Mike Pence: Safe and Conventional?

mike pence

Mike Pence

I have spent quite a bit of ink writing about Donald Trump. I think it is time that I devote some space to his running mate, Mike Pence. Some people I have talked with say that while they do not like Trump and his ideas, Mike Pence is viewed as not as bizarre as Trump, and a “safe” and “conventional” choice that will help rally the Republican establishment to Trump. But his actual record is far more extreme and controversial than most people think.

Members of the Council for National Policy – a powerful conservative organization – met in Cleveland before the Republican Convention to discuss policy and political strategy. Texas Senator Ted Cruz, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus were among the speakers expected to address the gathering. But a buzzing topic among attendees was who will Trump choose as his running mate and there seemed to be a divide about who it should be. “Mike Pence would be fabulous,” as Trump’s running mate, said one attendee, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “He walks with us. He talks with us. He is one of us.”

When Trump announced that he picked Indiana Governor Mike Pence as his running mate, many people already knew about Pence’s bigotry. Pence has openly fought against gay rights and women’s rights. However, he is not just a bigot, he has some extremely anti-science beliefs that make the Trump/Pence 2016 Ticket dangerous bigoted anti-science combination.

For starters, Mike Pence does not believe in evolution, thinks smoking does not kill, would like creationism taught in public schools, and does not think scientists agree that climate change is happening.

We will learn a lot more about Donald Trump’s newly minted running mate in the coming days, weeks and months, but the Indiana governor is already on record as sharing some of the most easily refuted claims of the GOP’s anti-science wing. Some of his more remarkable lines come from a 2009 interview with Chris Matthews, the bombastic host of MSNBC’s Hardball with Chris Matthews. Others are taken from previous statements made during his campaigns for Congress, or other interviews he has done over the years.

Pence: “God created the heavens and the Earth, the seas and all that’s in them.”

In this interview, Pence defended creationism and gave non-answers to whether he actually supports evolution.

To be fair, Pence does not outright say evolution is false; he just repeats that he believes God created the Earth. Chris Matthews presses him on what he means by this, but Pence demurs:

MATTHEWS: You want to educate the American people about science and its relevance today. Do you believe in evolution, sir?

PENCE: I – 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.

MATTHEWS: Right. But do you believe in evolution as the way he did it?

PENCE: The means, Chris, that he used to do that, I can’t say. But I do believe in that fundamental truth.

A few minutes later, Matthews suggests that Pence himself accepts evolution but, cynically, won’t admit it:

MATTHEWS: I think you believe in evolution but you‘re afraid to say so because your conservative constituency might find that offensive.

PENCE: No, I‘ve said to you, Chris, I believe with all my heart that God created the heavens and the earth, the seas and all that is in them.


PENCE: How he did that, I’ll ask him about some day.

What is the scientific account? The generally accepted scientific narrative goes something like this: The Earth coalesced from rocks and other material that were left over after the formation of the sun, which itself formed 4.5 billion years ago from a collapsing cloud of cold gas. Earth was bombarded by other rocks for another billion years or so, some of which might have delivered water and ingredients that life is known to use. At some point, complex molecules kindled life, which took another few billion years to evolve from bacteria to algae to dinosaurs, to mammals and to us. It is simple!

Pence: “I think the science is very mixed on the subject of global warming.”

So Trump believes that global warming is a hoax invented by the Chinese and his running mate says the science is “mixed” on the issue.

Sorry, but both are wrong. Pence’s answer is sadly a bit of an upgrade, but it is still a terrible answer. There is a strong scientific consensus that  the climate is changing. In June of this year, members of the scientific community, including the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Chemical Society, the American Geophysical Union, the American Institute of Biological Sciences, the American Meteorological Society, the American Public Health Association, the American Society of Agronomy, the American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists, and the American Society of Naturalists wrote the following: Dear Members of Congress,

We, as leaders of major scientific organizations, write to remind you of the consensus scientific view of climate change.

Observations throughout the world make it clear that climate change is occurring, and rigorous scientific research concludes that the greenhouse gases emitted by human activities are the primary driver. This conclusion is based on multiple independent lines of evidence and the vast body of peer-reviewed science.

There is strong evidence that ongoing climate change is having broad negative impacts on society, including the global economy, natural resources, and human health. For the United States, climate change impacts include greater threats of extreme weather events, sea level rise, and increased risk of regional water scarcity, heat waves, wildfires, and the disturbance of biological systems. The severity of climate change impacts is increasing and is expected to increase substantially in the coming decades.

To reduce the risk of the most severe impacts of climate change, greenhouse gas emissions must be substantially reduced. In addition, adaptation is necessary to address unavoidable consequences for human health and safety, food security, water availability, and national security, among others.

We, in the scientific community, are prepared to work with you on the scientific issues important to your deliberations as you seek to address the challenges of our changing climate.

Pence: “Smoking doesn’t kill.”

