Tim Kaine and Mike Pence are two men who could end up a heartbeat away from the presidency. Kaine is actually the nice guy he appears to be, while Pence is like Trump, only with more discipline and a disingenuous veneer of "niceness" that masks his destructive policies.
When Hillary Clinton first chose Tim Kaine as her running mate, he was described as “vanilla nice” — “humble-but-sturdy” and “squeaky-clean.” A “steady hand” with unassailable ethics. He’s “personable but unassuming.” He charmingly burst out laughing on Meet the Press when asked about his reputation for being boring.
“I am boring,” he said with a grin. “But boring is the fastest growing demographic in this country!”
Kaine is indeed a very likable fellow. And his record largely indicates a guy who likes and respects people he is elected to serve: He has 100% ratings from both Planned Parenthood and NARAL; 100% rating from the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence; 100% rating from the Human Rights Campaign; 100% rating from the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights; 100% rating from the American Public Health Association; and so on and so forth.
Coincidentally, I also read a raft of articles about how nice Donald Trump’s running mate Mike Pence is reported to be. Pence is “Midwestern polite.” He’s “likable.” He knows how to be “both kind and ruthless.” Heck, even Indiana Democrats like Mike Pence!
“In person he’s very amiable, he’s really friendly and engaged,” said Ann DeLaney, a former chair of the state Democratic Party and the legislative director for former Gov. Evan Bayh. DeLaney, who was an occasional guest on Pence’s radio show in the 1990s, said Pence’s personal and political political positions struck her as an “odd dichotomy.”
That is a very polite way of saying that Pence is kind to people in person, but things get a little dicier when he is, say, making the decision to erode the rights of entire groups of people with the mere stroke of his pen.
Then, Pence is not so much “nice” as “cruel and unapologetic.”
I was born in Indiana, and I lived in Indiana most of my life. And I can assure you that Hoosier Hospitality is a real thing. Hoosiers are, as a rule, incredibly nice and generous.
The thing about being “nice” is that it is not always the same thing as being decent, or empathetic, or compassionate. “Niceness,” and its cousin “civility,” are used to cover a whole raft of sins.
Like being the kind of guy who will take away people’s rights, but with a smile on his face.
Pence is not only said to be “nice,” but often said to be the more “reasonable” or “measured” member of the Trump-Pence ticket — which misses a fundamental thing about Pence. He is not less extreme than his running mate; he is merely more disciplined.
Voters will not see clips of Pence on the news mocking Clinton’s illness, nor will they discover tweets in his timeline slut-shaming a woman who criticized him. They will, however, find in Pence’s record legislation with his signature slashing Indiana’s budget for public health programs, leaving the state with one of the lowest per capita investments in the nation: $12.40.
And they will find in Pence’s record a host of anti-abortion measures, which has made Indiana one of the most unsafe places to be pregnant in the country.
Trump talks the horrible talk about health and women’s agency; Pence has walked the horrible walk.
He has not only turned Indiana into a conservative legislation lab, where all manner of retrograde social policy is run through the Republican-controlled legislature, but also a place where 1 out of 6 Hoosiers (over a million people) now have to rely on food pantries and/or meal service programs to get enough to eat.
There is no way to argue that Pence is “nicer” or “more moderate” than Trump without ignoring his actual record of cruelty and pretending that it matters if a politician uses less overtly hostile rhetoric while making people’s lives worse.
Pence agrees with Trump on a number of key issues — like telling lies about refugees in order to deny them safe haven — and is even further to the right of Trump on some social policies.
After saying in his convention acceptance speech, “As your President, I will do everything in my power to protect our LGBTQ citizens from the violence and oppression of a hateful foreign ideology, believe me,” Trump has now pledged to sign, if elected, the First Amendment Defense Act, which “would allow non-profit organizations and businesses contracting with the federal government to circumvent critical federal protections designed to protect LGBTQ families from harmful discrimination.”
That is the influence of Pence, who has amassed a sickening record of hostility toward LGBTQ Hoosiers. Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, described Pence as having chosen “attacking the rights and dignity of LGBTQ people as a cornerstone of his career,” saying he is “the face of LGBTQ hate in America; the face of discrimination in America; and now he’s the face of the GOP ticket.”
Pence is vindictive, much like his running mate, and, also like Trump, whose claimed qualification of being a successful businessman is a lie, Pence claims a qualification of good governance that is manifestly dishonest.
There are a number of examples I could offer as evidence that Pence’s leadership of Indiana has been an abject failure, but perhaps none so stark as this: In 2003, he responded to then-President George W. Bush’s proposal to send $15 billion to Africa to fight the AIDS epidemic thus: “The timeless values of abstinence and marital faithfulness before condom distribution are the cure for what ails the families of Africa. It is important that we not just send them money, but we must send them values that work.”
Under Pence’s “values,” Indiana has become a state in which the small town of Austin, with a population of 4,200, now has a higher rate of HIV than “any country in sub-Saharan Africa.”
What kind of president would Mike Pence be? Like Trump, except maybe even worse.
Appearing beside Kaine at the vice-presidential debate, Pence is going to try to convince voters that he is a sensible guy and a nice guy. Do not buy it. There will only be one sensible and nice guy on that stage — and it is not Mike Pence.