Last night I got to watch two Midwesterners debate each other in a style any Missouri resident knows well — “Midwestern nice.” On Kaine vs Pence:
The vice-presidential debate was Midwestern Nice meets Midwestern Lies. An anticipated snoozefest between two mild-mannered Midwesterners – Mr. Pence, a life-long Indiana resident now serving as Governor; and Mr. Kaine, who lived in Minnesota, Kansas, and Missouri before becoming Senator of Virginia – the debate was actually vicious, if you could read between the lines. To do this, you must comprehend Midwestern Nice.
Midwestern Nice is a vernacular of wholesome politeness masking bitter contempt. It is employed primarily by white Christians of the U.S. heartland. To speak Midwestern Nice, you must know certain key words, and Mr. Pence and Mr. Kaine lobbed them like they were in a Norman Rockwell battle royale. Mr. Pence rhapsodized about small towns and cornfields; Mr. Kaine hit back with Little League and Sunday school. Mr. Pence praised the power of prayer; Mr. Kaine name-checked a Methodist youth group.
Eventually, a “faith-off” commenced, as the moderator asked each candidate to speak about their religious values. Mr. Kaine and Mr. Pence each spoke reverently of their Christianity, and made sure to praise the piety of their opponent. In Midwestern Nice, this was actually them telling each other to where to go.