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When Two Co-Stars Collide

Being the hard-core political news junkies that we are, we even tuned in for Tuesday night’s vice-presidential debate. For what it’s worth, which isn’t much, we thought that Republican vice-presidential nominee Mike Pence got the better of Democratic vice-presidential nominee Tim Kaine, but that Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton nonetheless came out ahead of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.
At this point most Americans have no idea who either Pence or Kaine are, and even the more star-studded vice-presidential debates of the recent past had any discernible effect on the top-of-the-ticket outcomes, but those who did bother tune in were treated to an interesting show. They also got a glimpse at what this election year might have looked like in a more sane America.
Former Senator and current Indiana Governor Mike Pence came across as soft-spoken yet serious, humble yet forceful, broadly well-informed yet sharply focused on the most important issues, and he made a persuasive case against Clinton and her checkered career. All that soft-spoken and humble and well-informed shtick made for a jarring contrast with Trump’s bombastic and boastful and winging-it persona, though, and Pence’s defense of his running mate’s also checkered career wasn’t nearly so effective. Former Virginia Governor and current Sen. Tim Kaine came across as smug and rude and merely well-read on his talking points, but not quite so much as Trump, and even if he had a hard time defending his running mate he had much better luck casting aspersions on the opposition.
Kaine was able to repeatedly raise Trump’s apparent and pretty much-admitted tax-dodging and his refusal to release the tax returns that might prove how ingeniously he got away with it, riposte Pence’s quite believable allegations about Clinton’s family charity with the recent believable revelations about Trump’s charity foundation, and make mention of several of Trump’s most offensive quotes. Pence had a good argument about how the apologetic “reset” policy with Russia that Clinton had pursued as Secretary of State had encouraged dictator Vladimir Putin to pursue a revanchist policy that has already invaded Georgia and Ukraine, but there wasn’t much to be said when Kaine cited Trump’s frequent praise of Putin and his insistence to an interviewer that Russia would never invade Ukraine. In that case, as in so many others when Pence was called to defend the indefensible, he wound up insisting that Trump hadn’t said what he provably did say, and we expect that the video proof will soon be starring in an attack ad by the Clinton campaign. Towards the end there was a long discussion about abortion, an issue that hasn’t been prominent in this campaign, and although Pence made a strong and obviously sincere case for the anti-abortion side of the issue he struggled to explain his running mate’s soon-withdrawn statement that women who seek abortions should suffer some legal penalty.
Still, Pence did well enough that we’re sure we’re not the only Republicans who found themselves wishing he were at the top of the ticket. Pence or any other equally boring establishment Republican could have effectively made the damning case against Clinton’s checkered career with bombast or boasting or the wild rhetoric that comes with winging it, and none would have been obliged to defend an also checkered or the kind of outrageous statements that Pence was obliged to pretend didn’t exist. There are no doubt many Democrats wishing that someone so run-of-the-mill as Kaine was heading the ticket, with the scant name recognition that comes with being unencumbered by so many scandals and outrageous statements that Clinton has accumulated over the years, but we think the more honest of them would admit that Pence got the better of it on Tuesday night.
In any case, it will likely be long forgotten by the time those two awful people at the top of the tickets meet up again on Sunday.

— Bud Norman

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