Vice President Mike Pence is where charisma goes to die.
If you are going to act delusionally upbeat, as Pence did by implying that things are going well in Trump-Pence’s America, you should at least be interesting. But that’s not Pence’s strong suit either.
Speaking to a small somewhat-masked audience at Fort McHenry near Baltimore, Pence gave a clinic on how to say nothing, at great length. He basically claimed that everything is wonderful in Donald Trump’s America, that Trump has done a great job protecting the United States from COVID, but that “you won’t be safe in Joe Biden’s America.”
He seemed to blame Biden for the riots and chaos in the country, but didn’t seem to recall that he and Donald Trump are in office while the country is going through a couple of pretty big unsafenesses, namely a live pandemic and a rash of urban riots, both of which were gathering steam as he was speaking, without him really acknowledging them much.
“Last week, Joe Biden said democracy is on the ballot,” said Pence. “But the truth is our economic recovery is on the ballot. Law and order is on the ballot.”
By what logic (one might ask) was Pence blaming Joe Biden for the current awful state of the economy, or the breakdown of law and order, escalating even as Pence was speaking, with lethal urban unrest flaring back up?
Pence doesn’t flat lie, as Trump does. He just acts (or maybe is) oblivious to so many important elements of the moment that, unfortunately for him, the country knows are going on at a time when Joe Biden is not directly accountable. Does he know who is in charge? I assume so, but it would be hard to reconcile such knowledge with his remarks.
“We’ve already gained back 9.3 million American jobs in the last three months alone,” said Pence, without mentioning where those jobs had gone before they came back, or why they had gone, and how many more that had gone still haven’t come back, and who was president (and vice president) when all those jobs went before (some of them) came back.
“The hard truth is that you won’t be safe in Joe Biden’s America,” he said, at a time when sane Americans are feeling kinda unsafe in Donald Trump’s America.
He seemed a bit like Ted Baxter, the white-haired, cheerful, clueless news anchor from the old “Mary Tyler Moore Show,” reading whatever was on the cue cards, smiling obliviously, whether the news was good or bad.
In addition to clueless, Pence is famously and undeniably boring, at least as a public speaker. I don’t claim to know whether he is more interesting when he is at home with “mother.”
When he lets his hair down, he says things like this, from his Fort McHenry remarks:
Last week, Joe Biden said democracy is on the ballot, but the truth is … our economic recovery is on the ballot, law and order is on the ballot. But so are things far more fundamental and foundational to our country. It’s not so much whether America will be more conservative or more liberal, more Republican or more Democrat. The choice in this election is whether America remains America.
This could be coded racism. I don’t claim to know clearly what America is when it is America. And I certainly don’t know what role Pence may have had in writing such a paragraph.
What defines the days of America being America? It would really be cool to see someone put him on the spot about that, and follow up and follow up. I think it would be hilarious, but I have no illusions that it would change any minds.
I caught the after-speech analysis on CNN, where the panel included several Republicans who couldn’t understand why anyone might’ve perceived a racial pitch.
Nia-Maliki Henderson explained that there’s no way to separate the message from a racial pitch, about which Trump is quite blatant. Said she: “The message he wants to deliver, particularly to white people, is that he [Trump] is the only thing standing between them and the lawlessness of Black and Brown people.” She added that such messages could very well succeed in activating “the rising anxiety amoung white people about the changing demographics of this country.”
Anyway, that was Pence’s night as the headliner. Trump himself made a “surprise” appearance at the end of Pence’s talk, and acted very pleased. Tonight will be Trump’s big night. I can’t wait to hear his shtick, and I even more can’t wait for this convention season to be over so I can get back to watching old movies.