Getting excited over the thought of President Pence

To celebrate the Beltway brand of centrism that guarantees admission to Chuck Todd’s show and screws over men and women who can’t afford Washington Post subscriptions, Dana Milbank muses on the excitement of seeing Michael Pence in the Oval Office.

Where Trump alienated allies and opened a dispute with the mayor of London, Pence vowed to “continue to stand with our allies” and praised “our cherished ally,” Britain. Where Trump has largely removed human rights from the agenda, Pence called for “an America standing tall in the world again for our values and our ideals.” Where Trump has stoked anti-Muslim sentiment, Pence asserted that under Trump, “America will continue to condemn persecution of any faith at any place at any time.”

As governor of Indiana, Pence called bloodless torture methods ““Oprah Winfrey methods,” criminalized abortion, claimed that “condoms are a very, very poor protection against sexually transmitted diseases,” endorsed a proposed ban on Syrian refugees entering his state, and, while in Congress, proposed that “resources should be directed toward those institutions which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior,” i.e. gay conversion therapy.

Do go on, Mr. Milbank:

Trump, at the National Prayer Breakfast earlier this year, told attendees to pray for Arnold Schwarzenegger and his “Apprentice” ratings. Pence aimed higher. “Don’t so much pray for a cause as for country,” he said, paraphrasing Abraham Lincoln. “Just pray for America.”

Amen.

Ugh.

The contrast between the reckless president and his responsible understudy has me thinking, not for the first time, how much better things would be if Pence were president.

Go to hell, you turgid lickspittle.

Pence is not responsible. He is not sane – he’s a holy terror, as awful as Rubio, Jeb!, Romney, and just about every Republican nominee for president going back to January 1981. He was going to lose reelection in Indiana. He’s not bright – the sort of man who repeats a sentence because it represents his total command of the language. Should he become president, he’ll lose in 2020 because he’d be a fifth-rate hack with none of Donald Trump’s un-charm and all his baggage.

The commencement address grind

As temperatures climb and boredom with criticizing the Trump administration increases, fellow liberals turn to a favorite hobby: self-immolation. Picking on students walking out of Vice President Mike Pence’s commencement address at Notre Dame is the latest example. Students are easy targets. They allow the old to abandon common sense, disregard empathy, and wipe their own memories of youth, for besides mayonnaise in food and chardonnay there is no custom to which the old person clings more zealously than sanctimony.

Until a couple years ago I believed in a ruthless literalism regarding free speech. If the Constitution said, “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech,,” it meant that no government body, federal or state, can infringe on our ability to speek freely. Public universities needn’t accept every guest who wants to speak; my understanding of the law is that the universities subsequently cannot restrict or review what the invitee will say. Moreover, protecting the speech of these invitees doesn’t require the rapt attention of an audience.

Those aging scolds have surely forgotten what a grind commencenent addresses are. At mine, the late Camilo Jose Cela raged like a summer storm about “las tonterias de la juventud.” I’ll give the Nobel laureate his due: he had no patience for self-empowerment banalities. Neither do the graduates. All they want is their fake diplomas and a handshake with the president, and I’ll even doubt this point – it’s at their parents’ insistence. This takes me back to Mike Pence. A commenter at Lawyers, Guns and Money got it right:

I am somewhat sympathetic to arguments that speakers invited onto campus by a student group should have the opportunity to speak without excessive heckling. (This doesn’t apply to someone like Milo whose presence on campus is a threat to students.) I am absolutely not sympathetic to the argument that students who have gone into significant debt and worked hard to earn their degrees should welcome being forced to listen to a speech by someone who wants to destroy their livelihoods and their communities.

