October 5, 2016

Wondering, on Wednesday (v66)

Well, last night we had the first (and only, thankfully) vice presidential debate, and boy did a lot of minds change or what?

Um, that would be "or what" I think, how about you?

The VP debates are a relatively meaningless adventure where the national media sets aside 90 minutes for us to see if the underlings can first, do no harm; second, prove how much they know about the person at the top of their own ticket; third, show how much they know about the person at the top of the other party's ticket; and fourth, get in a memorable line at the expense of the other side.

You know what I mean:
  • Lloyd Bentsen, running mate of Michael Dukakis, talking at Dan Quayle in 1988:  Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy.
  • Admiral James Stockdale, Ross Perot's running mate, introducing himself at the 1992 VP debate: Who am I? Why am I here?
  • Joe Biden, squaring off in 2012 against Mitt Romney's choice, Paul Ryan: With all due respect, that's a bunch of malarkey.
  • Sarah Palin's abuse of  maverick in her debate with Biden in 2008, and Biden's takedown of her: Listen, let's talk about the maverick John McCain.
We do know, of course, that the GOP told us in advance that Pence won; I'm not sure there ever is a real winner in a political debate, because we don't have a 'debate.' We have question and answer sessions, that typically don't include anything new and original. Mabye we should call them FAQs instead? 

What was most interesting to me were the discussions on religion. Under normal circumstances, I think a person's faith is their business and I don't pick my politicians based on that. I might not pick one who lies about his faith, for example, but in general I think it's not a political thing. 

Moderator Elaine Quijano, hitting on the fact that both Kaine and Pence are devout, asked them to talk in detail about a time when they struggled to balance their personal faith and a public policy position. 

Tim Kaine gave possibly the best possible answer to this question. Jeb! Bush came close, but Kaine nailed it. After talking about his upbringing and faith background, he dove into the struggle part of the question, the actual heart of the question he was asked. Take a look.
I try to practice my religion in a very devout way and follow the teaching of my church in my own personal life. But I don't believe in this nation - a first amendment nation where we do not raise any religion over the other and we allow people to worship as they please - that the doctrine of any one religion should be mandated for everyone. 
For me, the hardest struggle in my faith life was the Catholic Church is against the death penalty and so am I. But I was governor of a state - and the state law said there was a death penalty for crimes that the jury determine to be heinous. So I had to grapple with that...
It was very difficult to allow executions to go forward, but in circumstances where I did not feel like there was a case for clemency, I told Virginia voters I would uphold the law and I did.
That was a real struggle - but I think it is really important that those of us who have very deep faith lives don't feel like we can just substitute our own views for everybody else in society - regardless of their views
Pence, in his response, talked about his upbringing, his personal decision for Christ in college, and his belief in the sanctity of life. He talked about being well on the way to making Indiana the most pro-adoption state in the country, and offering alternative to abortion, and so on -- but mentioned not a single thing about a personal struggle or having to balance faith and public policy. He used his time to struggle with Kaine's faith.
But what I can't understand is with Hillary Clinton and now Senator Kaine at her side - is to support a practice like partial birth abortion and to hold the view - I know Senator you hold pro-life views personally, but the very idea that a child that is almost born into the world could still have their life taken from them is just anathema to me... So for me, my faith informs my life. I tried to spend a little time on my knees every day. But it all for me begins with cherishing the dignity, the worth, the value of every human life. 
Kaine's response?
Elaine, this is a fundamental question. Hillary and I are both people out of religious backgrounds - her Methodist church experience was really formative for her as a public servant. But we really feel like you should live fully and with enthusiasm with the commands of your faith - but is not the role of the public servant to mandate that for everybody else. 
I wonder why more politicians don't understand that? And why they spend so much time trying to promote one religion over another? And why they spend so much time trying to pass laws allowing people and corporations the right to discriminate against others who may have differing beliefs?

So, I wonder, what did we really learn from this debate? On the four things that candidates are supposed to accomplish during a veep debate, here's my scorecard:

  • First, do no harm: neither of them did any real harm to themselves, or the top of their tickets. Kaine was the aggressor, certainly, interrupting Pence and Quijano on several occasions to make a point or to try and get Pence to answer a question. If you wanted to pick a winner on that basis, on who was the more polite, Pence was your guy.
  • Prove how much they know about the person at the top of their own ticket: clearly, Kaine won this hands down. He spoke easily about Clinton on a personal level, as if he actually connects with her, without struggling to do so. And he mentioned her name, it seemed, much more than Pence mentioned Trump. Isn't that what they're supposed to be doing, promoting their ticket?
  • Prove how much they know about the other guy (or gal): here again, Kaine seemed to be in better command, and certainly mentioned Trump more than Pence did. 
  •  Get in a memorable line: I don't remember any -- so sorry, no zinger winner this year. 

Win McNamee/Getty Images
One day, I would like to see a read debate, the way debates actually work. You know, give the candidates a statement (not in advance, mind you) and let them run with it. Do four of those on the show, allowing time for an introduction so that the answer to the first question doesn't get lost in the thank yous to the host, the crowd, the weather, and so on. These two could have had fun with that format.

Some experts said that Kaine was running for vice president in 2016 and that Pence was running for president in 2020. If that's the case, Kaine won - because he is running for vice president in 2016.

You can read the transcript, and some commentary, and judge for yourself whether there was a clear winner.

And finally, I wonder does Tim Kaine's left eyebrow have it's own zip code?