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The First ( And Only) 2020 Vice Presidential Debate: A Commentary


No News Is...No News

If you listened to the vice presidential debate held at the University of Utah on October 7, 2020 hoping to learn something new about either of the candidates or their platforms, you might have come away sorely disappointed. It seemed that what was labeled a “debate” turned out to be not much more than a political rally for each side.

At the beginning, when moderator Susan Page of USA today noted that Kamala Harris was the first Black woman and the first Indian American woman to be nominated for vice president of United States, and that Vice President Mike Pence currently is in charge of the coronavirus task force, it seemed that those facts alone would provide for some interesting commentary. Before starting the debate, Page laid out the ground rules: there would be nine ten-minute segments, and each of the candidates would have two uninterrupted minutes to answer the key question posed in each segment. “Americans also deserve a debate that is civil,” Page noted, obviously referring to the decidedly uncivil Presidential debate that had taken place the previous week.

Moving Along...

In the first segment of the debate, Susan Page asked Harris what a Biden administration would have done this past January and February “that a Trump administration did not do.” Harris replied, “We are looking at a President who is the greatest failure of any administration in the history of our country.” She went on to say that despite the fact that the current administration knew as early as January 2020 that the coronavirus was lethal, was airborne, and could affect young people, “ Today they still don’t have a plan. Well, Joe Biden does.” She added, “They’ve forfeited their right to reelection,”

Turning to Mike Pence, Susan Page said, “You head the coronavirus task force. Why is the coronavirus percentage higher in the United States than anywhere else?” Pence replied, “From the very first day Trump has done a remarkable job dealing with the pandemic.” To back up his claim, Pence added, “He suspended all travel from China; Biden opposed it. Trump saved many lives. We began before February trying to develop a vaccine.” He assured his audience that there would be “ tens of millions of doses of a vaccine before the end of the year.”

Harris’ response to Pence’s claims was, “Whatever they’ve done, clearly it hasn’t worked,” and went on to attack the current administration’s response to the coronavirus.

Susan Page asked Pence how the administration could expect American citizens to follow rules that they set forth (e.g., wearing masks) when those at the White House “ have failed to do so.” Pence responded with, “The reality is the work of the President of the United States goes on” (I’m not quite sure what he meant by that) and added that he and Trump have trusted the American people to make “correct choices.”

” You respect the American people when you tell them the truth,“ Harris contended.

Making note of the fact that 50% of Americans claim that they won’t take a vaccine for Covid, the moderator turned to Harris and asked if she would take it. Harris responded that she would only be vaccinated if the medical experts say that is safe and indicated that she would not do so if President Trump advised Americans to take the vaccine.

Vice President Pence Continued to assure his listeners, “We‘re going to have a vaccine in record time,” and, noting that Biden’s team continues to denigrate that fact, demanded, “Stop playing politics with people‘s lives.” ( As Pence was making his case, Harris sported a sarcastic grin and continued to shake her head in disbelief.)

Harris added a personal note to the debate when she mentioned that Biden‘s choosing her as his running mate would make her mother proud. She went on to assert that she and Biden believe in “hard work and the value and the dignity of public service.”

When the moderator (rhetorically) asked whether or not voters deserve to know about what’s going on with the Predident’s health, Pence chose to sidestep the question by asserting how touched he is by all the support the President has received, at which point he turned to his opponent and thanked her and Biden for their support.

The warm tone did not last for long, however, when Harris statedthat Biden has been far more transparent than Trump has over many years. She went on to assert that Trump is in debt for more than $400 million, and that the American people deserve to know to whom he owes that money.

Pence’s response: “The President is a businessman” who had released “stacks of financial disclosures,”

It All Comes Down To Politics

The debate continued with each candidate praising the actions and promises of his/her running mate while condemning that of his/her rival. Much of what was said reflected the political ads that currently are appearing at record speed on TV. For example, Vice President Pence sounded like a living, breathing political ad when he said, ”On day one, Joe Biden is going to raise taxes,” and Insisted that President Trump has spared no expense to “get the American people through this.”

As Kamala Harris attempted to respond to Pence’s charge, he tried to cut her off. “ It’s important to speak the truth,“ Harris said. “ Joe Biden will not raise taxes on anyone who makes less than $400,000 a year.” She went on to emphasize the fact that Barack Obama and Joe Biden were responsible for passage of the Affordable Care Act, which Trump is trying to get rid of. if that happens, Harris contended, there will be no coverage for people with pre-existing conditions.

Pence shot back that he and Trump would make sure that people with pre-existing conditions would have health care.

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This back-and-forth “My-guy’s -plans-beat-your guy’s-plans” continued throughout the rest of the debate. On the topic of climate change, Pence contended,” I am very proud of our record on the environment.” Echoing what President Trump had said during the first Presidential debate, he added, “ Forest management has to be front and center.” Referring to the economy, he pledged that he and Trump would always put “American jobs and American workers first.”

Not to be outdone, Harris promised that “Biden’s plan will create 7 million more jobs than Trump’s plan,” and claimed, “ We are in a manufacturing recession,” and that by the end of Trump’s term in office, “They will have lost more jobs than any other administration.”

Pence continued to insist that the Trump administration is responsible for creating many jobs and referred to Biden as “ A cheerleader for Communist China” and claimed that Harris is more liberal than Democratic socialist Bernie Sanders.

Harris shot back that Trump’s response to the covid pandemic “has resulted in the loss of American lives, American jobs, and American standing,” and added that the current President has “enabled dictators around the world.Donald Trump doesn’t understand what it means to be honest.” Harris went on to condemn Trump’s denigrating comments concerning military veterans. Pence quickly labelled those charges “absurd,” continuing to speak over Harris to the point that the moderator had to be quite forceful in order to get him to stop talking.

The debate continued with a discussion on Trump‘s nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court so close to the election, with Pence praising Trump’s decision and Harris pointing out that even the venerable Abraham Lincoln had said a move like that should not be made until after the election.

On the topic of the Breanna Taylor case and racial justice in general, Harris said, “We always must fight for the ideals that we hold dear, promising that she and Biden would fight for justice reform.

in regard to the George Floyd case, Pence said, “There’s no excuse for what happened to George Floyd,” but that there also is “no excuse for the rioting and looting that took place.”

several times during the debate Harris said, “I Will not sit here and be lectured on what it means to enforce the laws of this country.“ She went on to note that President Trump “refused to condemn white supremacists,“ and added, “Joe Biden recognizes the beauty in our diversity.”

Pence went on to condemn what he saw as poor choices that Harris had made during her career and attempted to drown her out has she tried to respond to the charges. “He attacked my record. I would like the opportunity to respond,” she insisted.

The final segment of the debate was devoted to a comment expressed by an eighth grader: “When I watch the news,” the young woman had said, “All I see is arguing between Democrats and Republicans.”

Pence replied, “In America we believe in free and open exchange of ideas,“ noting that when it came to politics, Supreme Court Justices Ginsberg and Scalia we were polar opposites, but they managed to remain close friends. “When the debate is over, we come together as Americans,” he said.

Harris added, “Joe Biden has a history of lifting people up and fighting for their dignity.“

I have to wonder if the two candidates “came together as Americans” when all was said and done. Also, I’m not sure whether or not the debate educated the American people as to which of the two opponents would be the better choice for Vice President. (Of course, many viewers had made up their minds before the debate even began.) It seemed that the fly that had entrenched itself in Pence’s hair during the debate raised more of a furor than either candidate.


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