The vice presidential debate Wednesday night wasn’t a train wreck like the Sept. 29 presidential debate.
Republican Vice President Mike Pence and Democratic challenger Kamala Harris refrained from name-calling, seldom interrupted each other and generally played by the rules.
While each candidate — Pence in particular — often prattled on for 15 seconds or so after their response period ended, they avoided embarrassing the country as President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden had in their ugly, contentious Sept. 29 debate.
But voters listening closely Wednesday to the vice presidential candidates for substantive arguments about policies and proposals were waylaid by consistent disagreement over the facts.
At least twice, Vice President Mike Pence reminded Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris that “you’re entitled to your own opinion but not your own facts.”
When Pence was speaking, Harris wagged her head, waiting for her turn to accuse the vice president of distorting or altogether ignoring the truth.
For some viewers, seeing the stark differences in personality, comportment and political philosophy of Harris and Pence might have been enough. But many of us wanted to hear the candidates actually debate policy.
Unfortunately, the truth — or lack thereof — kept getting in the way.
So what’s a voter to believe?
Fortunately, nonpartisan, nonprofit fact-checking services that monitor candidates and campaigns assessed the vice presidential debate.
One of those services, FactCheck.org identified 14 instances in which Pence said something false or misleading and four instances in which Harris did so. Another website, Politifact.com, found Harris had made one false statement, four statements that needed context and one half-true statement, and that Pence had made three false statements, seven misleading statements and three that needed additional context.
Here’s a sampling of the false/misleading statements noted by FactCheck:
• Harris said Trump’s tax law benefited “the top 1% and the biggest corporations.” The truth: Most Americans received a tax cut.
• Pence said Biden “is going to raise your taxes.” The truth: The former vice president’s plan would raise taxes for only those earning more than $400,000 a year.
• Harris said that there would “be no more protection … for people with preexisting conditions” if the Supreme Court overturns the Affordable Care Act. The truth: Most protections would remain for people with employer-sponsored health plans.
• Pence claimed that Trump had saved 50 million jobs, in reference to the $2 trillion coronavirus relief package that passed 96-0 in the Senate with sweeping bipartisan support in March. The truth: A university expert estimates that, at most, 7 million jobs were preserved.
• Harris claimed that the president’s trade war with China had cost 300,000 manufacturing jobs. The truth: The U.S. gained 146,000 factory jobs over 18 months after the tariffs were imposed.
• Pence claimed that the U.S. “has reduced CO2 more than the countries that are still in the Paris climate accord.” The truth: Many nations participating in the accord have achieved a larger percentage reduction in emissions.
As you can see, both vice presidential candidates played fast and loose with the truth Wednesday night.
Yes, their debate was a vast improvement over the meaningless chaos of the Sept. 29 presidential debate. But what Americans need now — as always — is a presidential team that can be counted on not only to behave with civility but to speak the truth.