Before I begin excoriating America’s first generic, vanilla Vice President, I would like to say once more that we need to remove the word “belief” from the conversation when it comes to climate change. Santa Claus and the tooth fairy are beliefs. Climate science is settled science. So when debate moderator Susan Page asked Mike Pence, “Do you believe that climate change poses an existential threat?” that is the wrong question. The correct question is, “What do you plan to do about the existential threat of climate change?”
That said, by informal count, Ms. Page had to utter the words “Thank you Vice President Pence,” as many as eight times in a row at one point during the debate. She had to ask Pence to shut up in this manner virtually every time Pence spoke, because Pence chronically refused to conclude his remarks within the allotted time. Pence largely ignored her injunctions and spoke over her every time until he was satisfied that he was finished. Kamala Harris, on the other hand, was fairly consistent in following the rules. Ms. Page once had to say “Thank you Senator Harris” four times to Senator Harris, but that was the exception to the rule.
Pence told his first lie in answer to his first question. He said that Donald Trump introduced a travel ban on China. Not true. Trump introduced a partial, highly porous travel restriction that had, ultimately and clearly, no effect whatsoever on controlling coronavirus in the United States. Coronavirus got in. But it’s instructive that Pence and Trump both keep emphasizing the partial ban from January 31st because it’s the only positive step the administration has taken against coronavirus, irrespective of how ineffectual it was. Both have virtually abrogated all responsibility for the pandemic and clearly spend no time on it at all any longer. These days Trump spends all his time rage tweeting.
On the issue of healthcare, Senator Harris made the elephant-in-the-room point that Donald Trump is in Court right now — in the middle of a pandemic — trying to repeal the Affordable Care Act. While she was speaking Pence repeatedly interrupted her. As she was concluding, moderator Page called time. Harris was given a bit extra time to finish because, as Senator Harris put, “He interrupted me, and I’d just like to finish.” Page let her have her extra time. Harris then concluded that “they’re coming for you” if you have a preexisting condition or are under 26 years of age and are covered by your parent’s healthcare plan. Donald Trump and company will take your healthcare away from you and they have nothing to offer in its place.
There was much irony that Pence, who is part of an administration that has told more than 20,000 lies, insisted that Harris was entitled to her own opinions but not her own facts. Pence, who has shamelessly shilled for Trump for the duration of his vice presidency, is being hypocritical, of course. But these days debates are not always about facts and are too often about perception, and Pence understands that just as clearly as his lord and master Donald Trump does.
In the final analysis Pence came off as Donald Trump Lite, rude, interruptive, arrogant and deceptive, to be sure, but only with half the calories. Harris kept her composure and an unmistakable vestige of calm control. At one point when Pence, in defiance of the rules, kept interrupting her, Harris said, “Mr Vice President, I’m speaking. I’m speaking. Okay?” She commanded him firmly but appropriately, with unmistakable authority. I think she will make a great Vice President.
Pence also looked unwell. His eyes were bloodshot and his face was pale. Or at least, paler than normal. It’s unclear why. Is Pence carrying coronavirus? It’s a point of uncertainty that is unprecedented. In no other administration in history would we be left to speculate.
At the conclusion of the debate it was instructive that, when the spouses of both candidates joined them on stage, Kamala Harris’ husband Douglas Emhoff was wearing a mask, Karen “mother” Pence was not. It serves as yet another reminder that the current administration and their families still don’t take this pandemic seriously, despite the chaos and illness it has caused at the White House, and that the new one will take it seriously. It’s important we remember that, in less than four weeks, America can go to the polls and wipe this current administration from the face of the earth. Let’s make it so. And, as ever, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, comrades and friends, stay safe.