The Subtext Sweepstakes: Not Even Close for Kamala Harris or Jay Inslee

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First on the Veep debate, and then on the governor’s match.

Mike Pence is a familiar type of in-over-their-heads politician. Avoid direct answers, tell folksy stories to distract, slip the punches, run out the clock, put people to sleep. He’s pretty good at this, but it’s the last thing a battered electorate wants. Next assignment was to treat Biden as the incumbent, whose record (both as vice president and in future tense) was more important to attack than the thankless task of defending Trump. Pence had an audience of one to impress, Trump, but he also had his future to secure by seeming reasonable, polite, vaguely moderate (“the climate is changing, but…”)

Pence’s previous role had been to reassure the Christian voters and also make Trump a little more acceptable to women. Harris was waiting for those faux-courtly gestures and trapped him into appearing rude and a clueless mansplainer. Her smiling glares and retorts were lethal: “I will not stand to be lectured.” 

Harris also had assignments, tricky ones. First was to get the Biden positions out there, since Biden had not been able to do so in his crazy debate. Second was to play off against the soporific Pence by being lively, funny, young, passionate, idealistic, a happy warrior. Hard to know if she really is these things, but the contrast with Pence made it an easy role to ace. The woman really gets the performative aspects of politics. 

The  vice-presidential subtext was about buying an insurance policy. If Trump or Biden sickens and has to leave office, who could reasonably step in as president? That’s middle of the mind for undecided voters, and Harris’ superb performance won the subtext sweepstakes by a mile.

As for the governors’ debate, which followed the VP match: again no contest. Sheriff Loren Culp is hopelessly out of his element, a tinhorn from a tiny town. He relied on the tired bromides (which in our cynical age no one is buying) that he is a common man and a common-sense candidate. He tried to be an outsider, but he had none of the requisite maverick swagger. His message was deconstructing and defunding government and letting people (and big business) go back to doing what they damned well want to do — coronavirus, racial justice, Boeing jobs be damned. 

No wonder the state GOP is not giving him any money, as he whined/boasted. Culp, better named Gulp, is a startling illustration of how much the party of Dan Evans is now slurping the lees in the bottom of the barrel. (And also how lazy the Democrats are in a one-party state.) Inslee avoided being smirky and patronizing, but also evaded having to tip his hand (raise taxes? shake up the staff? go national again?) about the next four years. 

And no one even asked (subtext time) if Inslee would serve all four years! Judging by how casual the sleepy governor was about this opportunity with a statewide audience, I detect a desire to get elected, assure the orderly transition to another liberal Democrat, and check out. 

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