5 Questions Reporters and the American Public Should Not Ask of Joe Biden’s Vice Presidential Pick

Amanda Fuchs Miller | Jul 22, 2020

On March 15th, during a CNN-Univision Democratic primary debate, Joe Biden announced that he would pick a woman to be his vice president, stating, “There are a number of women who are qualified to be president tomorrow. I would pick a woman to be my vice president.” The buzz is that within the next two weeks, Vice President Biden will make his announcement. As the media and the public get ready to appropriately scrutinize the person who may be next in line to be leader of the free world, there are five categories of questions that should not be raised.

 What is your favorite cookie recipe? (Or, any questions about any domestic responsibilities.) When Geraldine Ferraro was named the first female vice presidential candidate for a major party in 1984, she was asked by the Mississippi Agriculture Commissioner on the campaign trail if she knew how to make blueberry muffins. It’s true – that was a long time ago – but too often coverage about women candidates focuses on gendered topics, and even subtly gendered word choices have been found to have a negative impact on the success of women candidates.

What are you wearing? (Or, why are you wearing that?) Too often we read about the female candidate in the green dress – or the pantsuit – while we don’t see mention of male candidates’ tie colors. Many may remember the scandal when the RNC purchased $150,000 of clothes and accessories for our last female Vice Presidential nominee Sarah Palin – an action that may have been illegal and was, at least, unethical. Not to defend the purchases,  but the media’s focus on clothing for women candidates, which likely was the impetus for the action, needs to end.

What does your husband think of your nomination? How will your husband’s job be impacted? (Or, why don’t you have a husband?)  Whether or not a candidate for vice president is married, or to whom, does not speak to her qualifications. Sure, we want to know about any candidate’s family, but a woman candidate’s qualifications should not be tied to her marital status. And, contrast the intense pressure put on Geraldine Ferraro’s husband to release his tax returns with the fact that Donald Trump was elected President without releasing his. The female vice presidential nominee’s family must not be examined differently than the family members of male candidates.

 How can you raise your young children and serve? (Or, why don’t you have children?)When Sarah Palin was chosen, mothers from both parties questioned whether she could raise young children and serve. I want to remind voters here that Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump all had young children while running for – and serving as – president. Nobody was worried about how those men would continue to care for their children or implied that fatherhood would interfere with their presidential duties.

Are you capable of handling the duties of being President? In 1984, on “Meet the Press,” Marvin Kalb asked Geraldine Ferraro, “Ms. Ferraro, could you push the nuclear button?” Ferraro answered, “I can do whatever is necessary in order to protect the security of this country.” A vice-presidential nominee’s capabilities and qualifications should absolutely be scrutinized. But we must not hold them to a higher standard because they are female. Too often, there is both an implication that women candidates are not tough enough alongside an expectation for them to be seen as likable.

Also in 1984, Geraldine Ferraro was asked if she thought she would not have been selected if she weren’t a woman. We know Vice President Biden will select a woman but we need to remember that the nominee he chooses is not being selected because she is a woman but because she is a woman who is qualified to serve as Vice President of the United States. That must be the starting point as we consider her record and scrutinize her qualifications.

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