the president’s performance," she said.

Professor Sclafani says the linguistic style and communication displayed was only one of the things that set this debate apart from the last one.

“Even more than linguistic style, some of the differences that really stood out to me were actually non-linguistic. Here we had a town hall format in which questions were fielded from the audience and candidates were not physically confined before a podium as they were in the last debate," she said. 

She says this allowed the candidates more freedom to walk around and to engage with the audience and each other. And she says it resulted in some heated non-verbal exchanges.

“The candidates didn’t just get in each other’s conversational space by interrupting each other, but they actually got in each other’s physical space. If you had muted the volume on the debate their movements across the stage were almost reminiscent of a boxing match. So you saw them engaging in this non-verbal physical dance throughout the debate. And it was very obvious in terms of their physical movements when they were being verbally aggressive towards each other because you could see it reflected in their physical movements," she said.

Although the president’s demeanor and the physical layout of the debate stage were major points of difference between the first and second debates, one verbal comment by Mitt Romney did seem to take on a life of its own on social media, picking up thousands of responses on Twitter, Tumblr and Facebook. 

Romney was responding to a question from a female audience member about pay inequality in the workplace. He said that during his time as governor of Massachusetts, he had worked with women’s groups to help him find qualified women to fill cabinet positions on his staff.

“I went to a number of women's groups and said, "Can you help us find folks," and they brought us whole binders full of women," he said. 

Professor Sclafani explains what Mitt Romney meant by “binders full of women.”

“That reference to binders of women, when I first heard it I thought of an actual three-ring binder that had several resumes from women that he was looking through when choosing leaders in his team," she said. 

She says there are a couple of reasons that the comment may have received such a negative response.

“Many people took offense to the use of this term for two reasons. This idea of connecting binders and women together can either objectify women or take away their humanity and just present them as pieces of paper that are bound in this physical folder," she said. 

She also says the wording also brings to mind the discourses of feminism and the women’s movement in the United States.

“I think many people, especially women, perceived this specific choice of word[ing] of “binders of women,” as being reminiscent of an idea that women are actually bound in society, and they are not free," she said. 

One social media user tweeted that in order “to solve the problem of pay inequality we don’t need more ‘binders full of women.’ We need more ballots full of women.”

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: Janine from: Las Vegas
October 17, 2012 10:38 PM
I think it is ridiculous to discuss the term binder. That seems self explanatory. Looking at resumes....Lets look at the real issues, jobs, inflation, illegal immigration, education, the crazy high tax rates, the heavy burden of regulations on business, the increasing invasion of big government on our rights and lives and Americas standing in the world! The rest is a smoke screen designed to make people lose focus of what is real!

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
With HIV, Can We Get to Zero?i
Carol Pearson
November 29, 2015 1:23 PM
The theme of this year's World AIDS Day is "Getting to Zero." The U.N. says new HIV infections have been reduced by 35 percent since 2000 and AIDS-related deaths are down by 42 percent since the peak in 2004. VOA's Carol Pearson takes a look at what it might take to actually have an AIDS-free generation.

Video With HIV, Can We Get to Zero?

The theme of this year's World AIDS Day is "Getting to Zero." The U.N. says new HIV infections have been reduced by 35 percent since 2000 and AIDS-related deaths are down by 42 percent since the peak in 2004. VOA's Carol Pearson takes a look at what it might take to actually have an AIDS-free generation.

Video Political Motives Seen Behind Cancelled Cambodian Water Festival

For the fourth time in the five years since more than 350 people were killed in a stampede at Cambodia’s annual water festival, authorities canceled the event this year. Officials blamed environmental reasons as the cause, but many see it as fallout from rising political tensions with a fresh wave of ruling party intimidation against the opposition. David Boyle and Kimlong Meng report from Phnom Penh.

Video African Circus Gives At-Risk Youth a 2nd Chance

Ethiopia hosted the first African Circus Arts Festival this past weekend with performers from seven different African countries. Most of the performers are youngsters coming form challenging backgrounds who say the circus gave them a second chance.

Video US Lawmakers Brace for End-of-Year Battles

U.S. lawmakers are returning to Washington for Congress’ final working weeks of the year. And, as VOA's Michael Bowman reports, a full slate of legislative business awaits them, from keeping the federal government open to resolving a battle with the White House over the admittance of Syrian refugees.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video After Terrorist Attacks, Support for Refugees Fades

The terrorists who killed and injured almost 500 people around Paris this month are mostly French or Belgian nationals. But at least two apparently took advantage of Europe’s migrant crisis to sneak into the region. The discovery has hardened views about legitimate refugees, including those fleeing the same extremist violence that hit the French capital. Lisa Bryant has this report for VOA from the Paris suburb of Cergy-Pontoise

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video Thais Send Security Concerns Down the River

As Thailand takes in the annual Loy Krathong festival, many ponder the country’s future and security. Steve Sandford reports from Chiang Mai.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continues

One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

VOA Blogs