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Updated: Nov 5, 2020

October 8, 2020

Last night, Kamala Harris used her teeth mostly for smiling

Illustration:Tony Puryear

I admit I was kind of hoping to see Kamala Harris splash a little blood on the Plexiglass divider last night in her debate with Mike Pence. Many of us were hoping for that.

Not for the drama — God knows, we have enough drama in the U.S. nowadays. Way, way too much, in fact, even for a country that invented reality TV. Even for a country that elected a reality TV star President instead of someone with a background in public service, a plan for the country, a policy track record, or even just a job history. And meanness, incivility, aggression —well, we have certainly had enough of all that these past four years.

No, I just wanted her to send a message to the Trump camp: Americans are sick of your lawlessness and lies. We’re calling you out.

But I think that's becoming clear, and the VP debate helped make it clearer. The most dire numbers are appearing in the polls now — even Rasmussen, Trump’s favorite pollster, had him trailing Biden by a hefty 12 points yesterday. CNN has him down by 16 points, “and that’s not the worst news,” according to a recent headline. The worst news is that almost everyone in America has made up their minds now. Indeed, more than 5 million people in early voting states have already cast their ballots.

We all watched Kamala methodically take down Bill Barr last May when he testified at a Senate hearing following the release of the Mueller Report (or as I like to call it, the Mush Report). That clip has been re-played on air dozens, if not hundreds, of times since then, giving a thrill to every citizen who believes the head of the U.S. Justice Department really ought to, y’know, tell the truth. Especially under oath.

Bill Day, political

But we didn’t get that Kamala last night. Pitted against a clammy-looking, evasive Mike Pence (on whose head a fly landed, and clung for almost two minutes: most people’s favorite part of the debate!) ...

… she performed well but without the bite we all remember from Barr’s hearing. Yes, it was the VP debate, the one and only in an election season, but last night was really about the campaign momentum going.

So she was gracious, charming, and well-spoken. She made her points succinctly and used her time well. She tried to follow the rules of engagement, unlike Pence who continually interrupted and exceeded his allotted speaking time. She smiled a lot, even when he uttered preposterous statements (“From the very first day, President Donald Trump has put the health of America first”) and kept her claws sheathed.

She was precise, she was direct, and she demonstrated impressive self-control when Pence lied, which was often. Constantly talking over her, he was patronizing and arrogant while continuing to display his trademark flat affect, shaking his head disgustedly from time to time, as if she were a college student asking for an extension on her term paper.

But over here in Leftville, we barely notice insults of that magnitude (minitude?) anymore, toughened as we’ve become to displays like Trump’s screaming debate performance last week, during which he nearly caught on fire.

The truth was, she didn’t need to attack him. Her very first sentence summed up her position, as well as the entire context of this debate, which was the Trump-Pence handling of the pandemic: "The American people have witnessed what is the greatest failure of any presidential administration in the history of our country.”

Can’t get clearer than that.

Photo credit: Justin Sullivan/AFP/Getty Images

The fact that the candidates were seated 12 feet apart with sheets of plexiglass between them — the fact that Trump was watching from the White House TV while suffering from COVID — the fact that every member of the scant studio audience was wearing a mask, and had been warned they would be escorted off the premises if they removed it — said it all for her.

And for us.

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