Enter Sandman: the Pence-Kaine Sleepwalk

Photo by Cliff | CC BY 2.0

Photo by Cliff | CC BY 2.0


Something’s wrong, shut the light
Heavy thoughts tonight
And they aren’t of Snow White
Dreams of war, dreams of liars
Dreams of dragon’s fire
And of things that will bite

Exit, light
Enter, night
Take my hand
We’re off to never-never land

— “Enter Sandman,” Metallica

The Weigh-In

Pencer Movement

+ Mike Pence and I were born in the same month, of the same year, in the same state. But we inhabit different cultural universes. Pence grew up in Columbus, Indiana, a corporate town run by the notoriously anti-labor, anti-atmosphere Cummins Diesel. I grew up about 35 miles north on I-65 in Southport, an old farming community, recently swallowed up by the metastasizing suburbs of Indianapolis.

In the spring of 1977, Pence and I squared off against each other in a statewide mock legislative event hosted at his high school, Columbus North. I still had an interest in electoral politics then, fresh off of working on Eugene McCarthy’s independent campaign for president, and had been sent to Columbus as leader of the tiny Indiana Student Peace Party.

I spent that Saturday morning smoking a couple of bowls of homegrown with the local freaks and then entered the auditorium a little dazed but full of rebellious spirit, seized the microphone and launched a filibuster with the aim of defunding the (mock) Defense Department. Pandemonium erupted among the goody-goody Hoosier youth. Had a Commie infiltrated their cohort?  And Pence, a brutish little nitwit even then, joined the effort to have me evicted from the premises.

We went our separate ways after that abrupt collision. I headed off to the American University in DC, while Pence high-tailed it south to Hanover College, a leafy and undemanding liberal arts school on the Indiana side of the Ohio River, where his politics calcified into the hard right ideology he professes today. I never expected to encounter the smug zealot again.

Yet in the late 1980s, I was back in Indiana working as an environmental organizer and Pence had linked up with a kooky think tank called the Indiana Policy Review Foundation, a free-market fog-shop that opposed every attempt to regulate air quality, pesticide use, factory farm pollution and clearcutting. We occasionally butted heads in state legislature hearing rooms, but Pence never struck me as a particularly dangerous or talented adversary. He was, however, being groomed by the GOP establishment for future political glory. Twice Pence was sent forth to challenge the Democratic congressman Phil Sharp to represent the blue-collar 2nd Indiana Congressional District that stretches from Elkhart to South Bend. Twice Pence was defeated.

In the first campaign, Pence  tried to link the straight-laced Sharp to the drug trade, using devious and racially-charged themes that Jesse Helms might have admired. One Pence mailer featured a stark photograph of a razor-blade, syringe and pile of white powder and text red text blaring: “There’s something Phil Sharp isn’t telling you about his record on drugs…” The implication was that Sharp might be spending his nights in DC at a shooting gallery off of Georgia Avenue.

Sharp was far from an environmentalist, but he did sit on the powerful House committee on Environment and Energy, and as Pence threatened to take Sharp down with the backing of the coal and steel lobbies, Indiana greens, including me, rushed to Sharp’s defense.  The 1990 campaign gave the first real glimpse of Pence’s nasty anti-Arab bigotry. He ran a commercial featuring an actor dressed up in Hollywood bad Arab gear, speaking in an offensive faux-Arab accent thanking Sharp for doing nothing to end American dependence on Middle East oil.

That noxious campaign also revealed Pence’s instinct for self-enrichment, a personality quality that may have made him an appealing pick for Donald Trump. During the 1990 campaign, Pence siphoned money from his campaign fund to pay six installments of his home mortgage and his wife’s car payments. When these financial hijinks were revealed, Pence’s campaign went down in flames. He lost by 19 points.

Later that year, we moved to Oregon and I didn’t think much about Pence again. But now, look, Mike’s all grown up, running point for Donald Trump. He turned out pretty much what he was programmed to be: a war-mongering, homophobic, holier-than-thou tool of corporate power.

The Mark of Kaine

+ I’ve never met Tim Kaine, but I probably wouldn’t remember if I had. He is distinctly indistinct. His policies aren’t, unfortunately. Kaine is a run-of-the-mill New Democrat. New Democrats are old Republicans with drones and b-list Hollywood celebrities in their entourage.

+ Politically, Kaine is to the right of the Clintons. He is a pro-life, anti-gay, free trade politician, who aggressively backed the Iraq war, the Libyan debacle and the harsh, racially-driven crime policies of the Clinton years.

