I have taken to calling him Matador Mike, a left-handed and left-angled compliment that is a compliment all the same. I bestow it in recognition of a showman of adroit gesture and facial expression who flourishes the red cape and never fails to sidestep the answering horns.
Other politicians, even career-obsessed ones, might assume some risk and even take a wound or two from the sharp feelings their words and decisions ignite, but Mike Pence has steered wide and moved on to the next matinee with a steady aplomb his peers can only envy.
In Congress, occupying a safe Republican seat he had claimed through name recognition as a right-wing talk show host, he did little of practical consequence; but he worked the hot-button levers—abortion, homosexuality, Israel—to the specifications of the evangelical Christian corner of the party that has to be paid homage in primaries.
That base covered, he also sang all week in the “No” choir on taxes and spending, a faction sufficiently small as not to scuttle the operation of a government that does need money—and needs men and women willing to pay the price of voting to pay the bills.
As governor, a job for which he campaigned with even more platitudes than Evan Bayh on his best day, Pence has had his spice cake and eaten it with seconds.
Same-sex marriage? Leave the rabble-rousing to the specialists. Address the most prominent anti-gay gathering, of course; but stress that your personal beliefs, even if they are an exact fit with God’s intentions, should not carry the day. Issue a clarion call instead to the will of the people, count on the Legislature to do the messy arranging, and rally us all to respectful Hoosier debate. Let’s keep our tempers, now, those of you who might object to having your love lives and child-rearing invalidated by propagandized strangers.
Education? Ah, more vouchers, of course, meaning more millions of public dollars taken out of the hide of the public schools. More advancement of privatization on behalf of the anti-urban, anti-union corporate “reform” forces, with those precious inner-city children trotted out as hostages to be rescued. Guess from whom.
Speaking of Democrats, how does a Mike Pence respond to their victory alongside his in the crucial election for state schools chief? Given a choice between graceful acceptance and sour grapes, the governor faked a bit of the former, made sure the faithful knew he felt the latter, then proceeded to let his surrogates on the Republican-dominated state board of education shamelessly sabotage Glenda Ritz—under that wide, wide umbrella of friendly debate. It’s all about the kids, don’t you see? Some of us presume the voters of Indiana thought so, too, but the Matador’s dexterity arranged a cloud of hoof dust around that little misstep.
Finally, health care for Indiana’s shamefully large poor population. Obamacare is a red flag Pence absolutely must wave if he is to have any presidential ticket hopes. Again, he hedges his cruel and irrational defiance by touting Indiana’s homegrown program, pirouetting around the fact that it covers one-tenth of the people who’d be helped by a federal plan that’s been adopted even by the most grudging red-state governors.
All this, of course, we can respectfully debate. To many of us, the show has been a lot of bull. To the Matador, we don’t matter. All he has heard so far when he bows ever so deep toward the grandstand is, “Olé!”•
Carpenter is a former Indianapolis Star columnist, a free-lance journalist and an author and writer of fiction and poetry. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.