The VEEP Debate: Style vs Substance
The VEEP debate: If all that mattered was “style” and presentation, Mike Pence ran away with it. If that’s the ball game, call him the winner.
But I wasn’t much interested in the “optics” or horse race aspects. Instead, I focused on the substance of what I heard in Pence’s smoother, better-packaged comments.
And that “substance” amounted to a whole lot of trouble, for the nation and the world. Let me illustrate, by edited pieces from the transcript. From the angle of substance rather than showmanship, a very different picture emerges. Here are a few snapshots
PENCE: . . ..Hillary Clinton failed to renegotiate…Hillary Clinton failed to renegotiate a status of forces agreement… And so we removed — we removed all of our… troops from Iraq, and ISIS was able to be conjured up in that vacuum … and overrun vast areas of Iraq.
Pause for a second. What Pence is saying is that the Iraq occupation/war should have continued, up to now. Kaine, amid the flurry of interruptions, called him on this:
KAINE: Well, if you want to put more American troops in Iraq, you can propose that.
Which is the meaning of Pence’s jibe, but he simply, smoothly ignored that statement, and got away with the dodge.
PENCE: The United States of America needs to begin to exercise strong leadership to protect the vulnerable citizens and over 100,000 children in Aleppo. Hillary Clinton’s top priority when she became secretary of state was the Russian reset, the Russians reset. After the Russian reset, the Russians invaded Ukraine and took over Crimea.
And the small and bullying leader of Russia is now dictating terms to the United States to the point where all the United States of America — the greatest nation on Earth — just withdraws from talks about a cease-fire while Vladimir Putin puts a missile defense system in Syria while he marshals the forces and begins — look, we have got to begin to lean into this with strong, broad-shouldered American leadership.
Reassuring, and carefully euphemized. But make no mistake:
“exercise strong leadership,” and “lean into this with strong, broad-shouldered American leadership” mean WAR. Big war, air and ground.
So in both Iraq and Syria, Pence is calling for the U.S. to launch a major, two- (or maybe three-) front Middle Eastern war, against ISIS, its various allied groups, Assad, and Putin.
And that’s not all. He wants yet another front against Russia, with nuclear weapons on the table:
PENCE: There’s a broad range of other things that we ought to do, as well. We ought to deploy a missile defense shield to the Czech Republic and Poland which Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama pulled back on out of not wanting to offend the Russians back in 2009.
That’s in addition to:
PENCE: rebuilding our military. . . . We’ve got to work with Congress, and Donald Trump will, to rebuild our military and project American strength in the world. . . . We’ve just got to have American strength on the world stage. When Donald Trump becomes president of the United States, the Russians and other countries in the world will know they’re dealing with a strong American president.
At the end, moderator Elaine Quijano quoted:
QUIJANO: … [Yesterday, Trump said,] quote, “Putin has no respect for Hillary Clinton and no respect for Obama.” Why do you think he’ll respect a Trump- Pence administration?
PENCE: Strength. Plain and simple.
“Strength?” Reassuring to some; but hardly specific. But the substance is indeed plain and simple enough: it’s “war.”
So, smoothly and deftly, Pence said that a Trump-Pence administration will bring us massive new wars, and a massive military buildup to mount them. (He did not say there would need to be a military draft to fill out this vastly expanded military; but it’s hard to see how that could be avoided.)
Next, on IMMIGRATION. Kaine tried his best:
KAINE: Immigration. There’s two plans on the table. Hillary and I believe in comprehensive immigration reform. Donald Trump believes in deportation nation. You’ve got to pick your choice. . . .Donald Trump proposes to deport 16 million people, 11 million who are here without documents. And both Donald Trump and Mike Pence want to get rid of birthright citizenship. So if you’re born here, but your parents don’t have documents, they want to eliminate that. That’s another 4.5 million people. These guys — and Donald Trump have said it — deportation force. They want to go house to house, school to school, business to business, and kick out 16 million people. And I cannot believe…
PENCE: That’s nonsense. That’s nonsense.
But is it? Here’s Pence, reeling off his polished, unctuous talking points:
PENCE: Donald Trump’s laid out a plan to end illegal immigration once and for all in this country. . . beginning with border security, internal enforcement. . . . Donald Trump has laid out a priority to remove criminal aliens, remove people that have overstayed their visas. And — and once we have accomplished all of that, which will — which will strengthen our economy, strengthen the rule of law in the country and make our communities safer once the criminal aliens are out, then we’ll deal with those that remain. . . .