+ Kaine left his deepest mark, so to speak, in my father’s home state of Virginia, where he served as governor from 2006 to 2010, zealously pursuing neoliberal policies that imposed austerity on the poor and tax relief for the wealthy.

+ Kaine prattles on about his Catholic faith and his deep belief in the sanctity of life. Yet his pious moral sensibility did not inhibit Kaine from supervising one of the most depraved acts of government: imposition of the death penalty. In his four years as governor, Kaine rejected the injunctions of his own church and oversaw the execution of 11 people, granting clemency only once.

Most notoriously, Kaine refused to stop the execution of Kevin Green, a brain-damaged black man who had never learned to tie his own shoes. The case of Kevin Green is reminiscent of Bill Clinton’s decision to race home to Arkansas during the 1992 campaign in order to supervise the execution of Ricky Ray Rector, another black man with severe brain damage.

+ Kaine’s willingness to buck the teachings of the Catholic Church did not, however, extend to his rigid anti-abortion posture. In one of his TV ads during his 2005 gubernatorial campaign, Kaine announced:  “I’m against same-sex marriage. I’m conservative on personal responsibility, character, family and the sanctity of life. These are my values, and that’s what I believe.”

Kaine followed this up in office by backing bills that outlawed late-term abortions, imposed a 24-hour waiting period for abortions and required parental consent for minors to get abortions, even in cases of incest. In the Senate, he supported the awful Hyde Amendment, which prohibits the use of federal funds for abortion services, a measure which serves mainly to penalize poor women.

+ In 2001, while campaigning for Lieutenant Governor, Kaine announced that he had “never countenanced homosexual marriage” and supported the ban on gays in the Boy Scouts, noting he “was once a Boy Scout and his children are Scouts.” When it comes to gays, Kaine said he has “‘only advocated that people not get kicked out of their apartments or lose their jobs because of who they are.” How magnanimous!

+ In 1994, Kaine was serving on the Richmond City Council, when he was summoned by the Clinton Administration to help them push the first version of Bill’s Crime Bill. Kaine made several public appearances praising the draconian bill. ‘I was very excited about the core of the bill which was the addition of 100,000 police officers nationwide,” Kaine said. “We do need more police officers in targeted [ie, black] areas.”

Kaine lashed out at opponents of the bill, especially the Congressional Black Caucus. Kaine called their opposition, which was critical in killing the first iteration of the bill, “unfortunate.”

+ Kaine is also a drug warrior. During his 2001 campaign, Kaine said that he was “unequivocal in his opposition to marijuana legalization.”

+ Economically, Kaine is an unapologetic neoliberal, who has backed the dismantling of welfare, the imposition of austerity measures and nearly every free trade pact that has come down the pike. In fact, Kaine has gone even further by directly targeting the trade unions. In 2005, while running for governor, Kaine pledged his support for Virginia’s anti-union right-to-work law, a position he reconfirmed a year later in a dispute with the state legislature over his nomination for AFL-CIO president Daniel LeBlanc as Commonwealth Secretary in Virginia. “The Secretary of the Commonwealth has no – I repeat, no – role in the enforcement of Virginia’s right-to-work law, a law I strongly support,” Kaine said.

+ When the financial elite and big business calls, however, Kaine always answers the bell. One of his first acts as governor was to repeal Virginia’s tax on the estates of millionaires, the so-called “death tax” reviled by the scions of the wealthy.

+ Kaine assailed Democratic opponents of NAFTA and CAFTA as having a “losing mentality.”  As governor, he sent off letters of support for four terrible trade pacts with Peru, Panama, Colombia, and South Korea.

As a senator, Kaine assertively backed to fast-track the Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), which would only allow Congress to take up-or-down votes on trade deals with no ability to filibuster or amend.

+ Kaine has carried water for the banks his entire career. In 2014, he lent his support to the so-called Cromnibus Spending Bill, which included provisions to roll-back the swap regulations that were part of the D0dd-Frank Bill, which would once again permit banks to trade in derivatives. Kaine also supported a measure that raised campaign finance limits by a factor of ten, from $32,400 per year to $324,000.

A few days before being tapped as Clinton’s VP pick, Kaine signed two letters urging federal regulators to go easy on the banking industry. One letter encouraged the regulators to rewrite the rules so that Big Banks, such as  Capital One, PNC Bank and U.S. Bank, could evade risk management standards. “Such large ‘regional banks’ are being discriminated against based solely on the fact that they are so big,” Kaine wrote, seemingly without irony.

The other letter hammered regulators for being too tough on smaller banks and urged them amend the rules to allow small banks to dodge consumer protection standards.

