Media specialize in dehumanization of politicians

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On Oct. 21, Vice President Joe Biden gave a speech declaring that he would not make a late play for the Democratic nomination for president, and much of the media response to his announcement lamented his decision.

Pundits said that he could have been a major player in the race, positioning himself as an alternative to Hillary Clinton, who has been dealing with both an FBI investigation into her use of a private email server while serving as Secretary of State and a Congressional investigation into the terrorist attack on the U.S. embassy in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 11, 2012, which also occurred during her tenure as Secretary.

Following Biden’s announcement, the immediate media focus was on Biden’s odds to win the nomination, had he decided to enter the race. This idea that Biden was giving up what could have been a successful campaign overtook one of the main reasons why he ended up choosing not to run: the recent death of his son, Beau Biden, who passed away on May 30 following an August 2013 brain cancer diagnosis.

In a Sept. 10 appearance on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert,” Biden opened up about how the death of his son was affecting him and his then-impending decision on whether to enter the presidential race.

“I don’t think any man or woman should run for president unless, number one, they know exactly why they would want to be president and, number two, they can look at folks out there and say, ‘I promise you, you have my whole heart, my whole soul, my energy, and my passion to do this,” Biden said, in a heartfelt interview. “And I’d be lying if I said that I knew I was there.”

It was an incredibly open, humbling face-to-face, something that often seems to be missing from media coverage of politics. The media have a way of dehumanizing our politicians, and we are all too eager to let it happen. After all, it seems easier in some ways to allow these officials to represent us when we do not think of them as people who have the same faults and shortcomings with which we struggle.

But, that does not mean we should be OK with this media practice. Dehumanization is not a new problem, and it is, of course, not solely affecting U.S. politicians. There is an expectation for our politicians to be unwavering in their strength, even through difficult times, and it is an unfair onus to place upon them. Yes, politicians should be held to a higher standard because of their powerful positions as representatives of the people, but this expectation should not supersede their humanity. Recognizing the humanity of our politicians is the best way to relate to them and trust them as our elected representatives.

Try showing some consistent emotion as an establishment politician, and see where it gets you. Unless you are on the extreme side of either major political party, attempting to rally people behind you for an unconventional cause, your emotion will not get you anywhere. Take former House Speaker John Boehner, for example.

Boehner is well known for showing his emotions — he can get teary eyed when showing passion toward a subject — and it is constantly used as a narrative against him. Even Fox News has referred to him as the “Weeper of the House,” as a member of the Fox News “Medical A-Team” told the viewers that Boehner’s crying could be a physiological issue and made jokes about getting him choked up on air.

The dehumanization process takes a darker turn, however, when it comes to female politicians. Hillary Clinton, for example, is a former First Lady, a former senator and a former Secretary of State. She is more qualified than most to be considered for president in 2016. Clinton is an example of a politician who is rarely emotional, yet she is often portrayed as robotic as a result.

While the media tell male politicians like Boehner to keep their emotions in check, they turn around and chide Clinton for being emotionless and cold. This is one of the many double standards applied to female politicians, who must prove that their emotions will not cloud their judgment — simply because women are seen as more emotional — while also appearing likable and kind. You almost never see male politicians held to the same standard. When a man is cold and calculated, it is a positive, but when a woman is, she is seen as dishonest and untrustworthy.

Male and female politicians are dehumanized in different ways, but we are left with the same result each time. Constituents know very little about their elected representatives — and they do not seem all that interested in learning more. The media need to stop shaming politicians for how they choose to show — or not show — emotion on the job, because attempting to suppress or force out the emotions of others is just one way to make them seem less human. And we must see our politicians as human in order to better relate to them and trust in them as the people who represent us. There are plenty of reasons to critique politicians, but their expression of emotion is not one of them.