End it “once and for all.” (A final solution?) “Border security” (the $50 billion dollar wall); remove “criminals” and others who “overstayed their visas” — which is getting close to the number Kaine cited; and “then we’ll deal with this that remain.”
“Deal with them”? It was said calmly and, sounded in a way, orderly. But those phrases ought to send chills down the backs of anyone with much historical memory. I believe Kaine was dead-on when he said, evidently to no effect:
KAINE: These guys — and Donald Trump has said it . . .They want to go house to house, school to school, business to business, and kick out 16 million people. And I cannot believe…
But believe it. Trump said it; Pence slicked it up, but repeated it. And their base will demand it.
Race & police killings of blacks
PENCE: … I just think what we ought to do is we ought to stop seizing on these moments of tragedy. We ought to assure the public that we’ll have a full and complete and transparent investigation whenever there’s a loss of life because of police action. But, Senator, please, you know, enough of this seeking every opportunity to demean law enforcement broadly by making the accusation of implicit bias every time tragedy occurs.
Pence: . . . But what — what — what Donald Trump and I are saying is let’s not have the reflex of assuming the worst of men and women in law enforcement. We truly do believe that law enforcement is not a force for racism or division in our country… . Law enforcement in this country is a force for good. They are the — they truly are people that put their lives on the line every single day. But I would — I would suggest to you, what we need to do is assert a stronger leadership at the national level to support law enforcement. You just heard Senator Kaine reject stop-and-frisk. Well, I would suggest to you that the families that live in our inner cities that are besieged by crime…”
In my view Kaine was valiant in urging a fuller discussion of systemic bias in policing and other institutions. Pence said “I’m not afraid to bring that up,” but in fact he brought it up mainly to say we should stop talking about it, especially when police are involved. It was suavely done, almost urbane sounding.
But what was very telling for me was Pence’s response when the moderator Elaine Quijano asked him — twice — what he would say to black U.S. Senator (and fellow Republican) Tim Scott of South Carolina — wait; here’s the whole exchange:
QUIJANO: Your fellow Republican, Governor Pence, Senator Tim Scott, who is African-American, recently spoke on the Senate floor. He said he was stopped seven times by law enforcement in one year.
KAINE: A U.S. senator.
QUIJANO: [Scott] said, “I have felt the anger, the frustration, the sadness, and the humiliation that comes with feeling like you’re being targeted for nothing more than being just yourself.” What would you say to Senator Scott about his experiences?
PENCE: Well, I have the deepest respect for Senator Scott, and he’s a close friend. And what I would say is that we — we need to adopt criminal justice reform nationally. I — I signed criminal justice reform in the state of Indiana, Senator, and we’re very proud of it.
I worked when I was Congress on a second chance act. We have got to do a better job recognizing and correcting the errors in the system that do reflect on institutional bias in criminal justice. But what — what — what Donald Trump and I are saying is let’s not have the reflex of assuming the worst of men and women in law enforcement. We truly do believe that law enforcement is not a force for racism or division in our country…
KAINE: Elaine, can I…
QUIJANO: So what would you say to Senator Scott, Governor?
PENCE: Law enforcement in this country is a force for good. They are the — they truly are people that put their lives on the line every single day. But I would — I would suggest to you, what we need to do is assert a stronger leadership at the national level to support law enforcement. You just heard Senator Kaine reject stop-and-frisk. Well, I would suggest to you that the families that live in our inner cities that are besieged by crime…”
Note that Pence has essentially nothing to say to Sen. Scott, except, ‘Suck it up, Dude,” bring back “stop and frisk,” don’t see systematic bias in policing (even after seven stops), or in the wake of the hundreds of killings, and anyway, black-on-black crime is “besieging” your neighborhoods.
Adding It Up:
Summing up:, in this smooth, avuncular way, making it sound almost dull, Mike Pence promised us lots more wars, an unprecedented mass ethnic cleansing campaign (that dare not yet speak its name, but is nothing less), and gave “concerned” counsel to lay off the cops who harass people of color (even a U.S. Senator), and kill them by the hundreds each year.
By the way, the full transcript of the debate is here if you want to see these passages in their full context and check my editing.
I wish Kaine had done a better job of pointing up the madness and folly on display across the table. But despite that, the substance was right there, in plain sight, or at least plain text, and let’s hope it can bring on an appropriately substantive response from an aroused electorate.
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