Commentary: Pence leaves game — and dignity — behind

By John Krull
TheStatehouseFile.com 

INDIANAPOLIS – Vice President Mike Pence’s expensive and unseemly departure from the Indianapolis Colts game demonstrates there is only one job for which he will be qualified when he leaves the White House.

Ventriloquist’s dummy.

John Krull, publisher, TheStatehouseFile.com

Pence’s leave-taking was a shabby performance. It was a stunt, a prefabricated show of outrage that, if it were his idea, would reveal him as little more than a sideshow huckster.

But it wasn’t his idea.

Not satisfied with forcing his running mate to insult Hoosier hero Peyton Manning and the Colts in Pence’s home state – and burning significant tax dollars in the process – President Donald Trump couldn’t wait to tweet that the vice president had left because Trump told him to.

Embarrassment for Pence wasn’t enough. The Donald had to humiliate him, too.

This is sad and disappointing.

I’ve known Mike Pence for a long time. There are many things about which we do not agree. But I’ve always liked and respected him.

I also have known him to have a capacity for political courage.

Years ago, when he was in Congress and I was the executive director of what is now the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana, he came to speak at an event the ACLU hosted.

The very fact that he was speaking at an ACLU event wouldn’t have endeared Pence to his base. Nor would what he said that day.

He told the crowd that he opposed the infamous “sneak and peak” provisions – the ones that allowed government officials to conduct searches without warrants – in the USA Patriot Act the George W. Bush administration rammed through Congress during the panicked days following Sept. 11, 2001.

There were no votes for Pence in that room. The likelihood the average ACLU member, put off by Pence’s stances on social issues, would vote for him was non-existent.

He said what he said because he believed it, because he knew the Patriot Act violated the Fourth Amendment.

That’s one reason I’ve always felt sympathy for the man. Though he does not seem given to introspection or self-analysis, his impulses – the libertarian jousting with the theocrat – often seem to be at war within him.

I know Pence is smart enough to realize how trivial and wrong-headed this Trump-driven squabble with African-American athletes is.

What the president is advocating is that people should lose their jobs over their political beliefs.

Before the Trump amen crowd screams its affirmation of that idea, they probably ought to consider that, once set, that precedent can cut both or several ways.

What if they do or say something that a future Democratic or even more traditionally Republican president does not like? Should that be grounds for them to be fired? Is the entire American work force now supposed to be part of a giant spoils system?

The vice presidency is an inherently emasculating position.

To serve the leaders who select them, vice presidents must sublimate their own views, surrender their egos, tether their personal ambitions.

That is difficult enough to do when serving presidents who are generous and respectful of their subordinates. (Reagan, both Bushes and Obama come to mind.)

But it is almost impossible with a president whose impulses war not between libertarianism and theocracy but sadism and egomania.

President Lyndon Johnson was the cruelest president in my lifetime. An addict to power, he delighted in humbling his vice president, Hubert Humphrey. LBJ once said that the kind of loyalty he wanted from Humphrey would require the vice president to kiss his – I’m cleaning this up – posterior in a display window at Macy’s and swear that it smelled like roses.

If anything, Donald Trump is meaner.

He made a public show of first offering, then pondering withdrawing, the vice-presidential bid while Pence dangled during the summer of 2016. He’s kept him out of the loop when crucial decisions have been made.

And now this.

He’s forced his vice president to engage in a bit of low-rent political performance art in front of the people in his home state.

I know that there are people out there who have argued that Mike Pence took this job in the hopes that he and his moral center would rub off on Donald Trump.

The opposite seems to be happening.

And that’s sad.

John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism, host of “No Limits” WFYI 90.1 Indianapolis and publisher of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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