VP Debate: A Missed Opportunity to Highlight Mike Pence’s Extremism?

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Kate Aronoff & Bill Curry say that in the absence of a truly progressive platform, Tim Kaine failed to provide a strong alternative to the right

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KIM BROWN, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Kim Brown in Baltimore.

The one and only debate between the Republican and Democratic Vice Presidential candidates, it wrapped Tuesday night from Longwood University in Farmville, Virginia. Indiana Governor Mike Pence and Virginia senator Tim Kaine, fielded queries from moderator Elaine Keanu about issues like temperament, taxes, and foreign policy and also the role of law enforcement. But topics like income inequality, climate change, education, and a political and economic system controlled by billionaires, well didn’t really come up.

Well joining us this evening for a post-debate analysis, we’re joined from New York with Kate Aronoff. Kate is a writing fellow at In These Times, covering the 2016 election. We’re also joined tonight with Bill Curry who’s speaking to us from Farmville, Connecticut. He’s a columnist for Salon.com and formerly served as White House counselor to President Clinton.

Thank you both for joining us.

KATE ARONOFF: Thanks for having me.

BILL CURRY: My pleasure.

BROWN: Tonight’s debate was a little bit easier to digest than the first debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, in spite of both running mates’ insistence on talking over each other and the moderator. But let’s start off with what we didn’t hear from the candidates tonight to get some insight to how Mike Pence would approach being Vice President, here’s what he told ABC News earlier this year.

MIKE PENCE: I frankly hold Dick Cheney in very high regard in his role as Vice President.

SPEAKER: That’s the kind of Vice President you’d want to be?

PENCE: Well I think a very active Vice President. Vice President Cheney had experience in the congress as I do and he was very active in working with members of the house and the senate.

BROWN: Bill do you think that Tim Kaine missed an opportunity here tonight to highlight the extremism of Mike Pence? I mean he says he wants to emulate Dick Cheney should he become Vice President.

CURRY: As I was watching I was reminded of the debate in 2000 between Joe Lieberman and Dick Cheney. Joe Lieberman, another affable centrist in a race for Vice President against a true republican extremist. So it was directly parallel. That night Lieberman was so anxious, as he always was, to burnish his bipartisan street cred that he took a guy who the country regarded as just a shade off Darth Vader and he turned him into your friendly neighborhood pharmacist. The rehabilitation of Cheney who was a major albatross around Bush’s next up until that debate, I think was the main reason that in the next couple of days the polls all narrowed and it got close enough for Bush to steal it.

So I think this was, Tim Kaine as in Joe Lieberman. Although they’re sort of ideologically very similar, they’re different certainly in character for one thing. He was doing, trying in some sense to do the opposite by going after Trump ceaselessly with some lines that he repeated probably too many times. But he did the same favor for Pence. He did the same favor for Pence by not going after any of Pence’s extremism. Pence really is well to the right. He was a Tea Party caucus member and a hero to the far religious right. Their favorite politician in America. If Trump and Pence are elected, it’s not just about partial birth abortion or Medicaid, the things they talked, Roe v. Wade is over.

In his own career he was against raising the minimum wage from $5 to the current $7.25. Never mind to a living wage. I can give you a hundred examples. Just as I sat that night all those years ago and wished that Joe Lieberman would just mention that Dick Cheney was for [inaud.] bullets and leaving Nelson Mandela to rot in jail, I wished tonight that some of the real extremism of Pence, who’s a nice man apparently and a man of decent character but who’s ideological extremism needed to be exposed. I think that would’ve helped.

BROWN: Kate, both Tim Kaine and Pence are elected officials. They both have lengthy records on their own. Do you think that they both took it easy on each other by trying to attack their running mates; trying to attack the top of the ticket rather than the gentleman who was sitting across the table from the other?

ARONOFF: Definitely and I think you know coming into this debate that’s always what this is about. Vice Presidential politics themselves are really almost never about the candidates. They’re about their running mates. I think they saw that more clearly in this debate than in any that I’ve seen. But I think there’s a sense in which people really aren’t thinking almost about Pence and Kaine’s backgrounds and maybe they should?

