Liberal Column

Kaine surprises with powerful debate performance

/ The Daily Orange

Before Tuesday’s vice presidential debate, the general public might have known more about Longwood University than the two candidates who would be debating at the small liberal arts school. But United States Sen. Tim Kaine and Indiana Gov. Mike Pence’s time out of the limelight has ended, as the two men participated in a debate that exceeded expectations in terms of both content and entertainment value.

Kaine and Pence, often described as calm, relatable complements to their divisive running mates, engaged in a spirited — and at times hostile — discussion of a wide concentration of issues, from police brutality to foreign policy. Both men asserted themselves as more than merely faceless auxiliary pieces in an election that has thus far centered on Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump’s shared ability to create raucous headlines.

In the scope of this year’s election, this was one of the most politically moderate events so far. This reflects the beliefs of the vice presidential candidates. Kaine, Clinton’s running mate, is a fairly moderate Democrat. And while Pence, Trump’s running mate, is an extremely conservative Republican, his statements and delivery came across as much more reasonable than his running mate’s typically do. In contrast to the explosive first presidential debate, Tuesday’s debate was a political chess match, yielding three key takeaways.

Pence knew exactly what he was doing

Trump has faced a host of criticism throughout the duration of his presidential campaign, a good deal of which stems from the fact that he has no previous political experience. While Pence is not, as he claimed, a lifelong politician — he was first a conservative radio show host — he does have a wealth of experience, which was evident in his performance.

While defending the outlandish statements and policies of Trump would be an uphill climb for any politician, Pence masterfully avoided inflammatory questions and criticisms regarding his compatriot. Despite the fact that some of his deflections, like falsely stating that the Clinton Foundation only utilizes 10 percent of donation money for aid, were indubitably incorrect, Pence was never stumped.

He seemed to realize early on that not answering certain questions would be more beneficial than attempting to defend Trump at every turn. In terms of political theatre, Pence performed valiantly, yet in terms of actual content, Pence’s rhetoric was fairly empty.

Kaine was not as advertised

In the leadup to Tuesday’s debate, the permeating perception of Kaine was a politically average everyman. He was chosen to not impede the Clinton campaign, but would do little to further its cause.

Yet Kaine came out on the attack from the beginning, saying that he would not trust Trump to control the U.S. military, in which Kaine’s son is a Marine. Kaine also pressed Pence to answer some of the leading issues of the election, namely Trump’s refusal to release his tax history.

After Pence repeatedly ignored the question, Kaine’s unabating queries forced his opponent to promise that Trump would, in fact, release his tax history. The Republican ticket now has no choice other than to follow through on that promise, meaning that for Trump, a forced transparency seems to be imminent.

Police brutality and race relations came to the forefront

One of the most contentious issues facing the U.S. today is the state of neighborhood relations with the police. Both Kaine and Pence conceded that an increase in community outreach programs would significantly deter crime, based on their personal experiences.

In a rare moment of agreement, both vice presidential candidates stated a desire for criminal justice reform. But Pence refused to acknowledge the presence of institutional racism within the U.S.’s criminal justice system, even when Kaine mentioned the rash of incidents involving police brutality and minorities and the growing demographic inequality that exists in this country’s prison system. Pence also side-stepped Trump’s recent comments involving stop-and-frisk, while Kaine was ardent in his opposition of a more militant police force.

Final thoughts

The debate was tightly contested and both candidates had strong showings. In an arena where the main objective is often to simply not harm the party’s campaign, a la Sarah Palin in 2008, it can be confidently reasoned that neither Pence nor Kaine hurt their respective running mates.

However, a turning point of the debate occurred when Kaine uttered a sequential catalogue of the most offensive statements uttered by Trump. Responding to Pence’s claim that he and Clinton have led an “insult-driven campaign,” Kaine said:

“Donald Trump during his campaign has called Mexicans ‘rapists’ and ‘criminals.’ He’s called women ‘slobs,’ ‘pigs,’ ‘dogs,’ ‘disgusting.’”

“He said African Americans are living in hell. And he perpetrated this outrageous and bigoted lie that President (Barack) Obama is not a U.S. citizen. If you want to have a society where people are respected and respect laws, you can’t have somebody at the top who demeans every group that he talks about.”

It was a shocking, gut-wrenching rolodex of slurs, and it put in perspective how absurd and demeaning parts of the Trump campaign have been. At that moment, Kaine stepped up and delivered a heavy blow to his opposition, one that many did not believe him to be capable of before the debate.

Ryan Dunn is a freshman history major. His column appears weekly. He can be reached at rarozenb@syr.edu.

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