Outer space, Art Of Fragility
Your thoughts about the one and only 2016 vice presidential debate will depend on what planet you live on.
If you do not reside here on Earth, and haven’t heard any of Donald Trump’s most famous lines—calling Mexican immigrants rapists and murderers, for example, or referring to women as pigs and dogs—you might shake your head the way Mike Pence did throughout the debate. He called those comments “nonsense.” After all, how could the most powerful nation in the world possibly field a candidate who so frequently demonstrates that he is completely unhinged?
While his opponent was talking, Pence did his best Ronald Reagan imitation, along with the head-shake, and deployed an avuncular smile as if to say,
“How silly! Who is this Donald Trump of whom you speak?”
He even rolled out that Reagan debate chestnut: “There they go again.”
But Tim Kaine, Hillary Clinton’s running mate and eager attack dog, just kept on repeating Trump’s quotes. He rolled them out in one long, devastating litany early in the debate. Then he rolled them out again. Then he quoted a passage from the Bible, which prompted him to roll them out a third time.
“How can you defend it?” he asked Pence. Pence didn’t try. He just shook his head, as if it none of it were real.
Like a lot of Republicans, Pence appears to prefer denial to mounting a defense of his own running mate. You can hardly blame him. In real time, as Pence was denouncing what he called the Clinton/Kaine “insult-driven campaign,” the victim of those insults, @realDonaldTrump, was helpfully added his own comments on Twitter:
Stooping achingly low to set a bar for Pence, Republican campaign spinsters and the network pundits gave him credit for looking unruffled and more statesmanlike than Kaine. Never mind the facts. Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway made a big deal of Kaine’s overeager crosstalk, and especially of his interrupting the female moderator, prompting The Progressive’s own Dave Zirin to tweet:
On policy, particularly when it came to women’s issues, there was simply no contest. Pence is so obsessed with the unborn he tried to force the women of Indiana to hold funerals for their fetuses after miscarriage. He shrugged off Trump’s comment suggesting women who have abortions should be punished, saying it just shows Trump is “not a polished politician.” But under the Pence administration, the state of Indiana put a woman in prison on a twenty-year sentence for allegedly giving herself an abortion.
When both Kaine and Pence were invited to talk about their religious beliefs. Kaine summed up the constitutional position perfectly. A deeply religious Catholic, he embraces religious expression, he said, but “it is not the role of the public servant to mandate that for everybody else.”
On abortion, Kaine was also with the mainstream, asking Pence:
“Why don’t you trust women, why doesn’t Donald Trump trust women, to make this choice for themselves?”
Pence departed from the Trump line and attacked Russian “aggression,” simply shaking his head when Kaine quoted Trump’s comments praising Putin. He launched staple attacks on Hillary Clinton and the Clinton foundation—opening the door for an unflattering comparison to the self-serving Trump Foundation. He accused the Democrats of not supporting the police and of stirring up division by talking about “implicit bias” and institutional racism, which also gave Kaine an opening to take the high road.
In his litany of woes visited upon the nation under Barack Obama, at the top of Pence’s list was “the war on coal.” That was as close as either candidate came to discussing the very real threat of climate change (a far more urgent threat, in fact, than foreign terrorists, who got quite a bit of airtime).
Kaine did a good job taking apart Trump’s bigoted suggestion that entire categories of people should be barred from the country based on their ethnicity and religious beliefs.
In the end, it was a rout. Unless, of course, you haven’t heard anything Donald Trump has said. Or unless you turned off the volume and judged the debate based on Pence’s head-shake and his smile.
If that’s how the voters decide, who knows?
Ruth Conniff is editor-in-chief of The Progressive.