Although written before the Notre Dame speech, the point stands. Pence, speaking at a private university where its administration could have done whatever the hell it wanted about accepting or rescinding invitations, signed bills as governor that endangered women and sought to make lives harder for gays and lesbians in Indiana, some of whom were in the audience. If they had jeered, I can understand an argument against disrepecting a guest. That’s not what happened. A commencement address is not a debate; they could not respond to him even if Pence stuck to the banalities mentioned above. Students owed him no courtesy, nor would exposure to the former governor of their state have nourished their intellects. Pence got to speak; his freedom of speech was impinged neither by Notre Dame nor the students. Those who walked out responded no differently than if they’d walked out of Alien: Covenant.

Don’t get fooled by Mike Pence

When party satraps chose vice presidential nominees, the head of the ticket ignored his running mate — why trust a stranger? “Hack” is too strong a word, for if we dismiss most of the vice presidents in our history as hacks then what else would you call James Monroe, Benjamin Harrison, and George H.W. Bush? Before the mid twentieth century only Martin Van Buren worked as his president’s most trusted counselor and official successor. The exceptions, those consulted on policy matters, don’t even get a mention: Garret Hobart, Calvin Coolidge (who actually sat in Cabinet meetings), perhaps crusty old John Adams himself. The Cold War and the cluelessness with which Harry Truman ascended to the presidency have strengthened the political positions of modern vice presidents, but as late as 1963 LBJ was complaining about what little there was to do; hell, vice presidents didn’t even get their own White House offices until Walter Mondale in 1977. Some presidents expect vice presidents to be coarse irritants: look at the career of Governor Spiro Agnew, Nixon’s running mate after insulting civil rights workers in Maryland and who after the election was the dummy for William Safire’s logorrhea.

In an office occupied by eminences like George Dallas, Charles Fairbanks, and Charles Dawes (who, portending his future, at least wrote “It’s All in the Game,”), it makes sense for Mike Pence to affect a demeanor somewhere between the greeter in a funeral parlor and gizzards left in the sun. A mediocre and dangerous governor of Indiana whom legislature was already treating with contempt before James Comey got frisky about Clinton indictment double talk, Pence repeats himself so much because he doesn’t know very many words; he knows words cohere into sentences, but sentences are troublesome. More troublesome is believing he’s innocent or a dupe. Josh Marshall:

It is fair to say that Pence probably wasn’t the active manager of the Transition process. But it’s probably fair to say that nothing would be more important to the transition process than learning that the President’s top foreign policy advisor was being investigated for being in the pay of a foreign power. Like, almost literally nothing. If he never learned about something that serious, he either made sure not to hear or had information kept from him by others. A similar pattern emerges with Flynn’s assurances about his calls with Russian Ambassador Kislyak: Pence’s public statements turn out to be false and it’s excused with the claim that he was left in the dark. There are many other examples.

The only way this seems plausible to me is if Pence were somehow so clean, so far from the center of the action, that the Trump crew knew not to tell Pence these things. That clearly seems to be the story Pence’s aides are trying to tell – possibly to insulate him from Trump’s ubiquitous corruption and lying and allow a smooth transition to a Pence presidency.

In early 1987, the American electorate was forced to choose between believing in Ronald Reagan’s culpability or in Ronald Reagan’s stupidity while tabling the question about the president being both culpable and stupid. With Mike Pence we’ve reached that point.

Unlike many liberal buddies, I don’t fear him. Should he become president, he will sign the horrors that Paul Ryan and Mike Lee and Mitch McConnell bring before his desk. This assumes, however, that his fractious party would be in any condition to pass legislation in 2018 or 2019. Without Trump at his side, Pence is a credulous non-entity, of no use to the rest of the country. He probably bores his wife. His deepest reading before becoming vice president was laundry bills — excellent preparation for the vice presidency.

A note on James Comey, lucky bastard

And the administration isn’t six months old.

