Ellie Kearns '21
Although my political beliefs align most with Biden and Harris, the question of who won the vice presidential debate is not a question of which candidates I support. So, I will do my best to separate my views on policy from the debate itself.
Overall, the debate was rather civil (compared to the complete chaos and blatant disrespect of the presidential debate). Moderator Susan Paige’s widely ignored questions covered COVID-19, jobs and the economy, healthcare, climate change, policing, and voting. In efforts to do no harm or cause any controversy, both candidates tried to appeal to their bases but didn’t say much in the way of policy plans. Instead, they deflected each question to push their agendas: for Pence, it was to portray Harris as a radical liberal whereas, for Harris, it was to portray the Trump administration’s term as the “greatest failure… in the history of our country.”
Early on, Pence called out Harris for her adherence to debate rules, saying, “I just want the record to reflect, she never answered the question.” However, both candidates avoided the questions at all costs. To open the debate, the vice presidential candidates were asked how they would handle a presidential disability and if they have already had that conversation with their running mates. In response, Pence said little about the incumbent President’s health condition (as he was notably recovering from COVID-19) and instead criticized the Obama administration for its response to the H1N1 swine flu. Harris, on the other hand, recounted when Biden asked her to run alongside him, highlighting her qualifications as a trailblazer for black women and women of color in politics. Neither candidate successfully explained what they would do if their presidential candidate became unable to serve.
Later on, the candidates were asked how their states (California and Indiana) should rule if Roe v. Wade is overturned. Despite having been unapologetically pro-life in the past, Pence started his response by saying “I’ll use a little bit of my time to respond to that very important issue before.” When returning to Harris’ prior claim, Pence addressed the Trump administration’s assassination of the late Iranian major general, Qasem Soleimani. Pence barely touched the topic of abortion and women’s rights by just briefely mentioning Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination to the Supreme Court. Harris used her time to discuss the future of affordable healthcare under the Trump administration and the SCOTUS if Barrett is confirmed. Neither candidate suggested policy initiatives for their states.
The debate concluded with arguably the most important question of the night (asked by 8th grader Brecklynn Brown): “When I watch the news, all I see is arguing between Democrats and Republicans... All I see is citizen fighting against citizen... All I see is two candidates from opposing parties trying to tear each other down. If our leaders can’t get along, how are our citizens supposed to get along?”
In response, Pence argued that “free and open debate” allows the United States to be “the most free and prosperous country in the history of the world.” He later claimed that the media doesn’t fully represent the American people and cited the late Justices Scalia and Ginsburg as figures who were able to come together despite having opposing views. Pence concluded by saying that “When the debate is over, we come together as Americans.” However, throughout the debate, he accused Harris of “plagiarizing” Republican bills and criticized her for being the most liberal member of Congress in 2019. In addition, he critiqued Harris for partnering with democratic socialist, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, when writing the Green New Deal (which, along with fracking, was one of Pence’s main criticisms of Biden and Harris). Just minutes before his concluding response, Pence addressed Senator Harris by saying, “You’re entitled to your own opinion, you’re not entitled to your own facts.” Unable to find any common ground with his opponent, how would Pence bring America together?
With her final words of the night, Harris praised Biden’s ability to “work across the aisle” and collaborate with the right. She stated that “Joe Biden has a history of lifting people up and fighting for their dignity.” However, she spent the majority of her time throughout the debate criticizing the incumbent president and his followers, by slamming the Trump administration's “ineptitude” and “incompetence.” However, when Pence tried to hold Harris accountable for her voting record on criminal justice reform, Harris responded by saying she will not be “lectured” on the Biden/Harris record. If Harris is unable to address her past mistakes, how would she avoid the issues and “incompetence” she sees in the Trump administration?
Pence begged Harris to “stop playing politics with people’s lives,” but they were both guilty of this. Each candidate focused on recited, strategic, pre-planned lines to answer a question that was never asked. In fact, the only thing on the debate stage that grabbed the attention of undecided voters was the fly on Pence’s head.
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