Who Is Tim Kaine?: A Pro/Con Analysis
As the saying goes: you can’t please all of the people all of the time. Hillary Clinton proved this on Friday when she selected Virginia senator and former governor, Tim Kaine, as her vice-presidential running mate. The liberal wing of the Democratic Party feels slighted, especially those who backed Bernie Sanders in the primaries, seeing in Kaine just another centrist who supports the TPP and fracking and deregulation of the banks — all things seen as too right of center for these dyed-in-the-wool progressives. On the other hand, centrists and even some progressives are singing Kaine’s praises to the heavens, calling him a strong and wise pick for the position.
Per usual in such matters, there is some truth to both sides of the debate. My goal here is to list what are generally considered Kaine’s strengths and weaknesses as a candidate, and what his pros and cons are, especially for the liberal base of the Democratic Party. I will try to be as objective as possible and cite all of my sources, but I should admit two things in the spirit of full disclosure: 1) I am a registered Democrat who considers himself part of the progressive wing of the party and who supported Sanders in the primaries. 2) After several hours of intense research and what I knew about Kaine beforehand, I land on the side of him being a strong pick for the VP slot, though not a perfect one — I had my heart set on Sherrod Brown of Ohio for several reasons I won’t get into here.
So, let’s look at the bad first:
- Kaine supports the TPP, having praised it as recently as Thursday, barely a full day before Clinton announced her selection. He also voted for the fast-tracking of the TPP, so he has supported it in action, not just words. Since Sanders came out so strongly against the TPP, this might be an issue with his supporters and an obstacle for party unity. It could also hurt, since Trump has come out so strongly against these sorts of trade deals, which are highly unpopular among the American electorate — left, right, and centrist.
- He favors bank deregulation of the sort that led to the 2008 collapse and which Republicans strongly back.
- He supports offshore drilling and fracking — both of which are major sticking points for environmentalists.
- He has variously supported parental consent for minors who seek abortions, informed consent for all who seek them, and a ban on partial-birth abortions — all of which are serious concerns for reproductive rights activists.
Okay, now that we’ve talked about the bad news, let’s look at the good news.
- His position on abortion seems to have improved since his time as governor, garnering him a 100% rating from Planned Parenthood and NARAL for his time in the Senate — though, to be honest, there haven’t been many controversial votes to make in his time there, so that rating is likely a bit inflated by circumstance. As a devout Catholic, he is in a tough position of being personally and religiously against abortion, yet being politically for it in most cases. This has worked out just fine for Joe Biden, so there is precedent for a VP being in such a position. Also, the VP has nearly no say in such matters, so he’s no danger to reproductive rights. I’d call him overall slightly left of center on the issue, which is several dozen times better than Pence, the Republican VP candidate.
- Despite his support for offshore drilling and fracking, he has a 91% rating from the League of Conservation Voters, so his overall lifetime record on environmental issues is actually quite good.
- He took a year off from law school to volunteer in Honduras as a Jesuit missionary. He learned Spanish while there and seems to be nearly fluent, since he was able to give a thirteen-minute speech in Spanish on the Senate floor once. This is therefore doubly positive, since he spent his time helping others and is culturally aware and sensitive. This will also help practically in the campaign, since the Republicans are so anti-intellectual and anti-immigrant, his ability to speak Spanish and the fact he cared enough to learn it will bring even more voters to the Democratic side of the fight.
- During his seventeen years of law practice, he represented people denied housing based on disability or race. He has also been a strong advocate as an elected official for equality along lines of disability, race, and sex. He is therefore excellent on social justice issues.
- He has an F rating from the NRA, which should hearten progressives everywhere.
- He has excellent foreign policy experience, since he serves on the Senate Foreign Relations and Armed Services committees.
So, is Time Kaine a perfect pick? No. Is he a really solid one who happens to have a strong track record of winning statewide elections in a swing state? Yes. We could do much worse, and ultimately progressives — especially those in swing states — should vote Clinton/Kaine, and then fight their hearts out for more progressive candidates running for the US Congress. If we can get a more progressive US Congress, then the bills that land on Clinton’s desk will be more progressive, and she’ll have to sign them, because vetoing her own party’s legislation would be political suicide. Kaine is only on the ticket to help her win, and in my analysis he will do that. He also seems like an overall decent guy I already find myself liking on a personal level, even though we disagree on some issues.