A Vice-Presidential Debate to Forget

Democrat Tim Kaine was annoying with his hectoring and Republican Mike Pence sanctimonious in his calmness, but the real losers were the American people who learned little from the vice-presidential debate, says Michael Winship.

By Michael Winship

Well, that was depressing. Not because Vice Presidential Candidate X beat Vice Presidential Candidate Y in Tuesday night’s debate. Or vice versa. No, it was dispiriting because it so vividly displayed the problem with our current system of debates. This is no way to run a democracy.

If last week’s Donald Trump free-for-all, freefall debate performance was one extreme – out of control and fact-resistant – this week’s vice presidential event showed another, a demonstration of the perils of being over-coached and over-prepared with stock, canned answers repeated ad nauseum and infinitum.

Donald Trump and Mike Pence during Day Three of the Republican National Convention. (Photo credit: Grant Miller/RNC)

Donald Trump and Mike Pence during the Republican National Convention. (Photo credit: Grant Miller/RNC)

So there was Republican Mike Pence stolidly behaving like a real-life version of Sam the Eagle from the Muppets, shaking his head and bemoaning the fate of an America ruled by Hillary Clinton, and Tim Kaine as the overeager puppy eager to make his presence known, apparently told that the way to dispel the image some may have of him as too soft and nice is to keep interrupting; in effect, chewing the other guy’s new slippers.

Kaine may have started it, but in truth, the interruptions by each of the two were, as Rachel Maddow said on MSNBC, “maddening to the point of incomprehensibility.” The hectoring crosstalk did diminish some as the night wore on but it wasn’t conducive to any real dialogue or thoughtful discussion of the issues (the exchange on abortion at the end actually came somewhat close, thanks to Kaine).

And once again there was no talk of climate change or income inequality or education or infrastructure or healthcare, to name but a few of the topics that desperately need to be addressed. Instead, we got Pence running contrary to his running mate’s embrace of Vladimir Putin, calling the Russian leader “small and bullying” and Kaine repeatedly going after Pence for Donald Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns. No one would mistake Monday’s slapfest as a celebration of the Federalist Papers.

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and her vice presidential choice, Sen. Tim Kaine. (Photo credit: HillaryClinton.com)

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and her vice presidential choice, Sen. Tim Kaine. (Photo credit: HillaryClinton.com)

If, as many have suggested, the Clinton-Kaine campaign’s strategy was to put Pence on the defensive, denying that Trump has said a basket of deplorable things we all know he has said, then the evening may ultimately belong to them. We won’t know for sure until we see the impact, if any, of the fact checking that will appear over the next few days as Pence’s denials are thrown up against the videotape of Trump declaring exactly what Pence claimed he didn’t. Those facts certainly won’t change the magical thinking of the Trump-Pence base; perhaps it will affect the undecideds on the fence.

Rating by onstage performance and the response of the pundit class, Pence’s icy calm may have won out over Kaine’s hyper champing at the bit, and the Republican governor certainly has deftly positioned himself for 2020. But as Mark Twain said of Richard Wagner’s operas, Kaine’s attacks may have been better than they sound.

We’ll see. What’s for sure is that the clear losers were any Americans who hoped to hear something, anything, of real substance. Days to go after the debate: 33, and the Republic is still adrift, with no sign of the lifeboats.

Michael Winship is the Emmy Award-winning senior writer of Moyers & Company and BillMoyers.com, and a former senior writing fellow at the policy and advocacy group Demos. Follow him on Twitter at @MichaelWinship. [This article originally appeared at http://billmoyers.com/story/you-call-that-a-vice-president-debate/]

9 comments for “A Vice-Presidential Debate to Forget

  1. James lake
    October 6, 2016 at 13:46

    Keep it coming. The more the citizens in Europe where I am and the rest of the world see of this joke election; I hope they will be less inclined to follow US hegemony and that the so called leaders we elect in our respective countries, will learn to think and act in their own countries interests.

  2. rosemerry
    October 6, 2016 at 11:21

    ” the Republican governor certainly has deftly positioned himself for 2020″ WHAT???? Each time there is a new POTUS we get a worse one, but this really would take the cake. Are the people of the USA completely mad?

    • Bill Bodden
      October 6, 2016 at 14:06

      Are the people of the USA completely mad?

      A case can be made that the political leadership in the US is mad. The problem is that the vast majority of the American people don’t have a clue as to what is really happening so they allow the moral idiots to run rampant wherever they choose – another version of good people doing nothing to allow evil to succeed. With a few exceptions such as opponents of slavery and supporters of labor in the early years of the industrial revolution the preceding has been a mostly constant theme in American history.

  3. Gregory Macy
    October 6, 2016 at 05:11

    Why is Trump promoting cordial relations with Russia and de-escalation of the Syria conflict but his VP candidate towed the same line as their election opponents???? Does this not raise eyebrows as to what the Trump campaign is really about????

    • Bill Bodden
      October 6, 2016 at 12:09

      One possibility is that Trump (unwittingly) may be staking a claim to be the King of Chaos. Either way, Hillary the Queen of Chaos or Trump the King of Chaos and we all lose.

  4. b.grand
    October 6, 2016 at 00:18

    The fact-checkers (and you???) are checking the wrong facts. The 2 would-be Veeps were in complete agreement on their big lies –
    The alleged existence of an Iranian nuclear weapons program
    the alleged Russian aggression
    Who’s killing civilians in Syria

    Kaine&Pence both want no-fly zones

    This piece isn’t wrong, but it’s pretty fluffy.

    • b.grand
      October 6, 2016 at 15:53

      “…what both news outlets—and Kaine himself—got wrong is that Hillary Clinton didn’t actually eliminate Iran’s nuclear weapons program. The negotiations that she helped jump-start—by involving her State Department in nascent talks conducted by then-Senate Foreign Relations Chair John Kerry—weren’t to eliminate Iran’s nuclear weapons program, but rather to roll it back and block any potential path toward building a bomb. The key word in that last sentence is “potential”—it’s doing a lot of heavy lifting, because at the time the talks got underway,

      Iran was not, according to all publicly available information, making any concerted effort to build a bomb.”


  5. Bill Bodden
    October 6, 2016 at 00:09

    …the real losers were the American people who learned little from the vice-presidential debate,

    Then, again, with Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump as the leading candidates, according to the polls, there isn’t much left for America to lose.

    Jeffrey St. Clair over at CounterPunch has interesting observations about Kaine and Pence and their debate – http://www.counterpunch.org/2016/10/05/enter-sandman-the-pence-kaine-sleepwalk/

    If there is truth in the old adage about a nation getting the kind of government it deserves then surely a Clinton-Kaine or Trump-Pence presidency adds credence to the opinion of some observers who suggest America is in a state of decadence.

    • Joe Tedesky
      October 6, 2016 at 01:16

      “there isn’t much left for America to lose.”

      Yes I agree, and may I just add that America has everything to learn from this insane 2016 Presidential campaign.

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