The Rationalist Papers (13): A normal debate

The “debate” between Joe Biden’s selection for vice-president, Senator Kamala Harris, and Trump’s VP Mike Pence was normal by 21st Century televised debate standards.

By that I mean that the level of shouting, screaming, interrupting, and abuse was sufficiently low that it was actually possible to hear much of what the candidates were saying, and to gather information about both the policies and the candidates from the exchange.

Just a reminder: these Rationalist Papers posts are for the group I call the deciders: conservative, moderate, undecided, and third-party voters considering their choices in the 2020 US Presidential election.

What passes for normal these days?

The televised debate format is a poor way of evaluating candidates. It lends itself more to canned, memorized speaking bits than to actual answers to the questions posed by the moderator. The coverage tends toward identifying “gotchas” and gaffes. There is no penalty for lying.

It does allow you to get a sense of the candidates. And because both are present, they react to and check each other. If you’re trying to figure out who to believe, there is some value in that.

That said, here were some of the deficiencies in the session last night:

  • Neither candidate addressed the actual questions posed by the moderator, USA Today Washington Bureau Chief Susan Page. For example, Pence failed to answer what he would do if Trump lost the election, and Harris failed to answer whether the Democrats would nominate additional Supreme Court Justices beyond the nine seats currently on the court.
  • Pence interrupted Harris while she was attempting to speak. While his manners were not nearly as poor as Trump’s constant hectoring in the previous debate, he did interrupt Harris ten times, while she interrupted him five times. In my opinion, Harris handled this with firm grace, saying “I’m speaking” until Pence backed down. (Incidentally, Trump has now rejected the debate commission’s proposed format in which both candidates participate by video, perhaps because in such a format, it would be far easier for the moderator to mute him.)
  • Both candidates lied and stretched the truth, Pence more than Harris. For example, Pence said the event for Amy Coney Barrett that probably led to so many infections in the White House was held out of doors, but there was also a private reception indoors with few masks. Pence said that Biden and Harris support taxpayer funded abortion up to the moment of birth (they don’t) and that Biden opposed the raid on Osama bin Laden (he didn’t). Pence also said that the US has reduced CO2 emission more than countries still in the Paris climate accord, but European countries have reduced emissions more. Harris said that the trade war with China cost 300,000 manufacturing jobs, which is an exaggeration.
  • Yes, there was a fly. It landed on Pence’s snow-white head. He ignored it. The image is great for memes, but really, is this how you will decide who to vote for?

I wish we were voting on these two candidates

Mike Pence is a traditional conservative: opposed to abortion and gay marriage, hostile to unions, in favor of reduced taxes for corporations, and supportive of “law and order.” Kamala Harris is a typical liberal: opposed to abortion restrictions, in favor of spending to improve the economy, and prepared to take action on racial justice.

I don’t believe that Pence wants to dismantle the mechanisms of American governance. I don’t believe that Harris wants to turn America into a socialist country. Pence would be a lot like George W. Bush. Harris would be a lot like Barack Obama. No matter what side of the political spectrum you’re on, you know America could survive or even thrive under these leaders.

However, these are not your choices. Biden is older and less vigorous than Harris (although they seem in sync on major policies). Trump is far more willing to subvert the norms, checks, and balances of our system of government to increase his own power.

There is one more crucial data point: the handling of the coronavirus crisis. Pence was the head of the coronavirus task force, and if you are dissatisfied with where the Trump administration’s policies have left the nation, its public health, and its economy, you must lay the responsibility at Trump and Pence’s feet.

I hope the next election gives us a choice between politicians like Harris and Pence. For now though, we have a different choice — and who we choose will make a big difference.

Feel free to post comments about salient parts of the debate. However, I will delete comments that insult or demean me, other commenters, or groups, or state supposed facts without evidence. Vacuous cheerleading and catcalling is also prohibited; this is not a sporting event. No one persuades anyone by creating a hostile environment.

For the origin of the Rationalist Papers, see this. All Rationalist Papers posts available here.

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  1. One other point. Neither of these two seem compromised by over $400 million of mysterious, ahem Russian, loans hanging over their heads. If you look at these two and imagine that in four years they would be running for the top job, I could never imagine Pence holding his own on a global stage. He’s in over his head as it is. I could however see Harris being a respected leader of the USA.

  2. Donald Trump operates as a five-year-old bully in the play yard always in need of more attention. Items that will bring that attention he will do, even if he has to deny it the next day as it still brought him the immediate gratification that bullies crave. He has destroyed our relationship with every country in the world with his foreign policies. Canada and Mexico are now anti-American and some Trump supporters think that’s fine. He blames China for producing low-cost goods for the larges corporations that could afford to move there to save more money for them and their stockholders. How many small 40-100 worker companies have moved to Asia for lower labor costs? How can they continue to exist when the big greedy companies say it was necessary. If the US would have made startup money available we would have fifty companies producing electric cars in places where the big companies left.