• Daniel Ethan Finneran

Preview: Vice Presidential Debate

October 2020

The most that can be said of this evening’s Vice Presidential debate is that it’s sure to be history's least inconsequential.

In comparison with the many electoral contests through which our country has sat, about whose distant themes and minute details her lips but seldom speak, this one, in particular, is destined to be memorable. My guess is that, years from now, it’ll be an event of which she’ll not hesitate to talk, being always fresh in the mind and relevant to the political age. It’ll be a debate, unlike other debates, to which frequent reference will be made, in which shocking proposals, regarding the future of this land, will be found to have been buried and concealed.

By the standard of the office of the Vice President, this is saying a lot.

Indeed, no other Vice Presidential debate would dare aspire to so lofty a claim, but this one’s equipped with the wings to do just that. Unlike the others, it won’t escape the notice of our country’s attention, upon which, with momentous force, it’ll succeed in impressing itself. It won’t be so soon forgotten, and none will treat it with the kind of neglect of which this particular species of debate—far less alluring than that in which the presidential candidates partake—is often deserving.

Instead, it’ll be a night upon which we repeatedly look back and continuously comment. It’ll be a debate on which the balance of a teetering incumbent hinges, by which a challenger is elevated or reduced of his strength. As I see it, it’s fated to be a debate whose echoes, resonant and loud, persist throughout the course of the coming years and determine the genre of music to which we dance in the decades to come. It’s set to be one whose whispers linger in the heads of all Americans as we stride into our various polling stations, peruse our sad dichotomy of choices, and cast our impatient ballots in the weeks and days ahead.

Of course, being the “least inconsequential” of anything isn’t quite a testament to the height of one’s virtue, or the weight of one’s esteem. It’s certainly not a judgment, once rendered, about which its recipient ought to boast. It’s as if to be called a “not-bad-looking” guy, or a “not-intolerable” co-worker—of which, doubtless, we’ve all had many in our lives. Importantly, though, we’d never describe them as such to their face, nor, for that matter, would we care to be called anything less than positively handsome. To do so would be to apply what’s called in rhetoric a litotes, or the ironic expression of an affirmative, by the doubled use of a negative.

“Least inconsequential”, while fitting the rhetorical type, fails to capture just how important this debate might be. It understates its gravity, while heightening its expectations. But more than all else, it aptly defines what’s soon to transpire between the Republican incumbent, Mike Pence, and the Democrat by whom he’s being challenged—the Senator from California, Kamala Harris.

Mercifully, Mike Pence will take the stage at the very moment his compatriot is in most need of his help. He’ll rise to the occasion and stand before the country, all while the President repeatedly falls on his face. The one is the ballast against the wind, by whom every blow is repulsed. Out of the flurry of these many storms, he appears always to emerge calm and erect. The other is the very tempest itself, by whom fields of bountiful harvests are indiscriminately razed. He can’t help but destroy all that’s been planted and every delectable fruit that’s been reaped.

Of the two, Pence is by far the more adept at communicating a message. It’s he who best interprets the proclamations of what’s been, since the winter of 2017, a flailing administration’s cacophonous voice. He provides a feeling of order to the madness, a sound of competence to the rashness, in whose monotony of tone and pallor of hue, a quiet comfort’s always to be found. He gives some sense of melody and poise, structure and timing, to the dissonant shrieks of a president bent on bad music and incapable of hearing himself.

Unsurprisingly, Pence is the more natural at conveying a conservative point of view. To him, this philosophy is innate, and one quite deeply etched in the marrow of his Midwestern bones. It’s a deeply-held philosophy to which, looking back through the years, his gubernatorial resume can strongly attest. To Trump, this philosophy is foreign and, thus, one with which he’s incompletely fluent. It’s one that’s been adopted, rather expediently, in the later years of an inconstant life. Its arrival being adventitious, it’s not yet settled in to the thinking of his head.

It’ll be Mike Pence’s thankless and overwhelming task to salvage what’s left of President Trump’s re-election campaign. If the latter’s aspirations are to be fulfilled in three weeks, and if he’s to persist as president until the unthinkably distant year of 2024, Pence will be responsible, if in only a small way, for the attainment of that improbable success.

Kamala Harris will be taking the same stage, but playing a different role altogether. It’s a role, in fact, to which an American audience hasn’t yet had any prior exposure, but with which, as the years progress, it’d do well closely to familiarize itself. She’ll be acting the part of the devout running mate, the sedulous side-kick, by whom the towering man atop the ticket, Delaware’s favorite son, Joe Biden, is always complimented but never eclipsed. She’ll be presenting herself as the consummate subordinate, a dedicated second-in-command, in whose unimpeachable virtue and unwavering loyalty, Joe Biden can place every ounce of his trust and morsel of his faith.

Most observers realize, however, that this arrangement is specious; it’s but a cheap façade draped across a threadbare political screen. And though most of us succeed in peeking through this poorly-hung curtain, the delineation between presidential and vice presidential candidate has never been so obscure.

Others, perhaps less attentive to this scene, don’t exactly know for whom their ballot will be cast, and by whom the ticket’s top position is to be occupied. Democrats don’t seem to mind the uncertainty of this most unnerving situation, and many voters are only too happy to avert their gaze. It’s an ambiguity, after all, by which Harris is strengthened and the radicals of the Party are appeased. As for Biden, he’s just content to be in the glowing warmth of the national light, if only once more before the end of his career and life.

Stripped of the subtlety of an open secret, it is, at this point, a widely-known truth that Harris fosters the desire to sit herself in the presidential seat. She’ll not long deign merely to stand by it, if any opportunity to “leap-frog” into its arms lays within her reach. She’ll not long endure playing second-fiddle to a senescent old instrument of a man, a creaking organ of the past.

On more than one occasion, she’s referred to it as the “Harris-Biden” administration, by whose strange positioning of words, and open confidence of expression, the inattentive voter might be understandably confused. Biden, for all his ineloquence, repeated the same thing. The former might be accused of eagerness, the latter of incontinence, but both are guilty of being shady and premature. That said, few expect Joe Biden to complete the duration of one presidential term. Fewer still anticipate what will be, four years hence, the octogenarian’s re-election.

Harris, it’s assumed, will claim the job, whenever its early vacancy appears.

The problem is, at least at this very moment, that the height of her ambition exceeds the current, relatively low state of her affairs. It should be said, though, that that state is very likely, promptly, to change. She might become the president in fewer than eighteen months. She might be the forty-seventh Commander-in-Chief in just over two years. It’s for this reason that her performance tonight will be far from inconsequential. Indeed, it’ll be the least inconsequential of any candidate supposedly running for the Vice Presidential, but aiming for the Presidential seat.

This debate is sure to be a consequential event, to which you might wisely devote ninety-minutes of your day. After all, they might help to foreshadow the coming years, and persuade the decision of your vote.

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