Vice president Mike Pence told a large, often maskless, crowd at a Florida rally on Tuesday that Democrats want to make “poor people more comfortable”, which liberal online commenters seized on as an accidental endorsement of their vision.
“When we cut taxes, roll back regulations, and advance freedom, their agenda is higher taxes, open borders, soicalised medicine, a Green New Deal, and abortion on demand,” Mr Pence told a crowd of activists from Turning Point USA, a conservative youth group. “They want to make rich people poorer, and poor people more comfortable. We have fought to make every American richer, and that’s exactly what we’ve done.”
The Twitterati quickly made hay of the comments. An account called Accidentally Left-Wing, which collects such gaffes, picked up the comments with a cheeky, “Indeed”.
So did journalist Kurt Eichenwald, who wrote, “I guess since democrats want people with $18,445,342,001 to pay taxes so they have – with no investment return included – $18,444,342,001, and also want people not paid a living wage to get a living wage, @VP is right.”
People for Bernie, an activist group dedicating to continuing Vermont senator Bernie Sander’s democratic socialist movement, wrote that Mr Pence’s speech was a “good message”.
The vice president used the speech to tout the administration’s economic record, claiming that under Mr Trump median household income rose by the largest amount ever recorded. This is not an entirely complete picture. Incomes have spiked under Trump, but official methodology for measuring this figure has changed over the years, other years have been equally high, and income gains began under former President Barack Obama. The Trump administration also spearheaded a set of tax cuts in 2017 whose benefits disproportionately flow to the wealthy, including tax breaks that expire for everyone but high earners by the mid-2020s.
It’s a familiar attack line from Mr Pence, who frequently criticizes what he sees as a socialist movement taking over the Democratic party, though even the most progressive Democrats mostly advocate for an expanded, Nordic democracy-style social safety net, rather tearing down capitalism.
In 2019, for example, he criticized Bernie Sanders and “socialism”.
“The truth is, we want people to make poor people richer, they want to make rich people poorer. We want to make poverty more rare; they want to make poverty more comfortable,” Mr Pence said at the time.
Elsewhere during his talk, Mr Pence praised the Trump administration’s efforts on coronavirus.
"We're healing America," the vice president told the crowd, thousands strong and inside a humid indoor venue, often without masks. "And all along the way, like all of you, we've been defending freedom."
Mr Pence joins bipartisan company in the halls of recent online roasting. A floor speech from Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, praising a one-time stimulus check of $600 as a “significant” sum for working families, came in for similar ridicule for being slightly out of touch, at a time when America’s economy is recovering slowly and unemployment remains around 7 percent.
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