Who Is Tim Kaine?: A Pro/Con Analysis

kaine

Who Is Tim Kaine?: A Pro/Con Analysis

by

Okla Elliott

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:

  1. 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.
  2. He favors bank deregulation of the sort that led to the 2008 collapse and which Republicans strongly back.
  3. He supports offshore drilling and fracking — both of which are major sticking points for environmentalists.
  4. 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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. He has an F rating from the NRA, which should hearten progressives everywhere.
  6. 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.

About Okla Elliott

I am currently an assistant professor at Misericordia University in northeast Pennsylvania. I hold a PhD in comparative literature from the University of Illinois, an MFA in creative writing from Ohio State University, and a legal studies certificate from Purdue University. My work has appeared in Cincinnati Review, Harvard Review, The Hill, Huffington Post, Indiana Review, The Literary Review, New Letters, Prairie Schooner, A Public Space, and Subtropics, as well as being listed as a "notable essay" in Best American Essays 2015. My books include From the Crooked Timber (short fiction), The Cartographer’s Ink (poetry), The Doors You Mark Are Your Own (a coauthored novel), Blackbirds in September: Selected Shorter Poems of Jürgen Becker (translation), and Bernie Sanders: The Essential Guide (nonfiction).
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5 Responses to Who Is Tim Kaine?: A Pro/Con Analysis

  1. I enjoyed your pro/con analysis, though I think you missed some of the main reasons Clinton chose him. He’s got serious foreign policy credentials, the swing state he helps bring in is a big one, and his family reinforces his image of modest, sane orientation as a public servant. His wife Anne has been an activist lawyer and judge, an advocate on education and poverty issues for her entire career in government, which is 10 years longer than Tim’s. And their son is an active-duty marine. Kaine presents a clear contrast to Pence, and it reflects well on Clinton for selecting him. It’s personally interesting to me that both Pence and Kaine are Catholics, and we get to see just how much of a range of difference that can represent, a Tea Party Evangelical vs. a Social Justice Warrior.

    • Okla Elliott says:

      I did actually mention his home state. As for the others, I agree fully, but given the length here and my goal of mostly doing the progressive/centrist comparison, I focused these eight key points. Of course entire books could (and will) be written on him and his career.

    • Okla Elliott says:

      Due to your comment, I decided to add two more on the list of positives. Thanks for the nudge. This is precisely what good dialogue should do. You calmly and rationally made your case, and I decided you were right that I maybe should have put in a few more positive aspects, since my goal here is to get my fellow progressives to look past some of our qualms with him and vote for the Clinton/Kaine ticket.

      • after research, that’s my goal too. I was caught mostly unaware by the pick. I hadn’t heard much about Kaine, so I started reading, checking out video clips etc. The more I looked, the better I liked him. I’m more left on policy than either of the two Democrats, but in terms of character I believe Kaine to be the most consistently moral and reasonable of the four major party nominees.

        It’s also interesting to me to contrast Pence and Kaine as the two strains of Catholics. Pence is the evangelical, no compromises, anti-LGBT kind. Kaine is the advocate for social justice issues kind.

  2. Was he “culturally aware and sensitive” enough to raise the issue of the escalation of violence and human rights atrocities in Honduras after HRC greenlighted the Honduran coup? Read Greg Grandin’s “Eat, Pray, Starve: What Tim Kaine Didn’t Learn During His Time in Honduras”: https://www.thenation.com/article/eat-pray-starve-what-tim-kaine-didnt-learn-during-his-time-in-honduras/

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