By MARSHA MERCER
Former Vice President Mike Pence’s speech at the University of Virginia Tuesday night was more like a hamburger than raw meat.
His remarks were as friendly and unfussy as a fast-food burger with a smear of spicy mustard. He was respectful, approachable -- “You can call me Mike” – and traditionally conservative.
His audience was polite and attentive as Pence boldly allied himself with the Constitution, Thomas Jefferson, his Christian faith, freedom, liberty, mom and apple pie. OK, he didn’t mention pie, though he did say he’s been married to a schoolteacher for 36 years, they have three kids and “the highest title I will ever hold is spelled D-A-D.”
Serving as vice president was “the greatest honor of my life,” he said, and he bragged on the last administration’s record. Never once did he mention Jan. 6, 2021, the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, or the protesters that shouted, “Hang Mike Pence” as he and members of Congress hid.
Pence’s theme was “How to Save America from the Woke Left,” so, of course, he declared “Wokeness is running amok in our public schools and universities” and critical race theory is “nothing more than state-sanctioned racism.”
He blamed the Biden-Harris administration for crime, high inflation, the worst border crisis in American history and a “tidal wave of left-wing policies that threaten to wipe out all the progress we made in four short years.”
His prescription was for young people to join the fight for liberty, but when a student asked if he would run for president in 2024, Pence said, “I will keep you posted.”
Republicans are waiting for Trump to actually say whether he’s running again. In any case, he ruled out Pence as his running mate.
Democrats are waiting too, although President Joe Biden said last year he will run with Vice President Kamala Harris as his running mate.
“Rush Limbaugh on decaf,” as Pence describes himself as a talk radio show host in the 1990s, may be the least scary of the GOP politicians who may compete for the White House in the election 200-plus days away.
This not a high bar in a Republican field that includes Senators Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Ted Cruz of Texas and Josh Hawley of Missouri as well as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Pence is on a speaking tour of universities sponsored by Young America’s Foundation, a conservative organization. His views on marriage, trans and gender issues have made him persona non grata to some and a hero to others.
In an editorial last month titled, “Dangerous Rhetoric is not Entitled to a Platform,” the editorial board of U.Va.’s student-run newspaper, The Cavalier Daily, warned Pence’s rhetoric “directly threatens the presence and lives of our community members,” including the LGBTQ community, and demanded the speech be called off.
In response, 17 professors, including political scientist Larry Sabato, wrote in a letter to the editor: “This speech-is-violence argument is not only wrong – no calls for violence will be issued April 12 – but also contradicts the letter and the spirit of the First Amendment, which generally creates space for a wide range of views to be expressed so long as the relevant speech does not incite violence.”
A handful of students protested outside Old Cabell Hall Tuesday, but in the auditorium, which was nearly full, everyone played nice. When a student asked Pence what he would do or say if one of his children came out to him as gay, he replied: “I’d look them in the eye and tell them, `I love you,’”
Then he told the student if they got to know each other, “You’d know the Pences love everybody.”
Love is an odd political strategy, to say the least. The recent Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearings for Ketanji Brown Jackson as an associate justice of the Supreme Court were viewed as an audition for the presidential campaign, and several likely GOP contenders bared their teeth in full, snarling mode.
Pence barks, but he wags more. He won praise for upholding the Constitution during the electoral vote count last year. He calls himself “a Christian, a conservative and a Republican,” in that order.
We’ll see if that’s enough to compete successfully against his party’s mean boys.
©2022 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.