The American people can be so delightfully politically schizophrenic. “What we wouldn’t give for some normal candidates having a discussion of policy in basically polite terms,” they say. “Here are two,” says the vice presidential debate. “HARD PASS,” say the American people.
Ratings will tell the whole story of how many passed, but I didn’t, and here’s what they missed.
1. Soft Voices
Sotto voce was the word of the day. Vice Presidential candidates Tim Kaine and Mike Pence both sought to temper the respective vocal weaknesses of their running mates by competing to see who could give the most Mr. Rogers-y intro. It was like watching a sober spouse try to interject kindly and gently for her drunker half at a dinner party, putting a gentle hand on his arm.
Except the louder halves weren’t actually in the room, which left the impression the veeps might start slipping on their house shoes and cardigans. Allow their dulcet tones to give you a moment’s reprieve from the specter of a Clinton/Trump race.
2. J. Peterman
kaine + pence = peterman pic.twitter.com/B66OEPeOhi
— Seinfeld Current Day (@Seinfeld2000) October 5, 2016
3. An Exchange About Policing and Race That Might Be Healthy for America
Both men started with a bit about their personal experiences with law enforcement before delving into policy differences:
Sen. Kaine: Here is what I learned as a mayor and governor. The way you make communities safer and the way you make police safer is through community policing. You build the bonds between community and the police force, bonds of understanding — that’s between the community and the police — force bonds of understanding. When that gap narrows, it is safer for communities, and for the police. That model works across our country. There are other models that do not work, and overly aggressive more militarized model. Donald Trump recently said we need to do more stop and frisk around the country. That would be a big mistake because it polarizes the relationship between the police and the community…
Gov. Pence: My uncle was a cop, career cop. On the beat in downtown Chicago. He was my hero when I grew up. My three brothers and I would marvel at my uncle when he would come out in his uniform, sidearm at his side. Police officers are the best of us, men and women, white, African-American, Asian, Latino, Hispanic, they put their lives on the line every single day. Let me say, at the risk of agreeing with you, community policing is a great idea. It has worked in the Hoosier state. We fully support that…
They hear the bad mouthing that comes from people that seize upon tragedy as a reason to use a broad brush to accuse law enforcement of implicit bias or institutional racism. That really has got to stop. When an African-American police officer in Charlotte, an all-star football player who went to Liberty University, followed his dad into law enforcement, joined the force in Charlotte in 2014, was involved in a police action shooting that claimed the life of Keith Lamont Scott, it was a tragedy. We mourn with those who mourn, we grieve with those who grieve, and we are saddened at the loss of life.
Hillary Clinton actually referred to that moment as an example of implicit bias in the police force, when she was asked a week ago, whether there was implicit bias in law enforcement, should correctly answer was that there is implicit bias and everyone in the United States I just think what we ought to do is stop seizing on these moments of tragedy. We assure the public we have a full and complete and transparent investigation whenever there is a loss of life because of police action, but Senator, please, enough of this seeking every opportunity to demean law enforcement by making accusation of implicit bias every time tragedy occurs.
They then segued to a discussion of whether bias exists, with Kaine saying, “People should not be afraid to bring up issues of bias in law enforcement,” and Pence saying “I am not afraid to bring that up,” but reiterating that reflexively blaming every shooting on racial bias is counterproductive.
And then they ended up sort of agreeing:
Gov. Pence: I would say that we need to adopt criminal justice reform nationally. I had signed criminal justice reform in the state of Indiana senate, and very proud about it. I worked in Congress on the second chance act. We have got to do a better job recognizing and correcting the errors in the system that do reflect institutional bias in criminal justice.
It may have been the most shocking moment of 2016.
4. Someone Who Knows The Facts of Hillary’s Scandals
Again and again, Pence hit Kaine with broad knowledge and intricate details of Hillary’s many scandals. This explanation of the problems with the Clinton Foundation was particularly strong, deliberately couched in terms voters can understand without having obsessively followed the story:
While she was secretary of state, the foundation accepted tens of millions of dollars from foreign governments and foreign donors now, you will need to know out there, this is basic stuff. Foreign donors and certainly, foreign governments cannot participate in the American political process. They cannot make financial contributions, but the Clintons figure out a way to create a foundation where foreign governments and for donors can donate millions of dollars.
And then we found, thanks to the good work of the Associated Press, that more than half of her private meetings when she was secretary of state were given to major donors of the Clinton Foundation.
On Iran, the dangerous legacy of the Obama administration’s foreign policy, Pence wouldn’t let Kaine mischaracterize the Iran deal as having “eliminated the Iranian nuclear weapons program” when it has done no such thing.
When Kaine brought up an “intelligence surge,” Pence came at him with Hillary’s private server, not missing the opportunity Trump missed last week on cybersecurity. This may have been the best line of the debate:
— Jordan Sekulow (@JordanSekulow) October 5, 2016
5. Someone Who Could Explain What Stronger Together Means
It’s still not that clear, but it’s better than we’ve seen before. Kaine’s opening statement at least pulled some heart strings and connected the phrase to Hillary’s policies. This makes me suspicious she didn’t help him write that book at all.
It is so great to be back at Longwood in Farmville, Virginia.
This is a very special place. Sixty-five years ago, a young, courageous woman, Barbara Johns, led a walkout over high school. She made history by protesting school segregation — she believes our nation is stronger together, and walkouts led to the Brown v. Board of Education decision that moved us toward equality. I am so proud to be running with another strong history making woman, Hillary Clinton, to be president of the United States. Her vision of stronger together, building an economy that works for all, not just those at the top, being safe in the world, not only with a strong military, but also strong alliances, to battle terrorism and climate change, and also to build a community of respect, like Barbara Johns tried to do 65 years ago.
6. A Heartfelt Discussion of Life
Pence was hampered on this question a bit by Trump’s March comment about punishing women who have abortions, but he was able to highlight the Democratic Party’s extremism, the reversals the party has required of a religious Democrat like Kaine, and the party’s support for two deeply unpopular things— partial-birth abortion and taxpayer funding for abortion.
I appreciate and I have a great deal of respect for Senator Kaine’s sincere faith. That is shared. But for me, I would tell you for the sanctity of life proceeds out of that ancient principle of God. I tried to stand for the ancient principle of the sanctity of life. I am also very pleased that Indiana became the most pro-adoption state. But what I can’t understand is Hillary Clinton — how she can support a process like partial-birth abortion.
I know you hold pro-life views personally. At the very idea that a child almost born into the world could still have their life taken from them, I cannot in conscience [understand] a party that supports that. I know you have historically opposed taxpayer funding for abortion, but Hillary Clinton wants to repeal the long-standing provision when we said we would not use taxpayer dollars to fund abortion. For me, my faith informs my life. For me, it all begins with cherishing the dignity, the worth, the value of all human life.
Was it all inconsequential, as vice presidential debates always are? Probably. But it was somehow comforting to visit the alternative reality where there are two normal, pleasant-seeming candidates for president.