The Tired Gee-Shucks Fakery of Mike Pence
This edition is arriving late, after work hours and a couple of interviews for upcoming podcast episodes.
Last night’s Vice Presidential debate was difficult to watch, primarily because Pence is so infuriating. Pence has chosen as his public persona the Gee-Shucks Hoosier. As a fellow Hoosier, nothing could be more grating.
The dangerous thing about Pence is that he is an effective and manipulative public speaker. He employs the same debate tactic that George W. Bush would, which is to take the moderator’s question and find a way to deflect from it and bring things back to his rhetorical strengths and the things his base cares about.
This was most evident in his response to moderator Susan Page’s question about healthcare.
Susan Page gave a rather straightforward prompt:
You know, you mentioned earlier, Vice President Pence, that the President was committed to maintaining protections for people with pre-existing conditions and -- but you do have this court case that you are supporting, your administration is supporting, that would strike down the Affordable Care Act. The president says, President Trump says, that he's going to protect people with pre-existing conditions, but he has not explained how he will do that. So, tell us, specifically – how will your administration protect Americans with pre-existing conditions and give access to affordable insurance if the Affordable Care Act is struck down.
Pence wasted no time. He completely dodged the question that could be more simply put as “what is the ‘replace’ part of the ‘repeal and replace the ACA’ adage that’s so popular in your party? It’s been 4 frickin’ years and you still have nothing.” Instead, he responded:
Well, thank you, Susan. Let me just say, addressing your very first question, I couldn't be more proud to serve as vice president to a President who stands on a policy for the sanctity of human life. I'm pro-life. I don't apologize for it. And this is another one of those cases where there's such a dramatic contrast.
Pence is not pro-life. He’s anti-abortion. He’s the lead of the coronavirus task force and 200,000+ Americans are dead, and his boss got the virus; to boot, during his tenure as governor of Indiana his reversal of policies led to an HIV epidemic. His administration does in fact want to repeal Obamacare and has no plans of what to replace it with.
Oh, and he never answered the question about healthcare.
But of course that doesn’t matter in the context of a televised debate—especially one with such a lax moderator who did little to curtail Pence running roughshod over the rules, just as Trump did.
These types of debates lead to a lot of confirmation bias depending upon the viewer, and they end up being less about the issues and more about how a candidate resonates with the audience. Harris’ performance is being lauded by women, and for good reason; Pence’s flippant dismissal of Harris with his tut-tut-you’re-nothing-like-Mother attitude, his tendency to speak over her, and his disrespect for rules served to remind women of the men in their lives who have done the same to them. Conversely, I imagine that Pence came across as strong, assertive, and principled to the white Christian Republican base he curries.
Some commentators have said that this was a sign of a potential “return to normal politics.” I fear that perspective. It belies a naivete that the legislative and judicial gains of Christian nationalists will be overturned easily, and that the genie of open racism and xenophobia can be put back in its bottle. No, it’s going to take a long time to recover what we’ve lost - and the lives lost in this pandemic, the families torn asunder by a vile and evil immigration policy, the lives lost to police violence that escape true justice - those are never coming back.
I don’t want this to return to normal. Normal didn’t work. Let’s think bigger.
If it continues this way, the US will be friendless and belligerent. Maybe it can keep a belligerent India on its side and bully Japan and a few other Asian countries into a confrontation with China it can't win. Everyone else is smiling wanly and backing away, as fast as possible for the door or a wall. Some of the allies who are really locked in will have to find ways to play friend to both the US and China without being crushed by either. It's hard to see things relaxing, as we go back to the geopolitics of 1917 with climate change bearing down in a world of simmering wars and fires.