I think Pence in particular has this really history of extremism from leading the kind of charge on Planned Parenthood from passing these sort of horrible sentencing laws in Indiana. And I think that deserves to be pointed out whether this debate was the forum for it or not, I don’t know but I think the larger point here to be made is that Pence is the Tea Party’s man. Pence is the result of a project that’s come from the right wing and really worked. There’s all this talk that Trump is a [sub-horrent] candidate, that he’s nothing like the rest of the republican party. But he is.

I think Pence’s placement on his ticket really shows that and just how effective the Tea Party’s really been at pushing this really radical ideological line to the point that where someone like Pence in comparison to Trump is kind of garble and ridiculousness looks reasonable and of course defunding Planned Parenthood is the opposite of reasonable. To take away women’s right to cancer screenings and to abortion, it’s totally unheard of. Well not unheard of from the Tea Party but really sort of far from folks on kind of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party should hope for in terms of where the kind of terms of why.

BROWN: And the issue of reproductive rights did come up in the debate and we’re going to get to that later in the discussion but one area where some say that Pence scored points were his critiques of the Clinton Foundation’s foreign donors.

PENCE: Hillary Clinton and her husband set up a private foundation called the Clinton Foundation. While she was Secretary of State, the Clinton Foundation accepted tens of millions of dollars from foreign governments and foreign donors. Now y’all need to know out there, this is basic stuff. Foreign donors and certainly foreign governments cannot participate in the American political process.

BROWN: So Kate is this a fair criticism to make and do you think that it matters to most voters?

ARONOFF: It is a fair criticism to make. I mean there’s plenty of earth to be dug up about the Clinton Foundation itself. But I think what this kind of part in the debate really shows is that these two candidates are totally out of touch with most Americans. How many Americans have foundations that they’ve been able to create off of massive stories of wealth? I mean virtually no one. That’s a really, not even maybe 1%. That’s like a .1% of wealth. And the fact that this is kind of what our presidential candidates are sniping over is ridiculous.

I mean there are people who are struggling to put food on the table, struggling to put roofs over their head and here we have a conversation that’s dominated by how a foundation is operated, how donations work. Not that there aren’t real sort of applicable considerations I think about the Clinton Foundation but especially coming from a right wing that’s done everything in its power to disenfranchise poor working people. I think it’s a ridiculous line of argument to say that, to bring up these kinds of ethical concerns when the entire Republican project over the last 30 years is one giant ethical concern.

BROWN: Bill, your thoughts about Mike Pence referencing the Clinton Foundation?

CURRY: I would just say first of all that again as I’ve discussed previously with you guys that the real problem for me in the Clinton email story was certainly not espionage. She wasn’t trying to give secrets away and it wasn’t corruption, not provable legal corruption or even close to it. The real problem with it was secrecy and what she was trying to do was take her entire show private so that people could [inaud.]. In the history of government decisions made in secret, when the government acts in secret we end up Vietnam or Iraq. And when it acts in public we end up enacting the martial plan. Doing something more likely to make us proud.

The second thing is that in terms of the corruption issue, what the Clintons really are, they have a tenure for ethics and they are architects of the world view that came of age in the 1990’s during the Clinton years of globalization which runs not on innovation but on corruption and of the kind and level of pay to play politics here in America that supports it. But the whole system’s that way. The last guy in the world to make the case is Donald Trump whose entire life has been buying influence from government. That’s what he really did for a living.

So that piece of it is easily rebutted and what surprises me is that neither side, the republicans would be making a better side if they weren’t claiming she was a criminal to be sent to prison, if they were talking about the corruption of the system and so would the democrats. It amazes me that after a primary season of last year which in both the democratic primaries driven by Bernie Sanders and the Republican side driven by Trump, the rigged system was the theme of both campaigns and it was the dominant topic of discussion throughout the primaries and since the conventions it’s just dead. So the populist issue like minimum wage or either one of those guys talking about how you clean up a system which was miss-degraded by money that’s obviously, that just wasn’t in the cards.

