The Vice Presidential Debate: A Disappointingly Dull Debate of Deflections



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Though the vice presidential debate was infinitely more civil than the presidential one, not much was revealed about either party’s plans for the future. Vice President Mike Pence and Senator Kamala Harris spent much of their time attacking the other person’s platform and deflecting questions. Courtesy of Alex Wong

By Triambika Dinakaran, Reporter

The vice-presidential debate took place on October 8th in Salt Lake City, Utah, and came as a breath of relief after the absolute disaster that was the presidential debate. Senator Kamala Harris and Vice President Mike Pence sparred against each other behind plexiglass, with Susan Page of USA Today moderating. 

Apart from the fly that chose to seat itself on Pence’s head towards the end of the debate and subsequently became a national icon of sorts on Twitter, the debate was pretty dry. Fortunately for Page and those still reeling in second hand embarrassment due to the presidential debate, Pence and Harris were determined to be far more civil then the other halves of their tickets. 

However, both candidates dodged several questions in the process, and overall failed to provide voters with any new persuasive information. The first topic of the evening was the COVID-19 pandemic, which was Harris’ chance to sink her teeth into the Trump administrations’ pathetic response to the pandemic, which she certainly did. 

“Well, the American people have witnessed what is the greatest failure of any presidential administration in the history of our country,” stated Harris. 

She doubled down on the fact that the Trump-Pence administration withheld information about the grave nature of the virus, and given that it was her one shot to do so, it’s natural that she emphasized on President Donald Trump’s failures in terms of the pandemic. However, while Harris spent a good deal of time attacking Trump’s disregard for masks, she failed to elaborate on the specifics of a more efficient plan, which was essentially the original question from Page.

Pence’s response entailed touting the successes of the Trump administration’s response. However, while the travel ban definitely seemed like an appropriate move, Pence’s promise of a vaccine by the end of this year doesn’t seem convincing, because Trump’s been promising a vaccine within a few months for several months now. Furthermore, Pence failed to justify the downplaying of the pandemic and withholding of information, given that he expected American citizens to protect themselves from a virus they did not know much about. 

Pence’s last ditch attempt at twisting Harris’ words about the Trump administration’s plans not working was to accuse her of blaming the American peoples’ efforts during the pandemic. He ended his response by shifting responsibility to Americans to protect themselves, and evaded answering why the administration hosted a ‘superspreader’ event – an event in which multiple people contract an infection from a singular source. In this case, it was the unveiling of President Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court at the White House. Definitely not a great look for the head of the coronavirus taskforce. 

As Page shifted the topic to presidential disability, Pence deflected back to COVID-19, and went on to talk about Obama-Biden’s response to the swine flu in 2008, absolutely avoiding the question. Harris also did not give a straightforward response, but did detail the successes of her life, highlighting her capability to take over if presidential disability became a serious issue. 

Once again with the issue of presidential health transparency, Pence refused to acknowledge Page’s statement about the lack of transparency from Trump’s doctor’s about his health, despite stating that it was information people deserved to know. Instead, he acknowledged the historical nature of Harris’ nomination. Harris chose to attack Trump’s tax returns during her response, highlighting how his lack of transparency contrasts with Joe Biden’s. 

“The American people have a right to know what is influencing the president’s decisions- and is he making those decisions in the best interests of people, of you, or self interests? Susan, I’m glad you asked about transparency, because it has to be across the board. Joe has been transparent for many, many years,” Harris said. 

After denying the accusation, Pence quipped back by citing Trump’s skills as a businessman. “[Trump] turned this economy around by cutting taxes, rolling back regulations, unleashing American energy, fighting for free and fair trade, and all of that’s on the line if Joe Biden and Kamala Harris [are elected],” Pence said.

Trump might have done the economy favors, but treating the government of the United States like a personal business is not necessarily something to be proud of, especially by a man with six total bankruptcies

Both candidates provided misleading comments about the opposition’s plans for the economy. 

“[Trump] passed a tax bill benefiting the top one percent and the biggest corporations of America,” Harris said. 

Although wealthier households do have disproportionately greater benefits, most households also benefit from this tax cut, according to Politifact. Harris did not explain how people would be compensated with the repeal of this tax cut, giving Pence a chance to attack the Biden-Harris plan for the economy. 

