VP Debate: Candidates, Proposals, (And a Fly) Take Center Stage

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Democratic vice presidential nominee Senator Kamala Harris and US Vice President Mike Pence participate in their 2020 vice presidential campaign debate in, Utah, U.S., October 7, 2020. © Brian Snyder, Reuters

After what could be the worst presidential debate in U.S. history, this Wednesday night, the turn was for the vice-presidential candidates, Senator Kamala Harris of California, and incumbent Mike Pence.

Amidst a Plexiglas barrier and with a moderator who maintained “control” of the situation most of the time, Harris and Pence tried to offer the country their particular perspectives on the Trump administration, what a Joe Biden victory would entail, and what is really happening during the new coronavirus pandemic.

And if this seemed like a relatively calm and even boring debate to many, it’s simply because it was the first civil debate we’ve had on the stage in a long time. 

Both candidates tried to live up to their campaigns’ promise to hold a dialogue without stepping on each other’s toes, though that meant frequently ignoring questions from moderator Susan Page, USA Today’s Washington bureau chief.

Perhaps most evident in the vice presidential debate was the deep rift that divides the ideas, ideals, principles, and even perceptions of reality of both candidates just as positions are divided among U.S. citizens.

One side recognized the implicit bias in the police forces while the other put the rhetoric of “law and order” as a pillar in his speech; one side spoke of the risk of a “packed” Supreme Court, and the other highlighted how the president and his lackeys have precisely “packed” the district courts; one side spoke of the experience and the risk of politicizing the separation of powers, the other only found shelter in an accusatory finger.

While Harris was gathering Biden’s strategy of looking directly at the camera to emphasize the mismanagement of the Trump administration during the COVID-19 public health crisis, the Senator also tried to highlight the numbers and data that are in the public domain between deaths, timelines, and the contagion crisis in the White House.

On the other side, Vice President Mike Pence literally stood still, to the point that not a fly standing on his hair felt the need to move. Pence tried with some success, we must admit to cover the back of President Donald Trump, and to compose the speech that the erratic candidate shouted during his debate with Joe Biden.

The vice president tried to draw a parallel reality, in which “air and land are cleaner than any time ever recorded;” where Donald Trump “respects and reveres” people serving in uniform, and “rebuild” the economy,” speaking directly to his voter base that remains far from the headlines and confirmed information, and very close to the cult of personality.

Pence went so far as to talk about the risk of a tax increase in a Biden/Harris administration and put their “radical environmental agenda” as a direct threat to the country’s employment crisis.

Perhaps his most chilling statement was when he said, “I’m pro-life. I don’t apologize for it.”

In one way or another, the debate was full of complete sentences, with two solid personalities and a linear discussion of policies and proposals, even though most of those that came from the Republican candidate were misleading.

Finally, both candidates made clear who they were talking to.

Kamala Harris highlighted her experience, her ability to be the second in command of who could be the oldest president in the country’s history, and she remained stoic in the face of an opponent who tried to patronize her and “man-explain” every argument. 

Although the senator was later attacked for her remarks in favor of fracking the process of injecting liquid at high pressure into subterranean rocks, boreholes, etc. to force open existing fissures and extract oil or gas her performance far exceeded that of the Republican candidate.

On the other hand, Mike Pence did not manage to completely get out of the shadow of what keeps his campaign against the ropes: Donald Trump.

As Emily Stewart said in her analysis for Vox, Pence “is not at the top of the ticket Donald Trump is. The guy who seems determined to make things worse in the country at every turn, and has spent the past 24 hours on quite a Twitter tear.”

Meanwhile, and although the reality has been very different, Kamala Harris is, for many, the woman who should eventually sit in the Oval Office.