I only got to watch an hour of the vice-presidential debate Tuesday night because I had to fly back to D.C. from Nashville. However, I read the transcript in the morning. I will echo what many have said so far: Yes, Indiana governor Mike Pence won the debate by being well-prepared, calm, and measured. Meanwhile, Virginia senator Tim Kaine was disturbingly annoying.
Sadly, I once again found the lack of substantive economic debate striking. My mistake is probably in expecting any substance at these debates at all, but considering our fiscal situation I should expect better from the candidates and the moderator choosing the questions. There was no real conversation about the debt — except for Kaine effectively bragging that Hillary Clinton’s plan would bankrupt us slower that Donald Trump’s. There was no real conversation about reforming entitlements — except for Kaine attacking Pence for his efforts to privatize Social Security during the Bush years.
Now, Pence was in a tough position. He has a mixed record on trade — but nothing in it indicates that he supports Trump’s misguided views on the issue. He is, I believe, quite solid on economic issues, as his voting record during his years in Congress demonstrates. Some of his votes were particularly impressive considering that President Bush was pushing many of these initiatives and how some of his other Republican colleagues were voting. For example, he voted against Medicare Part D, No Child Left Behind, the 2008 stimulus, and the auto-company bailouts. He was indeed a strong supporter of Social Security privatization and has often commented on the need to reform Medicare and Medicaid.
In that context, the difficulty for Pence was that the guy who’s at the head of the Republican ticket doesn’t believe we should reform entitlements and has spoken quite passionately about not reforming Social Security and the need to protect people from dying in the street by having government provided health care (and whose proposed health-care reform would require even more government than Obamacare). And yet, that’s who he was trying to defend last night. That’s tough.
It was also nice to see Pence go after Obamacare for the failure that it is. He appropriately quoted Bill Clinton saying that Obamacare was the craziest system in the world. The Clinton quote is so good that it is worth reading over and over again. Here it is:
You’ve got this crazy system where all of a sudden 25 million more people have health care and then the people are out there busting it, sometimes 60 hours a week, wind up with their premiums doubled and their coverage cut in half. It’s the craziest thing in the world.
Unfortunately, Pence would have more credibility if he hadn’t embraced Obamacare’s Medicare expansion in Indiana and tried to claim that it was the conservative thing to do. And it’s not as if he wasn’t warned not to do it. Adding insult to injury, it looks like the Indiana expansion produced less personal responsibility and more taxpayers, the exact opposite of what was promised. As they say, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.
Finally, Mike Pence did a remarkable job pretending that he and Trump share the same beliefs on abortion, foreign policy, Russia, and civility. It was quite amazing to watch. And while I assume that Pence has been in the real world the last year and a half rather than locked in a room without a TV or Twitter, I assume he knew that Trump had actually said some of the crazy things Kaine reminded us he had said. As such, the “this-is-nonsense” look on his face was very impressive.
Now, Tim Kaine had an easier job since he arguably believes all the tried-and-failed big-government policies that Clinton would like to implement. He even seems to share Clinton’s hawkish disposition and he may be the one person in America who trusts her. And yet, in spite of this considerable advantage, Kaine came across as aggressive and superficial. Rightly or wrongly, I also thought last night how much easier it must be to be the governor of Virginia than other states (Kaine was governor before he was the U.S. senator): After all, some of the wealthiest counties in the U.S. are in Virginia and it benefits from its proximity to Fortune 1, the federal government.
I am an optimist, so I will continue to hope for some economic substance going forward in this campaign. But I have an even bigger dream: that someone will get elected who has the desire and the willpower to solve our fiscal situation.