Are We All ‘Bullies’ Now?

Google the words “Biden bully” today and you’ll see a surfeit of defensive responses to last night’s debate, which most polls found to be a moderate win for the current Vice President. (We’re not sure how we’d come down on that issue, but it was certainly more entertaining than last week’s snooze-fest.)

But is this really the appropriate response to a debate between political candidates? Has anyone seen how they do things overseas? Check out Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s bombastic rant labeling opposition leader Tony Abbot a misogynist and a hypocrite if you really want to see a politician on the receiving end of an epic beat down.

Even The Wall Street Journal op-ed page ran an article titled “The Bully vs. The Wonk.” We get it—your editorial team doesn’t much care for the Democratic Party. In other shocking revelations, we hear that fire is hot and water is wet. We’re not saying Biden didn’t show obvious contempt for his opponent, but is The Wall Street Journal seriously arguing that debates should be more respectful? Of course not–they’re just making up for the fact that their guy got pummeled, and this is the best line they could come up with. But wait, don’t both sides do it? Of course they do. In fact, we’re a little surprised we didn’t notice anyone calling Mitt Romney a “bully” last week.

So let’s consider: Has the word lost all meaning?

Here’s another example: We all cheered for newscaster Jennifer Livingston when she called out the man who had the audacity to fatshame her, but was “bully” really the right word for him?

Octavia Spencer, star of The Help and maker of a short film about bullies, doesn’t think so. While attending the Gay Lesbian & Straight Education Network’s Respect Awards in LA, Spencer told a reporter that she thinks it’s very important to distinguish between “being criticized” and “facing coercion or physical repercussions on a daily basis.”

We get it—she’s talking about a larger, older kid intimidating or attacking a smaller classmate, or a group (it’s almost always a group) constantly insulting a schoolyard peer for being overweight, gay or any number of other things seen as signs of vulnerability.

Everyone’s favorite talk show host Wendy Williams also called out one of the Real Housewives of New Jersey for claiming that a fellow cast member “bullied” her on set–because we’re all grown-ups beneath the Botox and the “real human hair.”

Joe Biden is a bully? Please. Remember the “It Gets Better” campaign and pick a more appropriate message for the sake of people everywhere who have actually been bullied.

And how about a moratorium on applying the word to grown-ups, lest this boy cry wolf too many times.

@PatrickCoffee Patrick Coffee is a senior editor for Adweek.