Mike Pence – The Adult in the Room?

Mike Pence is our Vice President-elect and a key player in President Trump’s transition team. Both directly and indirectly, Pence will have a good deal of influence over US policies for the next four years. I did not know much about Pence except that he was a former congressman and governor, and a member of the religious right. I assumed he was one of the few responsible adults currently in the Trump administration. But I recently came across evidence that suggests otherwise.

 Fortune magazine published an article about Pence after Trump selected him for VP (here). Fortune is a business magazine, and a conservative one. But the article was quite negative. Some of this is a reaction to his religious convictions:

“Pence had received widespread coverage for signing a controversial ‘religious freedom’ bill last year that many critics said amounted to a hall pass for business owners to discriminate against LGBT customers. He also inspired the wrath of women’s health advocates after approving a law requiring abortion providers to bury or cremate aborted fetal tissue and banning abortions spurred by ‘fetal abnormalities’ such as Down syndrome.”

But at least one position was completely off the wall. In 2001, when Pence was a congressman debating FDA requirements, he said “the public health arguments against tobacco use were downright false. ‘Time for a quick reality check,’ wrote Pence. ‘Despite the hysteria from the political class and the media, smoking doesn’t kill.’”

This is not a matter of religious doctrine. And it contradicts an enormous amount of evidence that smoking has killed millions by causing cancers and by contributing to other diseases. This is beyond all reasonable doubt. The problem is, when you choose faith over facts, you enter a slippery slope towards all sorts of unreasonable and potentially harmful nonsense.

A couple other positions mentioned in Fortune:

  • “Global warming is a myth. The global warming treaty is a disaster.”
  • “Do I believe in evolution? I embrace the view that God created the heavens and the Earth, the seas and all that’s in them.”

These are hardly the positions of a responsible adult making decisions that will affect millions of Americans and billions of non-Americans.

A more polemic article appeared in a humanist publication (here). It included two particularly damaging pieces of evidence. When Pence was governor of Indiana in 2015, there was an HIV epidemic in a rural district of his state. “Governor Pence refused to allow a clean needle exchange, despite desperate pleas from local, state and federal health officials urging the governor to allow clean needles to be distributed to slow the outbreak.” This is incredibly irresponsible.

Also – “In an interview with CNN, while advocating for abstinence only sex education, Pence said that condoms are too ‘modern,’ too ‘liberal,’ and offer a poor defense against sexually transmitted infections and diseases.”

This goes well beyond the usual religious right, far into wingnut territory. I don’t think these are positions that Trump will support, but he was obviously willing to choose the man who took them. Trump is not overly constrained by the facts or by expert judgment. There are considerable risks.