You knew as soon as it landed that the world would speak of little else. It no longer mattered what Vice President Pence had to say. What mattered was The Fly.
In the second half of Wednesday’s vice-presidential debate, a fly put its wheels down right on the former Indiana governor’s head.
Could there be anything more distracting – or humiliating – than a fly photobombing one of your life’s most consequential moments?
Off the record, the fly admitted to this columnist that he initially was heading for Sen. Kamala Harris’ sleeker, more-inviting coif but decided against it because, he said with a slight tremor in his voice, ”She was speaking.”
Instead, the fly glided over to the snowy mound of the vice-president’s well-tended topiary, where it remained for more than two minutes, according to people who record such things.
It didn’t take long for pundits and political operatives to begin speculating about the fly’s motives or other possible forces at work. One viral suggestion featured a photo of the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg with the caption, “I sent the fly.”
On “CBS This Morning” Thursday, co-anchor Gayle King hinted at a possible cosmic dimension to the fly’s appearance.
“At one point when they were talking about systematic racism, I think this is interesting timing that a fly would land on Mike Pence’s head at that particular time when he said that there really wasn’t systemic racism,” King said. “You saw the fly going, ‘Say what?’ I mean, it was very interesting ...”
Adding to the significance of the fly, she said: “It was a fly of color, too, that came at a very opportune time ...”
Yes, I see. A fly of color landing on a white man’s head when he’s denying systemic racism. On a Wednesday. In Salt Lake City. Well, it must mean something. We’ve often heard about the hand of God in politics and sports. We’re familiar with angels entering the mortal realm as emissaries of the Almighty. But who knew God employs house flies to interfere with presidential elections?
Political consultant Steve Schmidt, a co-founder of the anti-Trump Lincoln Project, took things a step further, saying on MSNBC’s “The Beat” with Ari Melber that the fly is a sign of evil. “You know a fly, he who commands the fly, has always been seen historically as the mark of the devil,” said Schmidt. When Melber asked if he was joking “Because the fly could have landed on anyone,” Schmidt replied: “Yes, but it didn’t. It landed on Mike Pence, and it says something.”
A Washington Post story paraphrases art historian Celeste Brusati as saying: “Throughout the history of western painting, imagery of flies can symbolize death, rot, decay, corruption and ‘painting’s power to deceive the eye.’”
There is, perhaps, another explanation: We’ve all gone insane.
King, who said that she’d never seen anything like it before, apparently hasn’t been paying close attention. Flies can’t seem to stay away from politicians and are demonstrably non-discriminating.
Hillary Clinton was visited by a fly during a 2016 debate – and not on her hair. That particular fly landed right on her forehead. As ever unflappable, the former secretary of state didn’t blink, and the fly moved on.
Mike Bloomberg’s face also caught a fly’s eyes while speaking at the Democratic National Convention in August. And, yes, even Donald Trump’s comb-over once provided a rest area for a passing fly. Trump, it seemed, was never aware of his guest, but then a pterodactyl could build a nest in that wheat field of follicular adornment without his notice.
The most-famous chapter in the fly diaries, however, involved President Barack Obama, who was the target of one very foolish fly. Obama’s hand-eye coordination is the stuff of legend, but his talents aren’t limited to the basketball court. He can swat with equal dexterity, as the fly that landed on his arm during a CNBC interview in 2009 learned, fatally.
Thus, the most we can infer from the week’s events is that flies do not share our obsession with identity politics, nor do they ascribe deeper meanings to nonsense. The fly lands where the fly lands. Indeed, they do like death and rot, but they just love hot faces beading with sweat and makeup and hair sugar-coated with hairspray.
It would seem the word is out that politics is a fly’s buffet.