Pence swings hard at Biden on economy and unrest but sidesteps racial justice

Vice President Mike Pence made an aggressive and cutting case for why Americans should vote for President Trump in November, saying that Democratic nominee Joe Biden would not be able to rebuild the economy as effectively and that Americans would be less safe if Trump loses.

“Our economic recovery is on the ballot,” Pence said in the final speech of the third night of the 2020 Republican convention. “Law and order is on the ballot.”

The vice president spoke from Fort McHenry in Baltimore, the place that inspired the creation of the national anthem — “The Star Spangled Banner” — during the War of 1812.

Pence relied on rhetoric that cast the economy under President Barack Obama and Biden, then his vice president, as “the slowest economic recovery since the Great Depression.” The economic recession in 2008 and 2009, however, was the greatest downturn since the Great Depression.

And while economic growth proceeded steadily, albeit sometimes slowly, under Obama and Biden, GDP growth in the U.S. during Trump’s first three years was about the same as the last three years of Obama’s presidency.

Jared Bernstein, a former economic adviser in the Obama White House to Biden, said on Twitter that Obama and Biden “inherited a recession & turned it around” while “Trump inherited a recovery &, unable to manage the virus, snuffed it out.”

Vice President Mike Pence speaks at the virtual Republican National Convention on August 26, 2020. (via Reuters TV
Vice President Mike Pence speaks at the Republican National Convention on Wednesday. (via Reuters TV)

It was an uncomfortable fact in Pence’s speech that rather than making the case that he and Trump deserve to be reelected because of a strong economy, he had to argue instead that he and Trump will “rebuild this economy” better than Biden and his running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris.

That is, of course, because COVID-19 and the ensuing lockdowns on commercial activity crushed the U.S. economy in 2020, and Trump’s handling of the virus is under the microscope.

Pence blamed China for not doing more to stop the spread of the virus, and he said that Trump’s suspension of travel from China “saved an untold number of American lives.” Over 179,000 Americans have died this year from COVID-19, and the government’s failure to ramp up a robust testing regime in the early days of the virus made it harder to contain.

“We’re finding our way forward again,” Pence said. “But tonight, our hearts are with all the families who have lost loved ones or have family members still struggling with serious illness.”

Yet a former top official at the Department of Homeland Security, Elizabeth Neumann, spoke out Wednesday, saying Trump had disregarded pandemic readiness plans for nearly two months, from January to March, “because he didn't want the economy to tank, and he didn't want a distraction from his campaign.”

Pence’s speech shifted away from COVID-19 to focus on protests and unrest in American cities, which continued as he spoke on Wednesday night. The protests began in late May in response to the police killing of George Floyd and have focused on systemic racial inequities in policing and other areas of American society.

Since the shooting of Jacob Blake on Sunday in Kenosha, Wis., protesters have filled the streets, but there has also been significant property damage from fires and looting.

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers has called in the National Guard, and late on Tuesday night a man with a rifle allegedly shot and killed two people on a crowded street in the midst of the protests, injuring at least one other person. Police arrested a 17-year old man in connection with the shooting, and he has been charged with homicide.

Pence did not say anything about the repeated instances of Black men and women who have died or have been seriously injured this year by police violence, even as NBA players boycotted playoff games on Wednesday to protest the shooting of Blake and Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James was reportedly pushing for the league’s players to sit out the rest of the season to call attention to police brutality.

In fact, Pence ridiculed Biden for having said that systemic racism is a problem in America “and that law enforcement in America has a, quote, ‘implicit bias’ against minorities.” There is significant evidence that such bias against Black men in particular does exist in America’s criminal justice system.

Pence’s only mention of protesters was to say that he and Trump “will always support the right of Americans to peaceful protest, but rioting and looting is not peaceful protest.”

Pence sought to condemn Biden for failing to speak out about violence, but his comments had the feel of having been amended late in the day to account for the fact that on Wednesday afternoon Biden issued a video statement urging protesters to be peaceful. Biden also condemned the police shooting of Blake, a 29-year old Black man who has been paralyzed from the waist down, according to his family.

Pence’s criticism of Biden was that Biden didn’t say anything about unrest in American cities “last week” during the Democratic National Convention. But while clashes between protesters and law enforcement have been fairly steady in Portland for several months, and cities like Chicago have endured violence and looting, the issue of protests had ebbed somewhat until the Blake shooting last weekend.

Nevertheless, Pence struck a martial tone. “We will have law and order on the streets of this country,” he said, claiming that Americans “won’t be safe in Joe Biden’s America.” That’s a line taken directly from a Trump campaign TV ad.

Pence repeated the false claim, often made by Trump, that Biden wants to cut police funding. Biden, however, has repeatedly rejected the “Defund the Police” slogan and has said he wants to increase federal funding for the COPS (Community Oriented Policing Services) program by $300 million. Biden expressed a willingness to “redirect” police funding to other police services in one interview earlier this summer, but his campaign has said he would not shift any federal funding away from police but would support local government funds being increased for non-police services.

However, Pence said that on many policy issues Biden will be “nothing more than a Trojan horse for the radical left” and that Democrats stand for “government control” while Republicans represent “freedom.”

The vice president has always made conservative Christianity a centerpiece of his political identity, and on Wednesday he made repeated overtures to evangelical Christians. At the end of his speech, he mixed passages of Scripture with references to the American flag.

“Let’s run the race marked out for us,” Pence said, quoting from the book of Hebrews, Chapter 12, which says, “Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.”

Pence quoted the second portion of the verse but replaced Jesus with the American flag. “Let’s fix our eyes on Old Glory and all she represents,” he said.


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