Over his political career Governor Mike Pence has consistently carried the tobacco industry’s water, denying the dangers of cigarettes, opposing government regulation, and slashing smoking cessation efforts. In return, they rewarded him with more than $100,000 in campaign donations.

Pence’s position is rather bizarre. He seriously thinks that the science that linked smoking to lung cancer is part of a conspiracy. Wow.

The World Health Organization says tobacco products kill half of the people who use them.

In one of the statements Pence penned for his Congressional campaigns, he says “Despite the hysteria from the political class and the media, smoking doesn’t kill.”

In fairness, he does go on to say that “smoking is not good for you,” but that the relevant question is that over-protective governmental politics are more harmful than second-hand smoke. That is simply untrue. Of the six million people tobacco kills each year worldwide, five million die from direct tobacco use, and about 600,000 die from secondhand smoke exposure, the World Health Organization says.

As a member of Congress in 2009, Pence voted against the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, which allowed the FDA to regulate tobacco products. (I will just reiterate here that it took until 2009 for the FDA to regulate tobacco products.) And I mean, that is fine; Republicans and Democrats can disagree on the role of government and vote against laws written by their fellow humans. But saying smoking does not kill is a ridiculous disagreement about reality versus fiction.

Smoking does kill. In fact, this may be a good time for a news flash à la Mike Pence: Smoking kills 480,000 every year in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. It does so by causing lung cancer, cardiovascular disease, and other fun stuff. But hey. Pence did write the “smoking doesn’t kill” piece long before teaming up with Trump, but the complete disregard for truth and off-the-wall statements do pair nicely with the campaign Trump is running so far. This new phase of the 2016 race promises to be just as bizarre as ever.

Pence: “I think in our schools we should teach all of the facts about all of these controversial areas, and let our students, let our children and our children’s children decide based upon the facts and the science.”

Pence is totally on board with “teaching the controversy” in schools. No, it is not just enough for him to not support evolution, he wants to promote such anti-science positions in our schools.

This line comes during a discussion of creationism, again in that Hardball with Chris Matthews interview:

PENCE: Science is an exploration of demonstrable fact, isn‘t it?

MATTHEWS: Right. Right.

PENCE: I think, in our schools, we should teach all of the facts about all of these controversial areas and let our students, let our children and our children‘s children decide based upon the facts and the science.

This is a popular argument of the intelligent design and young-Earth creationism community: “Teach the controversy.” But one good reason not to teach creationism as a “theory” is that it cannot be tested. Evolution, or more to the point, natural selection, has survived scientific tests for more than a century. As a theory of life, it has only grown stronger. If adherents to creationism reject the findings of geology and physics, for instance, which help us understand the age of the Earth, then how can we have a data-based, evidence-grounded discussion of creationism over natural selection?

Pence: “Abortion-inducing drugs can be very dangerous.”

Not only is Pence against a woman’s right to choose, he backs up his position with pseudo-science. Scientists have shown that abortion-inducing drugs are not dangerous. This is a myth supported by those who desperately want to cling on to their anti-abortion positions.

This statement was in reference to a bill he signed as governor in 2013, which imposed new restrictions on abortion clinics – the same type of restrictions the United States Supreme Court smacked down recently. But the claim, like the ones made in Texas and other states, is not based on science. In Indiana, the abortion pill in question was mifepristone, which has been in use in this country for fifteen years and around the globe for thirty-five years. The drug works by suppressing progesterone, which the body needs to sustain a pregnancy. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends it. And it is not just for women seeking abortions: It is also used to treat an incomplete miscarriage.

Pence signed a more recent abortion-restriction bill this spring, this one to ban abortions by women seeking them because the fetus has a genetic abnormality.

Since Pence has described himself as “a Christian, a conservative and a Republican, in that order,” and as “a born-again, evangelical Catholic,” I suspect that his religious faith has something to do with his answers.

So there you have it – the bizarre beliefs of Mike Pence, who could become the next Vice-President of the United States and a heart-beat away from the presidency if Donald Trump is successful. There is more, much more, but the above should be sufficient to make a  judgment on Pence’s positions.

For me, Pence is neither safe or conventional – and certainly has beliefs as bizarre as Donald Trump. They are a good “dog and pony show” together.

Now that Pence is the pick, the media vetting has begun, and we will surely learn much more about his thoughts on science and other subjects. But it is worth noting that the claims above are unique, both in their easy, immediate refutability and in their anti-science conservative worldview.

To be fair, other science-related statements from Pence strike a more moderate tone. They almost suggest that as the president of the Senate, and the person next in line as commander-in-chief, he would, at the very least, pay lip service to the scientific process.

In his interview with Chris Matthews, Pence dropped a couple defenses of science that one does not often hear from Republicans, and which he and others would do well to remember. In the discussion of creationism, he said that “science is an exploration of demonstrable fact” – that is actually a pretty good definition. And, he says, “I accept the scientific method.”

So at least there is that. It is not much, but at least it is something.









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