If I remain skeptical about GOP panic, look to the numbers. The GOP’s got them. To advance articles of impeachment, an impressive wave of voter disgust would have to decimate the Republican’s House majority next year. Losses in the special elections in Georgia and Montana might contribute to the psy ops. And the GOP would have to join Senate Democrats, where a trial would take place. Congress was headed in this direction in the summer of 1974 until a delegation of the president’s own party led by Barry Goldwater and Senate majority leader Hugh Scott informed Richard Nixon that he had lost what remained of his GOP support (I’ll note also that Nixon’s relations with Congress were as dismal as Trump’s; American autocrats sooner or later need Congress).

The other thing to note, again, is that Mike Pence may have assuaged evangelicals, but the GOP didn’t keep the Senate or win the White House because districts in western Pennsylvania wanted Pence’s indispensable nodding. In the extraordinary chance that Trump resigns or is impeached, it’s likelier that Pence would sign horrible GOP legislation that will kill people, but this assumes, first, that the GOP wouldn’t be rubble and, secondly, that Pence wouldn’t lose the bloc of voters for whom Donald J. Trump is Ronald Reagan as Michael Jackson in 1983. A Pence-led ticket in 2020 would lose: not only is he as charismatic as a gizzards left in the sun, but should he sign the deadly legislation the Dems would have a stackful of campaign ads ready. This presumes Democratic organization mirroring the blocs behind the anti-Bush grass roots of 2006 and Barack Obama in 2008, of course. Never overestimate the Democrats’ chances.

Finally, I’m in no hurry to read Comey’s memos. Whatever else, the man demonstrates why he’s survived in DC: keep teasing.

Pence + Prince

In The Intercept, Jeremy Scahill’s profile of Vice President-Elect Mike Pence depicts a repugnant little ideologue: “a reliable stalwart throughout his public life in the cause of Christian jihad — never wavering in his commitment to America-First militarism, the criminalizing of abortion, and utter hatred for gay people (unless they go into conversion therapy “to change their sexual behavior,” which Pence has suggested the government pay for).” I can’t do better than this description, nor should you fail to read the story for its invaluable hyperlinks, many of which we’ll see we hope-shorn liberals post on social media in the coming months.

But the real gold is in the second half of the story. The writer of the definitive book on how the Department of Defense and national security apparatus leased its war-waging powers to a private army, Scahill explains the connections between Pence and former Blackwater chief Eric Prince:

The Princes consistently poured money into criminalizing abortion, privatizing education, blocking gay rights, and other right-wing causes centered around their interpretation of Christianity. The family, especially Erik, was very close to Richard Nixon’s “hatchet man,” Watergate conspirator Charles “Chuck” Colson. The author of Nixon’s enemies list, Colson was the first person sentenced in the Watergate scandal, after pleading guilty to obstruction of justice in the investigation of the dirty tricks campaign against Daniel Ellsberg, the whistleblower who leaked the Pentagon Papers during the Vietnam War. Colson became a born-again Christian before going to prison, and after his release, he started the Prison Fellowship, which sought to convert prisoners to Christianity to counter what Colson saw as the Islamic menace in U.S. prisons. Erik Prince funded this as well and went on prison visits with Colson.

All of these figures, bankrolled by the Prince family, are the ideological and theological ascendants of Mike Pence, who called Colson “a dear friend and mentor.” Colson and his allies viewed the administration of Bill Clinton as a secular “regime” and openly contemplated a faith-based revolution. In the early ’90s, Colson teamed up with conservative evangelical minister-turned-Catholic priest Richard Neuhaus and others to build a unified movement

Now, when I got to the end of Scahill’s story I remembered the curt dismissal of Jason Robards’ Ben Bradlee in All The President’s Men: “You haven’t got it.” Pence may yet pull the trick that got New Jersey’s bosses to regret their decision to endorse Woodrow Wilson for governor: “We bought the son of a bitch, and then he didn’t stay bought.” Anyone hoping for the president-elect as a mitigator forgets that he hasn’t read any long book, much less the Bible.

Worse than the George W. Bush administration, a Trump White House will allow these Christian charlatans and their congressional collaborators untrammeled access to the public treasury until the idea of “public” loses its meaning.