+ This week came news that Kaine has been acting as a student loan shark. According to a damning report in Politico, Kaine intervened on behalf of student loan provider Sallie Mae to fight Obama’s proposal to strip the company of its federal subsidies. Kaine literally used talking points written by Sallie Mae to attempt to secretly lobby the administration and congress to kill the proposal.

+ Although progressives are being badgered to vote for Clinton as the last hedge against runaway climate change, they shouldn’t count on Kaine to push the issue. In 2007, Kaine moved to expand oil and gas exploration off of the Virginia coast.

After the Deepwater Horizon disaster in 2010, Obama issued an executive order banning new drilling until 2018.  In 2013, Kaine introduced legislation in the US senate seeking to overturn the moratorium to permit exploration of known off-shore reserves in order to expedite drilling activities by 2020.

Kaine also went to bat for the coal industry. “We are not going to eliminate coal, a native source that we have, as one of the sources that will power our country,” Kaine said in 2008. “The portion [of the energy supply] that is coal is going to get smaller, and it is going to get cleaner, but we are not going to abandon coal from the portfolio.”

When it came to fighting climate change, Kaine’s solution, as outlined in his 2008 energy plan, was building a new generation of nuclear power plants. He’s so green he glows.

+ One more minor thing. Tim Kaine enthusiastically supported the Iraq war in 2001 and he defended the “noble” cause as late as 2006, saying “I do share the president’s [Bush] view that … we’re there and it’s time to build a democracy. That’s pretty noble – It’s difficult, but it’s noble.”

Look out, Syria!

The Venue

The vice presidential debate is being hosted by Longwood College, in Farmville, a small town in northern Virginia’s  Prince Edward County, not far from Appomattox, where Robert E. Lee surrendered to Grant.  Lee surrendered, but Farmville did not. It held out for the Confederacy until about about 1968.

Farmville’s public schools remained rigidly segregated until 1951, when a 16-year-old girl named Barbara Johns, an unsung hero of the Civil Rights Movement, led a walkout of the all-black school to protest the deplorable conditions for African-American students. Johns’ heroic actions, prompted a lawsuit, which was ultimately consolidated into the Brown vs. Board of Education case which officially ended school segregation in America.

Except in Farmville and Prince Edward County. The response of the white government officials in the county was to simply shut down the entire county school system rather than face the humiliation of integration. White students enrolled in a private academy and for four years blacks were left without any schools at all. This de facto segregation largely persists until today, with the majority of white students attending private schools, while the underfunded public schools remain predominately black.

Welcome to Farmville, where old times are not forgotten.

The Main Event

+ Good news! We can all turn on the Orioles/Blue Jays game. Pence has decisively won the debate! According to a GOP press release that went out an hour before the debate started, “During the debate we helped factcheck and monitor the conversation in real time @GOP. The consensus was clear after the dust settled, Mike Pence was the clear winner of the debate.”

+ These candidates should be required to appear with their Big Pharma sponsors on their jackets: Lunesta for Kaine; Ambien for Pence. And a warning label not to drink after consuming their narcotic rhetoric, an injunction I plan to repeatedly violate tonight. DNR.

+ Speaking of drug companies, will Tim Kaine defend Bill Clinton tonight or Barack Obama? With his usual precision timing, Clinton unloaded on the failures of Obamacare calling the health plan”the craziest thing in the world.” Bill’s replacement plan isn’t single payer. Indeed, Clinton made it clear that his sympathies weren’t with the poor but small business owners and the middle class: “The people who are getting killed in this deal are small business people and individuals who make just a little bit too much to get any of these subsidies.”

+ Pence should debate Trump. He has more disagreements with his running mate than Kaine on the vital issues of trade, banks, gay rights and the Iraq war.

+ If Tim Kaine drops a few words in Spanish tonight, will Toni Morrison dub him the “first Latino vice president”?

+ Pence’s voice has a manufactured deepness, like you hear in some professional wrestlers. It’s meant to sound macho, but more often comes across as merely slow, dull and stunted. He honed his sonorous tones on his radio show back in Indiana, where he railed against the heavy-hand of government in between updates on corn prices and the cattle futures market. I listened to Pence’s show a few times, it was an antiseptic affair, especially when contrasted to real fire-breathers such as Mark Levine and Michael Savage. It had none of the rococo madness of Glenn Beck. He described himself as “Rush Limbaugh on decaf.” But Limbaugh has a malign theatrical flare. Pence is monotonous as a field of Monsanto soybeans.

+ Will Pence press Kaine on the new reports that Hillary inquired about “droning Julian Assange” during a foreign policy briefing while Secretary of State? This comes on top of Clinton pal Bob Beckel’s call for Assange to be shot.

