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Vice President Mike Pence (right) speaks as Sen. Kamala Harris, Democratic vice presidential nominee (left), listens during the vice presidential debate at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City on Wednesday.

I think we can all agree that the vice presidential debate was much better than the presidential debate.

While Vice President Mike Pence and Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., disagreed, for the most part, it was a cordial debate in which both sides were polite. That is more than can be said about the presidential debate. When sensitive topics such as the loss of human rights activist Kayla Mueller arose, both candidates were respectful.

It was clear both candidates had talking points they were going to get regardless of whether they’d been asked. Sometimes, the moderator’s question seemed like only a suggestion as to what they would talk about.

One thing is abundantly clear: Getting the job as moderator must mean you drew the short straw. Why should there be a moderator if no one listens to them? Susan Page had a little more luck with the vice presidential candidates than Chris Wallace had with the presidential one, but there were still moments the moderator also seemed like a suggestion.

The starter for the night was the topic at the forefront of most Americans’ minds: the coronavirus. Not only is it a pressing topic, but with President Donald Trump infected with COVID-19, it was something that had to be discussed.

Out of the gate, Harris went on the offensive. She said the Trump administration seriously mishandled the situation and treated the American people as expendable. A pattern started with the first question (to both Harris and Pence): They did not answer questions until the end of the allotted time and then answered only briefly. More time was spent criticizing the opponent than explaining what the respective administrations were going to do.

As head of the coronavirus task force, Pence should be one of the top authorities on the subject, but he leaned heavily on one thing: a coming vaccine. The Trump administration seems overly optimistic about a vaccine. When Harris said she would take the vaccine if doctors said it was OK but not if Trump did, I thought the majority of the American people would agree. Many people with whom I have discussed the topic have said they would not get the vaccine immediately. Rushing a vaccine makes people wary. I am interested to see if once the vaccine is released, enough people take it at first to make a difference.

The Trump administration cites guidelines but does not follow them. A classic “do as I say and not as I do” situation. Pence argued that the American people must sacrifice in order for the country to be operational and the president cannot simply stop his presidential duties. I agree, but Trump still should have taken more precautions than he did. He is showing a brave face now seeking to ease the minds of the American people (something I do find to be a show of leadership), but if Trump had not blatantly disregarded precautions and rules, then we would not even have to discuss this.

One point that Pence brought up that I thought was valid was the 2009 swine flu. That outbreak also was mishandled, but the disease happened to be more forgiving than the one we are facing now. I believe Trump has mismanaged the outbreak, but I recognize this virus is more grueling.

Neither Harris nor Pence answered what would happen if Biden and Trump were unable to carry out their duties. Harris brought up the contradictions in official reports on Trump’s health, which is also something the American people noticed.

Job losses and the economy were also a debate topic. Harris said the Biden administration would lower taxes and put more money into the country. Pence said the Biden administration would raise taxes, which Harris did not explicitly state. This back-and-forth only accomplished confusion. It comes down to whom you trust more.

Both candidates claimed their administrations care about the environment. Pence said our land and air is some of the cleanest in the world and what the Biden administration is proposing would kill the economy. He also said Biden would ban fracking. Harris said, “Joe Biden will not ban fracking.”

This segued into the conversation about China and foreign relations. Pence blamed China for the coronavirus and the mishandling of related issues. Harris brought up Russia and Trump’s conversations with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Harris also brought up the subject of Russian bounties on U.S. troops. Pence did not refute that claim.

Both candidates held firm to partisan positions on the open Supreme Court seat. Pence said he believes Democrats want to pack the court and Trump’s nominee, Judge Amy Coney Barrett, is being persecuted for her faith. The Trump administration is missing the point of concern regarding Barrett. It’s that Barrett will be unable to separate church and state. To say she is being attacked for her religion seems like a way to excuse any ruling she makes based off her religious bias.

Police reform was another topic. Pence said he has faith in the judicial system. That is a cop-out. It also ignores the fact that our judicial system has many flaws.

Responding to Trump not agreeing to peacefully transfer power, Pence said he believes they will win the election. This seems like a proud assumption and does not answer the question.

The last question given to the candidates summed up how a lot of Americans are feeling. We are feeling the divide. A civil civil war, if you will. Families and friends divided over politics in a way that is somewhat surreal. Politics, something that used to be taboo to merely mention, are now something that seem to infiltrate every conversation. Both sides claim to fight for what is right and just. Both sides claim this is a fight for America’s soul and that their party is the solution.

The answer from Pence was optimistic: “We love a good argument but we always come together and are here for each other.” Harris described Biden as a unifier and a bipartisan leader. Harris also stressed the importance of voting.

We learned much more from this debate. Thank goodness, it was watchable.

A debate is when opposing views are argued. Harris did a better job of this. Both sides clearly had points they wanted to get across, whether they were relevant. Many Americans thought Harris had an edge because of her background as a prosecutor. It served her well and she did win the debate. Both sides did a good job, outstanding compared to the presidential debate.

I am interested to watch the upcoming second presidential debate and can only hope that it is better than the last one (although it would not take much to be so).

FlipSide is the Charleston Gazette-Mail’s teen publication. You can read more stories at

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