Rumor has it that G.O.P. Presidential candidate Donald Trump will pick Indiana Governor Mike Pence as his running mate. Maybe that will happen, and maybe it will not. Trump likes theatrics, so he may surprise us by picking someone we don’t expect!
But, while Mike Pence’s name is in the news, I want to share a story about the time that I met him.
The year was 1996. Mike Pence had not yet entered politics, but he hosted a local TV political show. I was an intern at a conservative Christian organization in Indiana, and my boss was going to appear on The Mike Pence Show. The topic of the episode would be the influence of the religious right on Republican politics.
Other guests would be on the show, as well. One was a liberal guest, who did not like being called a liberal. There was a political writer, whom I had met earlier at the Indiana Republican Convention. I had struck up a conversation with him because his column appeared in my small town’s newspaper, on the days when Charley Reese’s column was not there. He actually remembered me the second time that he saw me! And there was a Republican operative.
The political discussions before the show are what I remember most from that day. The liberal was saying that the reason that the federal government stepped in and started welfare programs was because the states were not sufficiently doing so. My boss asked if the welfare programs made things better, implying that they had not. The political writer expressed reservations about the platitude he heard that government should be run like a business, for he had bad experiences with businesses. And the Republican operative said that Richard Nixon was crazy all by himself!
This discussion would stay with me. What the liberal said about the states not sufficiently helping the poor was eye-opening to me, since I had assumed that letting the states handle things was the way to go: the states were closer to the problems and knew better what needed to be done, I figured, and it was better for power to be distributed among the states rather than for it to be concentrated in the federal government. The liberal’s argument was the first time that I heard a decent argument to the contrary. (Then again, I knew then that slavery and segregation were good arguments against states’ rights, but the liberal’s argument was the first time I heard a decent argument against leaving the poverty problem to the states.)
My boss’ response to the liberal’s argument seemed weak to me at the time, but, nowadays, I think that he was asking a good question: did the “solution” work? People can debate that when it comes to social welfare programs, but what my boss said remains poignant to me on account of the problems that Obamacare has had. What do we do when our choice is between no solution, which leaves problems unattended, and a bad solution?
On the show itself, the guests were talking about the influence of the religious right on Republican politics. The Republican operative asked “So what?” The liberal agreed, but said that people should be honest about it, and he compared it to big labor’s influence on Democratic politics. The political writer leaned in the direction of defending the religious right, even though he himself was not dogmatically conservative.
Where does Mike Pence come into all this? To be honest, I don’t remember much of what he said. I shook his hand, and he came across to me as a low-key guy, much like he does on TV today. He was not there throughout the pre-show conversation, but only a small part of it, when the make-up was being put on him. When his TV show started, he was much more animated, even more so than he is on TV today.
I’ve not met too many celebrities in my life, as far as I can remember, but I know people who have met celebrities. Mike Pence probably wouldn’t know me from Adam, were he to see me on the street! But it is interesting that I met him before he became a big-time politician, back when he had dark gray hair. Like I said, I don’t remember much of what Pence said, but I do remember the political conversation that day as something that challenged my beliefs, and that still challenges my beliefs.