+ Trump is eager to reinstitute torture. Will Elaine Quijano ask Pence to describe the techniques that will be deployed by the Trump Torture Squads? Will they include hanging a prisoner from a chained bar for 22 hours a day for two consecutive days, week after week?  Will they be shown an electric chair and threatened to be strapped in it and electrocuted? Taken to a coffin and told they could be buried in it alive? Stripped naked and placed in diapers that weren’t changed for four days? Dunked in barrels of ice-cold water? Or any of the other variations of extreme abuse described in a new Human Rights Watch report on the torture of detainees at a CIA black site in Afghanistan?

+ Anderson Cooper keeps referring to the stage as an “intimate setting.” Elaine Quijano should perhaps move her chair back a few feet.

+ Cooper and Pence seem to have gotten their hairpieces from the same salon. As a ticket, Pence and Trump definitely have the superior coiffures. Return of the Whigs?

+ Kaine starts off shakily with a set piece invoking civil rights icon Barbara Johns, deflecting entirely the first question. His comparison of the calculating Hillary with the courageous Johns is demeaning.

+ The more serious Pence sounds the shallower he gets.

+ Kaine has an irritating, wind-up doll voice.

+ Why the split screen? They’re sitting right next to each other.

+ Kaine calls National Security Team that blew apart Libya, the Public Safety Team. Fat chance.

+  If Trump was coked up in the first debate, Kaine seemed to have popped a few tabs of speed before tonight’s. He’s hyper, obsessively interrupting Pence, bullying the poor moderator, who has lost control. Fifteen minutes into the debate and Elaine Quijano is already roadkill.

+ Pence calls for a return to policies of the 1960s. Did he check that with the editors of the National Review?

+ When Kaine said, “We’ll never ever privatize social security,” you can believe its near the top of their agenda.

+ Based on the evidence of tonight’s debate. the issue of racial justice in America has been reduced to how difficult it is to be a cop.

+ Pence actually said we should “stop seizing on moments of tragedy” for political purposes! This from a man who invokes 9/11 every 37 minutes.

+ Though both of these men look like they could have been drawn by R. Crumb, neither have the slightest sense of humor.

+ It took Kaine about 45 minutes to wrap himself in the policies of Ronald Reagan, in this case Reagan’s bracero-driven immigration plan.

+ Kaine is showing some zest in reciting Hillary’s deception and assassination anti-terror plan. Look out Assad, take cover Assange!

+ On the same day it was revealed that Yahoo sent all of your emails to the NSA/CIA, Tim Kaine calls for a new intelligence surge!

+ If you want to see bi-partisan sexism in action, just watch how they both talk over Elaine Quijano.

+ Both Kaine and Pence are in harmony on the insane idea of a no-fly zone in Syria, which would likely lead to WW 3.

+ Kaine invokes the Kryptonite of Reagan once again, this time on nuclear weapons.

+ It’s an orgy of Putin-bashing now with Kaine sounding more and more like Al Haig.

+ With Hurricane Matthew bearing down on the East Coast, not one mention of climate change.

+ Though his answer was fuzzy and opaque, it sounds like Kaine just promised a pre-emptive nuclear strike on North Korea.

+ As “deeply religious people,” neither Kaine nor Pence showed any pangs of conscience over their support of Iraq War.

+ Pence: “You whipped out that Mexican thing again!” Whip it, whip it good!

+ Mexicans “whipping out their thing” may explain the psychological roots of Trump’s Latinophobia.

+ Five mentions of the War on Coal from Pence, more than ISIS. Priorities!

+ Mike Pence repudiated every quasi-attractive position Trump has ever taken: on NATO, on first strike, on Russia, on non-interventionism.

+ Reagan and McCain invoked reverentially more times tonight by Kaine than FDR. Emblematic of the new Democrats.

+ Not one mention of trade pacts in the debate. Why? Both Pence and Kaine are unapologetic free traders.

+ The debate ends with both candidates standing and the audience knocked out.

The Decision

+ Looks like that premature GOP press release wasn’t that wide of the mark after all. A post-debate CNN Poll, weighted toward Democrats, shows Pence won square-off by a 48-42 margin. A significant victory in a sampling that was biased against him.

+ I can see why people thought that Pence won. He came off as more believable tonight. He presented himself as the neocon that he truly is, while Kaine tried desperately to hide his own inner neocon. Blood will out.

Jeffrey St. Clair is editor of CounterPunch. His most recent book is An Orgy of Thieves: Neoliberalism and Its Discontents (with Alexander Cockburn). He can be reached at: sitka@comcast.net or on Twitter @JeffreyStClair3