Diatribes of Jay

This is a blog of essays on public policy. It shuns ideology and applies facts, logic and math to economic, social and political problems. It has a subject-matter index, a list of recent posts, and permalinks at the ends of posts. Comments are moderated and may take time to appear. Note: Profile updated 4/7/12

05 October 2016

The Veeps’ Debate


Who says a Veep debate is worthless? True, neither Tim Kaine nor Mike Pence is at the top of his ticket. True, neither will occupy the Oval Office unless the top person wins and later dies or becomes disabled. Yet subtly and indirectly—and despite interrupting and talking over each other—the two rivals showed how bizarre this campaign season has been, and how far from any semblance of a president Donald is. They did so in four ways.

The first thing they showed is how to have a good debate and disagree mightily, without insults or personal acrimony. Each showed respect, if not some affection, for the other. Both, especially Pence, seemed uncomfortable in the role of attack dog. Neither insulted the other at all. In this respect, despite their struggles to be heard, they gave us an exemplary debate.

At times Pence complained of insults, but his complaints fell short. Kaine’s barbs aimed at Donald, not Pence. They were mere recitations of ridiculous, terrible or crazy things that Donald himself had said. Sometimes Pence claimed that the recitations were inaccurate, but they were faithful excerpts of Donaldic rants, quoted so often in the press that many voters can recite them from memory.

How is quoting your opponent and exploring the quote’s consequences an insult? If the quote itself insults reason and listeners’ intelligence, whose fault is that? The man who said it, or the one who repeats it to make a point?

Was Kaine’s and Pence’s mutual respect an act? It sure didn’t look like one. Apparently it derived from long acquaintance, from having worked together on real policies, from strong moral values and religious faith, and from agreement on some important aspects of policy. Specific points of agreement included the benefits of community policing, the need to face down Putin, the establishment of safe zones for civilians in Syria, the desirability of civility in politics, and the place of faith in establishing moral values. Each man acknowledged the others’ help and support on nuances of specific issues, refusing to paint with a broad black brush.

In this way, the two showed by their conduct that disagreeing just to be disagreeable advances no one’s policy or campaign.

The second thing the debate did was unmask Donald as the naked emperor, not by declamation, but by example. Has Donald ever shown respect for anyone other than his subordinates and sycophants? He has insulted and vilified every one of his opponents, from Jeb! through Ted and John to Hillary. He couldn’t and can’t seem to find anything good to say about any of them.

Perhaps a reason is that, never having held public office nor served the public, Donald never had the chance to work with any of them. So the two most important bases for Kaine’s and Pence’s mutual respect—long acquaintance and working together—in Donald’s case just don’t exist. The third—strong moral values and religious faith—I leave to the reader to judge.

If Donald has no basis for working with future colleagues in politics, how is he to govern? By arm-wrestling? by making the worst two insults out of three?

Could Donald, as president, agree with rivals on details as Kaine and Pence did at times, although in the midst of a high-stakes, vehement debate? Has he ever done anything like that in his brief one-year candidacy? Not hardly. But we do know he got up at 3 am to tweet a gratuitous insult about a former Miss Universe whose earlier harsh treatment at his own hands had harmed his candidacy.

Is doubling down on your own wrong the sign of a diplomat and doer, or of a man whose lack of self control, in the Oval Office, will inevitably lead to war?

The third thing the debate showed is that Pence is uncomfortable in, if not incapable of, defending his principal. Pence has the necessary voice and the temperament, all right. Applied at full force, his soothing tone and manner could serve as an anesthetic in surgery. But if you listened to his words, not his music, you could see that he had no substantive defense for any of the six big charges that Kaine leveled against Donald.

I’m not sure I got all six right, for Kaine never had a chance to list them by summary. But in my recollection they included: (1) Donald’s plan to deport eleven million undocumented immigrants plus (if his proposed repeal of birth citizenship takes effect) some five million more, for a total of sixteen million; (2) Donald’s profiling of Mexicans as “criminals” and “rapists” and plan to exclude and maybe deport Muslims based on their religion, not their behavior; (3) Donald’s support for nuclear proliferation, including in Saudi Arabia, Japan and South Korea; (4) Donald’s refusal to disclose his tax returns, which likely would show massive tax avoidance, thereby reflecting selfishness and unwillingness to support our country, our economy, our troops and our teachers; (5) Donald’s possible cozy business relationships with Putin, his cronies, and other shady characters around the globe, on which his tax returns might shed some light; and (6) Donald’s self-dealing conflicts of interest in his so-called “charitable” foundation, which a court has ordered not to accept any more donations.

How did Pence defend these charges against his principal? He disputed the facts, made counter-charges, or tried to change the subject. But the absence of substantive defenses on each of the six points spoke far more loudly than his soothing voice.

The first three points, as policies, would cause absolute chaos at home and abroad. The last three suggest that Donald, if elected, would work in his own personal interest because that’s what he’s done all his life, and all he knows how to do. To expect otherwise would be to hope for a leopard to change its spots, or for Bernie Madoff to morph into Mother (now Saint) Teresa.

The fourth and final thing the debate showed is how good a choice Hillary made in Kaine. His substance and delivery were flawless. He drove every charge home, refuted the weak ones the Pence made, and did so with precision and compelling simplicity. He even acknowledged (as every good debater should, but not Donald!) Pence’s points of agreement and good works. Kaine showed himself a superb lawyer, debater and thinker capable, with some seasoning, of assuming the presidency.

So all in all, it was a good night for Dems and for those who retain faith in American democracy. No, we don’t need a bull in a China shop, who will “shake things up” by breaking all our system’s rules and traditions at once. The Germans tried that in the 1930s, and it didn’t work out so well for them.

What we need is people of integrity and mutual respect like Kaine and Pence, with Kaine’s brains and incisiveness in argument, and Kaine’s and Hillary’s abilities to foresee the consequences of alternative policies. If nothing else, the debate assured the public that our ship of state will be in good hands if Hillary becomes captain and something happens to her. It also assured us that any one of the three—Hillary, Kaine or Pence (if only for his temperament)—would do far better in the Oval Office than Donald, and maybe help us all sleep at night.

Endnote: Faithful readers of this blog know that I have laid out, as devil’s advocate, the case for nuclear proliferation. But it took me a substantial essay of nine separate subheads, in which I acknowledged and addressed many risks and counterarguments. Next to that, Trump’s offhand remark was more of a joke, in which, naming only our allies, he failed even to consider the risks of nukes in the hands of our rivals and enemies, let alone terrorists.

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