As Vice President Mike Pence and Senator Kamala Harris took part in their first and only face-off, we were reminded of what a somewhat functioning political debate looks like. The Vice Presidential debate had features of last week’s atrocious Presidential counterpart, but was far more forgiving on the senses; much of the structure and debated topics remained constant, yet the quality of discussion was enhanced tenfold given the absence of Trump’s blatant loudness and Biden’s lack of lingual conviction.
‘Joe will do this’; ‘The President has done that’. What made for interesting watching was that both candidates were advocating on behalf of someone else. Almost all of the time, Pence and Harris were able to transmit campaign messages far better than their superiors, but questions of direct accountability arose as a result. Notably, it seemed extremely easy to for Pence to deny the President’s (FBI-proven) tax evasion scandal. Nobody could deny, however, the shadows of Trump and Biden lurking in the background.
With Trump stealing the limelight last week, it was refreshing to see some different faces emerge and convey their own political credentials. Mike Pence was poised, sturdy, and conveyed a less erratic side to the current administration than we are familiar with. Upon Harris’s proclamation to trust the scientists vis-à-vis a vaccine, the VP attacked her for “undermining public opinion”. A clever response not akin to his superior, a serial interrupter: Trump managed to butt in over 70 times during his ‘debate’ yet Pence managed only ten instances – a clear improvement from the Republican camp but still double that of Harris, who also performed proficiently.
Having seen her boss struggle with Trump’s incessant interruptions, the Senator from California had evidently done her homework. When Pence did butt in, Harris remained composed and, with the help of moderator Susan Page, was able to dispel her opponent’s distraction before giving generally eloquent passages. Hitting hardest during the Covid-19 topic, Harris branded the White House’s handling of the pandemic as “the greatest failure of any presidential administration in the history of our country”. Pence’s response of the President “always putting the health of American people first” didn’t land well in comparison.
The clash came to a head when Page asked: “In the case of Breonna Taylor, was justice done?” Harris replied sharply “I do not think so”, whereas Pence delivered his sympathies to the Taylor family before delivering an anticipated “….but I believe in our justice system.” Those watching could only agonisingly anticipate the direction in which Pence was heading. His rare blunder was a big one – conveying sympathies should never include “but”. Last week’s insincerity surfaced once more, at least if only from the Republican camp. Doubling down, Pence attacked Harris for her stance given her experience as a prosecutor. To this, Harris snapped back that she would not “be lectured to” given that she was the only person on the stage to have ever prosecuted. She was also the only person not to have a fly nesting on her forehead.
In all honesty, this debate was leaps and bounds ahead of last week’s counterpart; it begs the question of whether these candidates should be vying for a promotion. Seriously, leaps and bounds. Regardless of political inclination, both performed competently and, scandal barring, will be at the forefront of US politics for some time. I think the most fitting place to end the review however, is the gravity of the presence of Kamala Harris. The first Asian American, first African American, and only the third woman to run for VP on a major party ticket, she proved a refreshing change of pace from an old, white, male dominated playing field. In a touching moment, Pence offered Harris his congratulations for these achievements, yet he will be hoping she has nothing more to celebrate come December. Regardless of who wins later this year, however, the Vice President will not be the one you have to worry about – it’s their crazy bosses.