VP de­bate left me want­ing less

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - OPINION - Eu­gene Robin­son Colum­nist

Tues­day’s en­counter be­tween Tim Kaine and Mike Pence was sub­stan­tive at times and contentious through­out. But the em­i­nences who run the Commission on Pres­i­den­tial De­bates should ask them­selves this ques­tion: Why have a vice-pres­i­den­tial de­bate at all?

Of course there should be some sort of pub­lic fo­rum for vot­ers to get to know the in­di­vid­u­als who might find them­selves, as the cliche goes, a heart­beat away from the pres­i­dency. But the de­bate for­mat told us lit­tle about Kaine and Pence that we didn’t al­ready know.

For those keep­ing score on per­for­mance, I thought Pence was a bit more pol­ished and poised. Kaine came out of the gate with the clear in­ten­tion of be­ing ag­gres­sive, and his tac­tic from the be­gin­ning was to in­ter­rupt the In­di­ana gov­er­nor al­most ev­ery time he spoke. By the mid­point of the de­bate, Pence, too was in­ter­rupt­ing fre­quently when Kaine had the floor. But first im­pres­sions linger.

As for what the can­di­dates said, it quickly be­came clear that the two men had lit­tle in­ter­est in talk­ing to each other. Kaine was there to at­tack Repub­li­can can­di­date Don­ald Trump, and Pence was there to at­tack Demo­cratic can­di­date Hil­lary Clin­ton. It is too soon to say who drew blood and how much, though I do think Kaine may have come away with more am­mu­ni­tion for at­tack ads.

When­ever the subject un­der dis­cus­sion gave Kaine an open­ing — and quite of­ten when it didn’t — Kaine re­minded view­ers of out­ra­geous and of­fen­sive things Trump has said, such as his al­le­ga­tion that Mex­i­can im­mi­grants are “bring­ing drugs, they’re bring­ing crime, they’re rapists, and some, I as­sume, are good peo­ple.”

Pence ac­tu­ally tried to de­fend that state­ment, be­lieve it or not. When Kaine raised other ap­palling Trump state­ments, Pence would gen­er­ally shake his head in nega­tion — which was odd, since all this stuff is on video­tape — or pre­tend he hadn’t been lis­ten­ing.

At­tempts by both can­di­dates to land a knock­out punch did not go well. Dur­ing a dis­cus­sion of So­cial Se­cu­rity — which Kaine claimed Trump and Pence want to pri­va­tize — Pence tried to echo Ron­ald Rea­gan: “There they go again,” he said, but it sounded con­trived. Kaine, try­ing to cap­i­tal­ize on Trump’s prob­lems of the last week, said that “Don­ald Trump can’t start a Twit­ter war with Miss Uni­verse with­out shoot­ing him­self in the foot.” But the line to­tally missed the sig­nif­i­cance of Trump’s feud with Ali­cia Machado, which is that Trump’s be­hav­ior was sex­ist and cruel.

Mod­er­a­tor Elaine Qui­jano, armed with a long list of top­ics she wanted to cover, shifted gears briskly. She fre­quently cut off ex­changes just when they were get­ting in­ter­est­ing. A big­ger prob­lem was that the can­di­dates so of­ten in­sisted on talk­ing over each other. It was at times im­pos­si­ble to un­der­stand what ei­ther man was say­ing.

Pence did a lot of smil­ing, frown­ing and head-shak­ing while Kaine was speak­ing, and that’s gen­er­ally not a good thing to do in a de­bate. Kaine kept his fa­cial ex­pres­sions un­der con­trol, even his rogue eye­brow.

Kaine went af­ter Trump for his tem­per­a­ment, his busi­ness bankruptcies, his re­fusal to re­lease his in­come taxes, his boast that he is “smart” if he man­ages to avoid pay­ing fed­eral in­come taxes at all, his ad­mi­ra­tion of Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin’s lead­er­ship qual­i­ties ... so many is­sues, so lit­tle time. Try­ing to cram it all in made him sound rushed.

Pence’s list of par­tic­u­lars was shorter and his ca­dence slower, but he must have missed school the day his class­mates learned what a non se­quitur is. My fa­vorite among many was when Qui­jano asked about the “in­tel­li­gence surge” that Clin­ton pro­poses as part of her plan for fight­ing ter­ror­ism. Kaine went first and de­scribed the con­cept. Pence ig­nored the subject al­to­gether and in­stead gave a pros­e­cu­to­rial so­lil­o­quy about Clin­ton’s emails.

For me, the most in­ter­est­ing part came at the end when Qui­jano asked about so­cial is­sues. Kaine said his Catholic faith leads him to oppose both the death penalty and abor­tion — but that as gov­er­nor of Vir­ginia, he be­lieved he was duty-bound to en­force laws al­low­ing both. Pence spoke of be­ing an evan­gel­i­cal Chris­tian and ex­plained why his faith leads him to oppose abor­tion. It sounded, fi­nally, like a gen­uine dis­cus­sion. But it lasted just a few min­utes, and then the de­bate was over.

I know what Kaine and Pence got out of the evening: They es­tab­lished them­selves as national po­lit­i­cal fig­ures, and also man­aged to avoid harm­ing their re­spec­tive can­di­dates’ chances. The ben­e­fit for vot­ers, how­ever, was harder to dis­cern.

Eu­gene Robin­son is syn­di­cated by the Wash­ing­ton Post Writ­ers Group. His email ad­dress is eu­gen­er­obin­son@wash­post. com.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.