Mike Pence’s Performative Niceties Can’t Distract From All of the White House’s Failures
No, Kamala Harris didn’t lose to Mike Pence’s “Midwestern nice.”
Last week, the first presidential debate turned Cleveland, Ohio into a contaminated superfund site. Former Vice President Joe Biden and incumbent President Donald Trump sparred over everything from healthcare to Trump’s Supreme Court pick, often drowning each other out and quickly enveloping the debate hall with a cacophony of insults and interruptions.
During Wednesday’s Vice Presidential debate, however, Vice President Mike Pence and Senator Kamala Harris could be heard clearly. The moderator — USA Today’s Susan Page — never had to yell. And no one hurled juvenile snubs. But Pence’s niceties, postulations, and over-the-top formality couldn’t distract from the utter disaster that has swept the nation under the Trump administration.
Early on, Pence said he was “privileged” to be sharing a stage with Harris. A few questions later, he expressed his gratitude for her and Biden’s genuine concern about the president’s condition and the general health of the White House staff. Last week, Trump, multiple state officials, and White House staff members tested positive for the coronavirus. Pence also congratulated Harris on her historic nomination as the first female Black and South Asian vice presidential candidate, a stark contrast from Trump’s relentless insults against Biden.
Pence kept up his “Midwestern nice” during his interactions with the moderator, but dodged accountability for the Trump administration’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. As the head of the coronavirus taskforce, Pence is largely responsible for the country’s slow response, inadequate funding, and general confusion. And as the vice president, Pence had a unique opportunity to urge President Trump to take COVID-19 seriously. He didn’t. The virus has now taken the lives of more than 210,000 Americans.
Pence is aware of the pandemic’s devastation, yet he doesn’t care. The Trump administration is still in denial about the seriousness of the emergency. The president’s continuous assault on masks, rejection of experts’ guidance, and inability to distribute enough PPE — all the while urging schools and businesses to remain open — have all contributed to how the coronavirus pandemic has unfolded in the U.S. and have left thousands hospitalized.
The vice president avoided Harris’ repeated jabs at Trump’s attempt to downplay the pandemic, fully learning of the virus’ threat back in January, as journalist Bob Woodward recently revealed. Instead, Pence claimed that the White House’s actions saved lives.
“We were able to reinvent testing. More than 115 million tests have been done to date,” he said during Wednesday’s debate. “We were able to see to the delivery of billions of supplies so our doctors and nurses had the resources and support they needed.”
In the past few weeks, Trump has clamored to have a vaccine ready by Election Day. Although Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said that a vaccine could be ready by the end of the year, it is still unclear whether that will become a reality. Even if a vaccine is produced and approved, distribution could take months.
But, America can’t function when its economy and manpower have been hobbled by a preventable tragedy.
Pence’s rhetoric marked a thinly-veiled attempt to lull Americans into overlooking the administration’s failures. It won’t work. No matter how hard the vice president tried, he couldn’t outrun the shadow of the last seven months of Trump’s term.
“And here’s the thing, on January 28, the vice president and the president were informed about the nature of this pandemic,” Harris said. “They were informed that it’s lethal in consequence, that it is airborne, that it will affect young people, and that it would be contracted because it is airborne. And they knew what was happening, and they didn’t tell you.”
His words could still have a deadly impact. Sixteen states have failed to instate a mask mandate. Numerous anti-mask protests have popped up across the country. And concerns over the safety of COVID-19 vaccines have prompted many to say they’d refuse to take it. The continual downplay of the virus’ severity, especially as a second wave approaches, could lead to 200,000 more deaths by year’s end.
The “thoughts and prayers” offered by the vice president on debate night did just as little for the families of the more than 210,000 dead as did his botched response to this crisis. Absolutely nothing. And no amount of calmly uttered niceties can mask that.