PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE ROUND TWO;By Louise Annarino,October 7, 2012

8 Oct

PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE ROUND TWO, By Louise Annarino, October, 7, 2012


If you think my last piece which suggested we do not need a bully in the bully-pulpit was mere spin on the lack of an effective response to Mr. Romney’s debate performance by President Obama and Jim Lehrer, rest assured it was not meant to be so. The willingness within human culture to overlook and even applaud bullying is more prevalent than we recognize. In schools, workplaces, even on debate stages it too often rears its ugly head. Tim Field, [] who believes only the best are bullied, describes bullying in a way we cannot so easily overlook:
“Bullying is a compulsive need to displace aggression and is achieved by the expression of inadequacy (social, personal, interpersonal, behavioural, professional) by projection of that inadequacy onto others through control and subjugation (criticism, exclusion, isolation etc). Bullying is sustained by abdication of responsibility (denial, counter-accusation, pretence of victimhood) and perpetuated by a climate of fear, ignorance, indifference, silence, denial, disbelief, deception, evasion of accountability, tolerance and reward (eg promotion) for the bully.”

Tonight, while I sat in the atrium of the pizza parlor waiting to pick up a pizza, I noticed several middle school girls, accompanied by a few parents, enjoying a birthday party in the adjacent party room. The birthday girl stepped through the open double-pocket doors into the lobby area as the party seemed to wind down, only to have the other girls close the doors behind her and refuse to allow her back inside. The other girls laughed and teased her as she quietly asked them to open the doors. They would not budge; but only grinned and giggled. Her efforts to dislodge one door moved every girl to hold it fast against her. As she shifted to the other side, they shifted against her,relishing their power over her. As the intensity of her pleas increased in anxiety but not volume, their glee increased. The parents paid them no mind,as the jollity of the girls on the inside increased, and the girl shoved to the outside became more resigned to her powerlessness. As the fight went out of the girl being kept outside the group and the reliance on the kindness of girlfriends was lost in the darkness, the game became meaningless and was abandoned. The birthday girls’s wounded eyes belied her “thanks for coming” to the parting girls, still laughing over their prank.


How often do we see this type of interaction and not recognize what it is and the damage it does?  When the suggestion of a faculty member at a university committee meeting is ignored by the group, only to be applauded 3 minutes later when a member of the faculty in-group suggests the very same idea, do we recognize bullying? In those moments the pretense of collegiality was forever lost. On the day of the John F. Kennedy assassination as a unformed Catholic school girl quietly bears the shouts of public school students as she walks home following early dismissal, “Ha ha! Someone finally killed your fish-eating president, you dirty Catholic!”,do we recognize bullying? In those moments safe passage on a city street was forever lost. Would we recognize it in what Mitt Romney did as a high school senior when he organized an assault on a fellow student stating, “He can’t look like that. That’s wrong. Just look at him!” and proceeded to cut his hair as Romney’s friends held him down? In those moments his pretense of innocent prankster was forever lost.


There is a fine line between strong leadership and bullying; the two can be easily and unfairly confused. I do not believe I have done so in this case. There is a mistaken belief that bullies pick on the weak. But, often they pick on those whose greater strength threatens their perceived dominance and control, whose greater strength they fear. I believe this is what drove Mitt Romney’s hyper-verbal aggression, unwarranted rule-breaking, and laughter-filled domination at the first presidential debate. He was too comfortable making others uncomfortable, too gleeful when breaking rules, too eager to distort-deny-ignore his own policies, too satisfied with his own evasions. To me, these are traits of a bully; not a leader one can trust. To me Romney’s fearful excitement, fueled by aggression, was far more significant than whether he won or President Obama lost the debate.


I also believe these traits are what drives the unwarranted attacks against Barack Obama by Mr. Romney and Teapublicans who fear the changing demographics seemingly embodied in an African-American president. I am not the first to remark upon this phenomenon. But, do we recognize the behavior we are watching as  bullying? Perhaps we do not do so because our president is so strong. Perhaps we don’t because we fear by doing so he will be called weak. We cannot afford to ignore the bullying, because the world cannot afford a bully in the bully pulpit. Bullies often attack those whose strength they fear. There is no way to appease bullies;their fear is a bottomless pit. However, kind people instinctively try to protect the weak. Strong people instinctively hold back their strength to avoid worsening the bully’s fear. But, we need not deny our strength to make weak bullies feel better about themselves. That is their responsibility. The first step in confronting a bully is to define him as one.


President Obama must admit he faces a bully, and do what each of us who have faced bullies have learned to do – stand up to the bully and challenge his displaced aggression ,projection of inadequacy, subjugation,criticism, counter-accusation, abdication of responsibility, pretense of victimhood, denial, deception, evasion of accountability; perpetuated by a climate of fear and ignorance while insisting on approval. Bullies cannot be rewarded with a pretense that they are fair or strong leaders. When they are not attacking the strong, they are attacking the weak. And who will speak for the weak? The strong must be willing to do so. President Obama must speak for all of us: women, immigrants,people of color, LGBT community, middle class, poor, small businesses, corporations facing take-over, even mother earth. This is why President Obama’s supporters were disappointed in his performance;not because he lost a debate, but because he did not defend them against the bully.


I said it before, and I shall say it again, “Bullies must never be called winners.” We cannot allow a bully to be elected to the bully-pulpit. Anger at President Obama is misguided by our own fear of ,and distaste for, Mr. Romney. It is time to stand together;not let fear divide us. Mr. President, we are counting on you to lead us. every day, we face down these bullies during canvassing, phone banks, fundraising, writing Letters to the Editor, and blogging. We have your back. We know we can count  on you to have ours.  Bullies beware!





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