“[Joe Biden] is going to raise your taxes,” Pence said. 

Pence ignored Harris’ constant clarification that Biden plans to raise taxes only for households earning more than $400,000, although she still failed to respond about whether the Trump tax law repeal would benefit the average American household, and deflected to healthcare access. 

Pence failed to provide a suitable response to Harris’ statement about how Trump was planning to remove the Affordable Care Act (ACA) with no suitable replacement, affecting millions’ access to healthcare with coverage, primarily for those with pre-existing conditions. 

“President Trump and I have a plan to improve healthcare and protect pre-existing conditions for every American,” Pence said with no further elaboration.

The idea of working incredibly hard to remove a plan that provides affordable access to healthcare under the pretense of replacing it with a better plan, but failing to detail that plan to the citizens, really just appears to be an attempt to erase everything except the bad things from the Obama administration – like the kids in cages at the borders, a topic that would’ve been interesting to hear both candidates speak on during the debate.

Harris could not hold her ground against Pence’s deflection to fracking, either. She stated clearly during the debate that Biden would not ban fracking, but it contradicts with previous statements by Biden that leaned towards banning it along with fossil fuels. 

Fracking should be done away with – it’s incredibly harmful for the environment. Biden and Harris’ ambiguity on the issue seems like an effort to not drive away moderates and conservatives from their campaign. A plan to heavily restrict fracking while creating compensatory jobs would make much more sense for the Biden-Harris campaign, instead of making constant contradictory statements. 

Fracking made for a natural segue to a discussion on the environment and climate change. Pence’s response to climate change reeked of ignorance and contradictions. 

“With regard to climate change, the climate is changing,” stated Pence. “But the issue is, what’s the cause, and what do we do about it. President Trump’s made it clear we’re gonna continue to listen to the science.” 

Yet, in a visit to California last month, Trump infamously stated that science, “doesn’t know,” in response to concerns put forth by scientists about climate change based on scientific evidence. Quite possibly the scariest and most ignorant thing the President of the United States has said, which is saying something.  

With the issue of abortion, neither candidate responded appropriately. The candidates were asked how they’d want their respective states to respond to the overturning of Roe v. wade. Pence instead talked about Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination, and the attacks she had received. Harris talked momentarily about delaying the Supreme Court confirmation and fighting for a woman’s right to make choices about her body before steering the conversation back to the ACA. 

Pence finally chose to answer the question when Page had moved on to asking about a plan for pre-existing conditions, yet again avoiding the topic and failing to provide a replacement for the ACA.  

“I’m pro-life. I don’t apologize for it,” Pence said. 

Pence’s personal stances on abortion aren’t necessarily shared by the entire nation, so it would’ve been more informative if he’d justified the imposition of his personal views on the 157 million women of this country.

Once again, the candidates discussed a topic entirely different from what Page had put forth: packing the court. Harris was very ambiguous about whether Biden would pack the court, and deflected to a story about how Lincoln chose to let citizens choose a president who would then choose a judge, pushing the conversation back to Barrett’s nomination. 

Ambiguity is not a great approach for the ticket that strives to be the opposite of the administration they constantly accuse of lying. A lack of transparency is one key factor that brought down heavy criticism on the Trump administration- Biden and Harris need to keep that in mind during debates.

With regards to racial justice, Harris elaborated on a very detailed plan on fighting systemic racism through various initiatives, such as a national registry for law-breaking police officers, ban on chokeholds, prison reform and so on. 

Pence, on the other hand, completely denied the existence of systemic racism, and could offer nothing more than the usual sympathies for Breonna Taylor that people are tired of hearing. Pence called the discussion on systemic racism an, “insult,” to the courts and police officers of America. Contrary to what Pence may believe, pretending that everything is right with America is not patriotic- it’s gaslighting. Racial injustice is a major motive for voting for many today, and the fact that the Trump administration is denying its existence, let alone providing a plan to deal with it, is frightening. 

The deflections from both sides throughout the debate on almost every topic were frustrating to watch, and with both candidates rarely holding their ground against questions, there is really no clear winner for this debate. The lack of concise, detailed, and on-topic responses was disappointing. The debates are significant because they give citizens a chance to hear out parties’ plans for every problem plaguing the country. However, several justifications were made for the past acts of left and right-wing administrations, but few plans were put forth for the future. 

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