BROWN: Well part of the conversation tonight during the debate was how Republican nominee Donald Trump seemingly has a really good grasp of the system and it’s inequality and especially in the issue regarding his taxes, the New York Times article was brought up definitely by Tim Kaine wanting to know how one how come Donald Trump has not still released his taxes yet and two the way that he’s conducting his business that allotted for him to allegedly not claim federal income taxes for perhaps as long as 18 years because of a billion dollar loss his business suffered in 1995. Let’s check that clip out.

PENCE: His tax returns showed he went through a very difficult time but he used the tax code just the way it’s supposed to be used and he did it brilliantly. He created a runway because he’s created a business that’s worth billions of dollars today and regardless to paying taxes this whole rift about not paying taxes and people saying he didn’t pay taxes for years, Donald Trump has created tens of thousands of jobs.

BROWN: I mean this is a little bit of a departure from the debate that we heard back in 2012 regarding Mitt Romney and his 47 percent comment about how there was 47 percent of Americans who don’t pay any taxes and these people are the moocher class. These are the people who are on the government dole and yet we’re seeing Donald Trump being defended obviously not only by his running mate but by conservatives at large when it comes to this issue of him usurping federal taxes and it makes him smart or it makes him a quote genius. Kate your thoughts.

ARONOFF: Yea I mean I think this shows that Donald Trump is the candidate of the 1% and he’s done everything in his power to screw other working people. I’m from South Jersey and my grandmother’s from Atlantic City and the story you hear about Donald Trump is all of the contracts that he really systematically stamped on millions on millions and millions of dollars to build his personal empire. So I think this is what you’re seeing and I hope that that’s kind of what this tax scandal can illustrate and the real key moment in that clip is when Pence says Trump is having a difficult time, Trump is a billionaire. Trump is arguably a billionaire and it’s not everyday people who can claim 950 million dollars in lawsuits as an asset. For most people debt is a real struggle that they go through. Some forms of debt like student debt don’t even qualify for bankruptcy. So this is a real sort of gaping hole between Trump and the people who he claims to be sort of pulling out of economic hardship. It’s a different set of rules for Trump and for most of America.

BROWN: Bill the issue of taxes when it came up tonight. What did you think?

CURRY: Well I guess he really didn’t defend it. Although he made the defense about we all maximize our deductions and I thought Kaine did okay on rebutting that. I do think that it would be better if the democratic platform were more clearly populist in all these regards than it actually is. But the difference between the two is still overwhelming. This is for many progressives; this is certainly not the happiest choice they’ve ever faced which is probably how much of the country sees it. But it’s nonetheless as clear a choice as you could ask and I guess I just I look at all this stuff and I think the problem—Trump’s record on taxes is horrific and Trump truly does have 3 overwhelming shortcomings.

One he’s a fraud. He’s been caught lying about his life and about his business career a thousand times over. He’s one of the most snake oil salesmen ever to emerge in American public life.

The second thing about him is that he truly does fulfill the textbook definition of fascist. Fascism’s not an ideology. It’s actually a set of other practices of xenophobia nativism, encouraging people to violence pedaling conspiracies, degrading the instruments of democratic government. He’s all those things.

The third thing is he’s crazy and we’re really lucky that he’s crazy. That’s probably the only reason he’s trailing right now. If he had any impulse control being a fascist and a fraud probably wouldn’t be enough to bring him down.

I thought the debate tonight again, it couldn’t be any clearer. He doesn’t pay any taxes. I wish it occurred to Kaine to respond to Pence to say the kinds of deductions that he uses are deductions that should not be available to anyone in real estate. Just for openers. All of those should be taken off the board. All those deductions and loopholes are simply gimmicks to allow the wealthy to hold on to more of their earnings than average working people can. So I wish that the democrats were a little clearer on this because truly Pence and Trump don’t have a leg to stand on in the eyes, not just of progressive but the great majority of Americans.

End

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