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Two days ago, the Washington Post ran a fascinating profile on Mr. and Mrs Mike Pence, once sentence from which has inspired both outrage and mockery:
In 2002, Mike Pence told the Hill that he never eats alone with a woman other than his wife and that he won’t attend events featuring alcohol without her by his side, either.
If the more pointed among the reactions are to be believed, this rule suggests that Pence is a religious weirdo, an enemy of women, a reactionary, or a closet pervert — or perhaps all of the above. Were I to sum up the responses in a single word, that word would be “yuck.”
And I can’t for the life of me figure out why. For a start, I cannot imagine being critical of or caustic toward the private decisions that any couple makes in order to strengthen their marriage. If there is any over-zealotry at play here, it is in support of the Pences’ most sacred promises to each other. Have we really reached the point at which that’s abominable?
Moreover, I suspect that we are really arguing over degrees, not absolutes. Among the arguments that I’ve seen leveled against Pence are that he “doesn’t trust himself”; that he “doesn’t trust women”; that he must be some sort of sex-addict; that he sees all females as “temptresses” or “sirens”; and that he erroneously regards himself as an “adonis.” “Why,” some have inquired, “does Pence seem to believe that having dinner with a woman will lead inexorably to sex?” None of these critiques makes sense to me. Suppose that instead of saying that he “never eats alone with a woman other than his wife,” Pence had said that he never lets a woman who is not his wife into his hotel rooms. Would that imply that he thinks he’s irresistible? Or that he can’t control himself? Or that he thinks that women are innately nymphomaniacal? Or, alternatively, would it suggest that he wants to avoid giving off the wrong impression – either to other women or to the press — and that he is aware of human nature and the way in which temptation works? I’d argue that the latter is the case, and that by avoiding one-on-one dinners and eschewing drinking when alone, he is merely drawing the line a little closer than would others (and would I).
Is that a problem? If it is, then we need to rethink the whole area of preventative behavior. I am fairly sure that I could smoke a large number of cigarettes before I became addicted, and, indeed, that I could indulge in them casually without ramping up my habit. As such, I’m not averse to having the occasional smoke. But suppose I were averse to that. Suppose, instead, that I was unwilling to embark on even the first step of that journey. Suppose that, in defense of my health and my wallet, I drew a much harsher line in the sand. Well, why the hell would that matter? What possible failing could that be held to imply? Caution is no vice when the end is so undesirable.
And that, for me, is the key. If you read the Post’s story in full, you’ll see that Mike Pence believes that, in Karen, he has a great thing going. For knowing himself well enough to avoid screwing that good thing up, he should be praised by the culture, not mocked and maligned. There’s a decency at play there. There’s a humility, too. Good for the vice-president. He’s made his vows, and he’s sure as hell gonna keep ‘em.