Kamala Harris debates Mike Pence
Kamala Harris debates Mike Pence

Jour­nal­ists often spec­u­late what it would have been like to be a fly on the wall at some his­toric event, but a real-life fly did one bet­ter and land­ed on the head of Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence, the Repub­li­can nom­i­nee, at Wednesday’s debate with Sen­a­tor Kamala Har­ris, the Demo­c­ra­t­ic nom­i­nee. The fly was like­ly drawn by the smell of the cause that a belea­guered Pence sought to defend.

The Vice Pres­i­dent is an accom­plished debater who mas­tered Repub­li­can talk­ing points, even bor­row­ing a famil­iar line from the gun lobby.

“You will always be in our hearts, and prayers,” he said in a mes­sage to fam­i­lies of the 210,000 Amer­i­cans who have died in the COVID-19 pandemic.

He also man­aged to argue, with a straight face, that Don­ald Trump “has put the health of the Amer­i­can peo­ple first”, and when claim­ing Amer­i­ca has engaged in “the great­est nation­al mobi­liza­tion since World War II.”

(The mobi­liza­tion in World War II was bipar­ti­san and suc­cess­ful, as a democ­ra­cy out-orga­nized total­i­tar­i­an foes.)

But even the most capa­ble debater looks fool­ish when defend­ing failure.

Or debat­ing Kamala Harris.

The Democ­rats’ nom­i­nee for veep came across as crisp and for­mi­da­ble, not only in com­mand of her mate­r­i­al but spon­ta­neous in deploy­ing it. In her abil­i­ty to piv­ot, Har­ris evoked mem­o­ries Derek Jeter turn­ing a dou­ble play for the Yankees.

She used a ques­tion about pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates’ health to piv­ot to Don­ald Trump pay­ing $750 in fed­er­al income tax the year he was elect­ed pres­i­dent, and the $400 mil­lion in debt that will come due if he serves a sec­ond term.

Who are his cred­i­tors? Who will be in posi­tion to put the arm on the Com­man­der-in-Chief? Har­ris asked ques­tions that ought to be on the mind of every voter.

Pence was pre­pared at points. He made a cred­i­ble argu­ment that the Islam­ic State group has been sup­pressed and its lead­ers killed, with two assas­sins being flown to the Unit­ed States for tri­al. Har­ris piv­ot­ed again, how­ev­er, to Trump refer­ring to those serv­ing in the armed forces as “losers” and suck­ers,” and – in the debate’s best line – “Don­ald Trump, who went to Arling­ton Ceme­tery and stood above the graves of our fall­en heroes and said, ‘What’s in it for them?’”

She evoked Trump’s relent­less demean­ing of Sen­a­tor John McCain, in life and death, by a res­i­dent who used a man­u­fac­tured exemp­tion of bone spurs to stay out of Viet­nam. Har­ris piv­ot­ed again, not­ing sup­port for the Biden-Har­ris tick­et from Cindy McCain, Gen­er­al Col­in Pow­ell (who served in the Bush admin­is­tra­tion as Sec­re­tary of State), and five hun­dred plus retired senior officers.

A third Har­ris piv­ot — in which she told the sto­ry of “Hon­est Abe” Lin­coln refus­ing to fill a U.S. Supreme Court seat that came open days before the 1864 elec­tion that Lin­coln feared he would lose — was equal­ly effec­tive. “He said that’s not the right thing to do,” Har­ris said in a his­to­ry les­son to mil­lions of viewers.

Vice pres­i­den­tial debates rarely influ­ence the out­come of con­tests for the top spot, even when Sen­a­tor Lloyd Ben­st­sen lev­eled Dan Quayle with the line: “Sen­a­tor, I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. And Sen­a­tor, you’re no Jack Kennedy.” Bentsen was the run­ning mate on a tick­et where the pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee, Michael Dukakis, did not connect.

But: Har­ris was spir­it­ed and joy­ful, hav­ing what seemed to be the time of her life. Pence was deliv­er­ing famil­iar argu­ments, run­ning on and on try­ing to deliv­er prepack­aged lines from his brief­ing papers. If this was the ini­tial face­off of the 2024 pres­i­den­tial race, Har­ris won hands down.

Hope­ful­ly, Har­ris did more than win a debate. The coun­try is sick of polit­i­cal boil­er­plate, par­tic­u­lar­ly its younger vot­ers and peo­ple of col­or used to being patron­ized by politi­cians who don’t deliv­er. The spon­tane­ity and spir­it of Har­ris may draw them back in, with mem­o­ries of Barack Obama.

Pence has been the duti­ful sec­ond banana to a top banana of unbe­liev­able self-absorp­tion. Dur­ing the pan­dem­ic, he has appar­ent­ly got­ten on well with gov­er­nors, while Trump has passed the buck and then abused the governors.

Pence has also been a deal­mak­er in the reli­gious right’s deal with the dev­il, sup­port for Trump in exchange for pack­ing the fed­er­al courts.

Har­ris is much, much more. It’s easy to pic­ture her step­ping into the top spot once Joe Biden pass­es the torch, blow­ing away sub­or­di­nates’ half-baked ideas, and tack­ling a mul­ti­tude of fires still smol­der­ing a few years from now.

Har­ris is pol­ished, rest­ed, ready, and enthusiastic.

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

Adjacent posts

3 replies on “Kamala Harris dazzles in veep debate as Mike Pence tries to deny Trump regime’s atrocities”

  1. Pence took a page from the Trump play­book and would­n’t let Har­ris talk when it was clear­ly her turn. He the Biden-Trump debate been such a free for all, this would have gone down as a very nasty debate.

  2. You always make me proud to have grown up with you! We lost touch for many, many years and then one day — there you were — in the PI. Keep on, keepin’ on, Joel!

Comments are closed.