Thursday night’s Democratic presidential debate featured a lot of interrupting. But Sen. Kamala Harris cut through the noise.
The candidates were asked what they would do to help workers learn new skills in a rapidly automating world. Former Vice President Joe Biden laid out a series of education proposals. Then chaos ensued, with candidates talking over each other.
It was like something out of a comedy (though not a very funny one). “As the youngest guy on the stage, I should contribute,” said South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg. “Part of Joe’s generation, let me respond,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders. “Before we move on from education—” Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand interjected.
Then Harris got the conversation back on track.
“America does not want a food fight,” she said of her squabbling opponents, “they want to know how we’ll put food on their table.”
The moment got a cheer from the audience. It was a chance for Harris to show leadership in a crowded field — and on a loud, crowded debate stage.
The politics of interruption have been part of debates in recent years. Nearly any woman who’s been part of a male-dominated workplace has the experience of being interrupted by men, and many criticized Sanders’s interruptions of Hillary Clinton during 2016 debates as sexist.
So viewers on Thursday night were primed to watch for interruptions and see how the candidates handled them — and Harris didn’t disappoint. Being the woman to restore order as others fight can be a thankless task, whether it’s on the debate stage or in a more ordinary workplace. At the same time, cutting through the interruptions (by men and women) helped Harris look like the adult in the room.
Later on, speaking about children in border detention, Harris pledged to “ensure that this microphone that the president of the United States holds in her hand is used in a way that is about reflecting the values of our country.”
That line, with its assumption of a female president, got more cheers. And Harris’s performance on Thursday night showed that when it comes to wielding a microphone, the senator is more than comfortable.