The Role of Faith In The Vice Presidential Debate

I was one of the half-dozen or so who watched the vice presidential debate last night. It was, from my perspective, a mixed bag at best. I was disappointed in Tim Kaine who has been declared the loser of this match-up largely because he came out uncharacteristically aggressive and repeatedly interrupted his opponent a la Donald Trump.

This tactic, brought unhelpfully into the debate from his attack-dog role on the campaign trail, began the unedifying spectacle of two white men talking over one another, and the female moderator (whose questions were actually quite good) to such an extent that few, if any, could understand what they were saying for the first half of the contest.

Things settled down in the second half, but again, Tim Kaine spent most of his time quoting Donald Trump, and Mike Pence spent most of his time saying that Trump could not possibly have said, or at least meant, that! No surprise there; it is what the Donald’s surrogates have been doing since the campaign began. I had hoped for better.

For these are two pretty articulate spokesmen for their parties’ positions. They clearly have respect for one another, if not for their opponent’s choice for president, and could have used the debate to articulate those differences. Had they actually tried to answer the questions CBS moderator Elaine Quijano asked, rather than use them as launching pads for sound bites, and had they listened to, rather than talked over, one another, those stark differences might have been highlighted for all to see.

The one shining moment, I thought, was when Quijano asked Tim Kaine and then Mike Pence, when — as people of faith — they had been tested to square those commitments with their lives as politicians. Kaine answered immediately, “That’s an easy one,” and described his personal struggles as a Roman Catholic who opposes the death penalty having to enforce it as Governor of Virginia when he could not persuade the people through its legislature to change the laws.

His defense was much the same as John Kennedy’s all those years ago who made it clear that his personal beliefs, and the doctrines of his church, could not override his sworn oath to uphold the laws of this country in the administration of his duties as chief executive. In the land of separation of church and state, this is the only way to govern.

Mike Pence was not as forthcoming with times there may have been a conflict between the tenants of his faith and his duties as a government official, but I thought he was sincere and articulate about his right-to-life stand. And he actually complimented Kaine for being a person of deep faith and lauded his courageous decision to vote for a ban on so-called “partial birth abortions” even though that flew in the face of his party’s and his President’s position.

I thought that was a moment of honesty and candor in a debate which largely lacked both. However one expects Tim Kaine to walk the tightrope between his own, fairly conservative position on abortion with Hillary Clinton’s much more pro choice stand, one must at least applaud his “consistent ethic of life” balanced by a deep commitment for a woman’s right to choose in her reproductive life.

And, however one may disagree with Mike Pence’s stated goal to work to repeal Roe v Wade, one must at least acknowledge his commitment to adoption as an alternative to abortion and his rejection of Trump’s desire to “punish” women and/or doctors deciding for abortion. I believe the vast majority of the country will come down on the side of the Democrats’ pro choice platform, provided its goal remains, in the words of Bill Clinton, “to make abortion safe, legal, and rare.”

So, in an otherwise disappointing debate, it was refreshing to see faith discussed in an open, honest, and ecumenical way. It was the one thing I could believe, coming from both men.




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