As vice president-elect, Mike Pence and his family attended the musical “Hamilton” in New York City. After the performance, as the Pence family was leaving the theater, the cast saw fit to deliver a political lecture to the soon-to-be VP. Pence, a better man than me, halted and listened respectfully to the left-wing sermon. He told his family that this is what freedom looks like.
Yesterday, Vice President Pence attended a professional football game in his home state between the Indianapolis Colts and the San Francisco 49ers. He wanted to pay tribute to Peyton Manning, the great Colts quarterback, who was being honored. Pence is an avowed Colts fan and a longtime admirer of Manning. Even after Manning left the Colts for the Broncos, Pence once tweeted his best wishes to the QB before a Denver-New England game.
Thus, it was natural that Pence would want to attend the game at which Manning’s jersey would be retired.
However, when several 49er players took a knee during the National Anthem, Pence and his wife walked out of the stadium. He explained that he would not “dignify any event that disrespects our soldiers, our Flag, or our National Anthem.”
The distinctions between the two forms of expression to which Pence reacted differently — the “Hamilton” diatribe and the knee-taking — are obvious. To begin with, the first case involved political speech — an attempt, however, sophomoric, to articulate ideas. The second case involved a gesture, not speech. No ideas were propounded.
This doesn’t mean that the knee-taking isn’t a form of political expression. It is, and under certain circumstances (not present here) the expression is constitutionally protected. However, there is less to respect in such gestures than there is in actual discourse.
Moreover, and more importantly to Pence, the “Hamilton” cast members didn’t show blatant disdain for America. To use Pence’s words, they did not “disrespect our soldiers, our flag, or our National Anthem.” Those who kneel during the National Anthem clearly disrespect the symbols of America, and thus America itself (though not necessarily its soldiers).
Thus, I think Pence acquitted himself well in both instances under consideration. He was wise to listen to the “Hamilton” cast, though it wouldn’t have been wrong to keep walking. And those of us who share Pence’s regard for our country and its symbols can applaud him for walking out of the football game, though it wouldn’t have have been wrong to stay.
The left, which wants us to impute patriotic motives to anti-American, pro-cop killer Colin Kaepernick and his followers, refuses to impute them to Pence. It argues that the whole thing was a set-up orchestrated by President Trump — a political stunt at taxpayers’ expense.
As evidence, critics start by citing Trump’s statement that he asked Pence to leave the game “if any players kneeled, disrespecting our country.” They go on to say that Trump and Pence knew ahead of time that some 49ers would kneel because they always do. Thus, Pence attended the game knowing he would leave after the anthem was played.
As further evidence of Pence’s foreknowledge, they note that the media pool covering Pence was kept in vans ahead of the game instead of being led inside with the vice president. A staffer told the pool there was a chance Pence might depart early. At most, though, this shows only that Pence knew he might walk out, not that he definitely would.
The Washington Post, which of course is leading the anti-Pence charge, points out that it is expensive to fly Pence to a football game. If Pence intended to walk out all along, taxpayer money was used to make a political point.
It’s amusing to see the Post so worked up over presidential travel. President Obama and his family, inveterate travelers, never came in for such scrutiny from the mainstream media.
Even assuming, though, that Pence traveled solely for the purpose of making a political point, what’s the problem? Much of the domestic travel of a president and a vice president is for that very purpose — a purpose at least as legitimate as watching a football game.
But the Post and other left-wing critics are missing the broader point. Pence wanted to participate in honoring Peyton Manning. At the same time, he didn’t want to remain at an event during which participants disrespected America. Nor did his boss, the U.S. President, want him to.
There was a chance that Pence wouldn’t have to leave the stadium. Some teams with players who have taken a knee in past games did not do so this weekend. In that case, Pence would remain.
Things didn’t turn out that way, but Pence was still able to show his respect for Manning and at the same time show his respect for America and his contempt for the knee-taking. He made his point about Manning and about politics. There is no reason why he should have rejected the opportunity to make either or both.
Pence’s critics have a final arrow in their quiver. Some claim that Pence upstaged Peyton Manning.
Unless and until Manning says he feels upstaged, it’s difficult to take this complaint seriously. Manning was duly honored at half time — no less than he would have been with Pence present — when his jersey was retired. If anything, the fact that Pence, albeit briefly, attended with his wife, who was wearing a Manning jersey, enhanced the celebration of Manning.
If anyone was upstaged, it wasn’t Manning. Rather it was the kneelers. As Scott points out, they are not amused.
In their view, only they get to make gestures. The rest of us are expected to respect the gestures — not just the right to indulge in them — as if they represented reasoned discourse by careful thinkers. Counter-gestures are dismissed as cheap political tricks.
Like Steve Kerr and certain NBA players, the kneelers want to have it both ways. Increasingly, it looks like they may be in for a rude awakening.