The U.S. Vice-Presidential debate on October 7th was a prime opportunity for Senator Kamala Harris and Vice-President Mike Pence to discuss America’s most pressing issues, including the Covid-19 pandemic, climate change, systemic racism, local economics, international relations, and the supreme court. However, while much was discussed, Harris was the only candidate who genuinely engaged with the audience. Harris responded to the questions asked of her and demonstrated that she was listening to citizens’ concerns. On the other hand, Pence only talked to himself and the Trump fanbase, with fear underlying his non-answers.
Besides the fly that found a home on his head, Pence’s only other notable moment was when he interrupted Harris to which she respectfully reasserted herself with two simple words: “I’m speaking.” As relatable as this moment was for every woman who has ever been spoken over, undervalued, and ignored by men, or in other words, “mansplained to,” it was so much more than Harris asserting her right to be on that stage.
“I’m speaking” encompasses the entire attitude of the debate because Harris really was the only one speaking. In discussing her and presidential candidate Joe Biden’s desire to reclaim and repair America’s economy, environment, health care, and justice system, Harris spoke for those silenced in the last four years during the tornado of confusion that is the Trump administration. Through her demand for racial equality, defence for individual economic success, and compassion for those impacted by Covid-19, Harris spoke for those suffering at the hands of the current administration.
She also readily answered the moderator’s questions and promoted conversation among the American audience by providing policy and vision, while much of Pence’s time was consumed by his attempts to defend the Trump administration’s self-serving and absent “leadership.” Moreover, Pence’s transparent twisting of Harris’ words and fearmongering supported the notion that Pence spoke to and for himself.
When Pence wasn’t playing catch-up for Trump’s meltdown at the Presidential debate, he was trying to emulate his superior’s poor behaviour, mirroring Trump’s numerous interruptions during the Presidential debate.
Besides the powerful “I’m speaking” moment, Harris also made her presence known from the very moment she spoke. Her first words were, “The American people have witnessed the greatest failure of any presidential administration in the history of our country.” Referring to Covid-19, Harris criticized the Trump administration’s disservice of withholding information from Americans. She sympathized with the families who suffered from the novel coronavirus, which as of October 18th resulted in 219,000 deaths, 8 million virus contractions, and 1 in 5 businesses being forced to close. Harris pointed out that the administration knew sufficient information on Covid-19 since late January of 2020, yet President Trump insisted that the virus was a hoax that would soon disappear.
When asked why the U.S. death tolls were higher than Canada’s, Pence evaded the question and instead remarked on the President’s travel ban and falsely claimed that there would be a vaccine by the end of the year
On international relations, Harris discussed how the Trump administration’s indiscretions deprived Americans of 300,000 manufacturing jobs, a fair and democratic election in 2016, trading benefits under NATO, safety under the Iran Nuclear Deal, and swift action during the Covid-19 pandemic. Pence responded strangely by saying, “You are entitled to your own opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts,” a laughable rebuttal coming from an administration infamous for popularizing the term “Alternative Facts.” Harris thought so too, as she reminded the Vice President of how their administration continuously denied climate science and even went as far as to remove the words “science” and “climate change” from their website. A statement that Pence did not know how to refute.
Regarding systemic racism in the U.S. and the racially motivated murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, Pence simply said he believes in the justice system. With nothing more to say, Pence continued to deflect and insinuated that Harris’ claims that the U.S. is systematically racist were “unpatriotic.” Harris responded to Harris non-answer by reminding the Vice President that it was Trump himself who refused to condemn white supremacy during the Presidential debate and who called the neo-Nazi’s who marched in Charlottesville, Virginia, “fine people.”
I’m not exactly sure what Pence believed his role was at the debate. Was it to try to be more Trump-esque in his interruptions, or was it to ignore all of the moderator’s questions and instead pat himself on the back for his administration’s incompetency and disregard for human life? The only thing clear about Pence was that he was scared, and he wanted Americans to be scared with him.
So, while Pence talked to himself, Harris looked deep into the camera and spoke to Americans, relating to their hardships and promising policies to support them through this unprecedented crisis. She defended Americans who have been overlooked, talked over, and ignored, a critical action that Pence failed to do. Harris conversed with Americans, and she reminded America of the character and behaviour a leader should possess, something the U.S. has lacked in the last four years. In that moment and throughout the campaign trail, she spoke, and on November 3rd, America will have its turn to speak.