Categorized | American Politics

Hillary Clinton chooses Tim Kaine as her running mate

Posted on 27 July 2016 by admin

HILLARY CLINTON’S choice of Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia as her vice-presidential running-mate should cheer Americans despairing at an election season steeped in vitriol, division and fear-mongering. It should be balm to centrists’ souls to hear Senate colleagues from both parties agree that Mr Kaine is a thoroughly decent and reasonable man. One of the first reactions came from a Republican senator, Jeff Flake of Arizona, whose own decency has to date left him unable to endorse his party’s demagogic nominee, Donald Trump. “Trying to count the ways I hate Tim Kaine, drawing a blank,” Mr Flake tweeted. “Congrats to a good man and a good friend.”

Mr Kaine is the son of a Kansas City welder whose brains took him to Harvard Law School and whose social conscience led him to become a Catholic missionary in Honduras (picking up fluent Spanish) then a civil rights lawyer, popular mayor of the racially-divided city of Richmond, governor of Virginia and now senator.

But the pick says something encouraging about Mrs Clinton’s plans for defeating Mr Trump this November, too. Political campaigns can be boiled down to two tasks, one nobler than the other. The first involves maximising turnout on voting day. This can be a grim business if a campaign pursues a core-vote strategy of pandering and stoking the partisan passions of their base. The second task is persuasion. At its noblest, this involves finding arguments or candidates so reasonable or appealing that they can lure voters out of partisan trenches to cross party lines.

In choosing Mr Kaine, Hillary Clinton is placing a bet on persuasion over turnout. Mr Trump has gone the other way—his Republican National Convention, just ended in Cleveland, was a four-day bet on turnout, with a succession of bleak, angry speeches describing an America plunged in chaos and violence, its streets stalked by “illegal alien” murderers set free by corrupt and uncaring elites, while overseas American enemies mock and cheat the fallen superpower at every turn.

Divided America still harbours some pockets of swing voters: think of married mothers of school-age children who voted for Barack Obama in 2008 but lost faith in him as he seemed to expand government too far, turning to the Republican Mitt Romney in 2012. They may be found in such places as the suburban “collar counties” that surround Philadelphia and Denver, or in the leafy cul-de-sacs of Fairfax or Loudon counties in Virginia, where weekends unfold to a sound-track of buzzing lawnmowers, children’s soccer games and church bake-sales.

Many such suburban voters dislike and distrust Mrs Clinton, thinking her dishonest. They are anxious about terrorism and long to feel safe. That could be an opening for Mr Trump, but with his splenetic, testosterone-fuelled convention, at which speakers called Mrs Clinton a fan of Lucifer and an accomplice to murder, and the air rang with chants of “lock her up” and cries of “hang the bitch”, the Republican offered them nothing, choosing instead to stoke the passions of his core voter blocks, and notably white men without a college education.

Mrs Clinton has her own angry ideologues to worry about on the left, starting with millions of Democrats and leftists who voted for her rival in the presidential primary contest, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont. Partisans on the left insist that the path to victory in 2016 lies in picking an economic populist who opposes free trade and wants to slap punitive taxes on Wall Street banks and the rich, using the proceeds to fund free college for young people, increase old-age pensions through Social Security and expand the role of government in healthcare. They wanted Mrs Clinton to pick such populist pin-ups as Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, or the Labour Secretary Thomas Perez, who is much-liked by trade unions.

Leftists reacted with dismay and anger to the choice of Mr Kaine. They hold against him that he is a white, middle-aged man. They are furious that he is a long-standing supporter of free trade. In 2007 he chided protectionists who want to erect trade barriers for a “loser’s mentality” and in 2015 he voted to give the next president fast-track trade promotion authority to approve new trade deals. They dislike the fact that as a devout Catholic he is personally opposed to abortion, and deplore the fact that as governor he presided over executions in Virginia. Some leftist websites quickly called him a friend to big banks, after he backed bipartisan Senate measures to ease capital requirements on regional banks. A few tried to call him a friend to the National Rifle Association (NRA). To be clear, what such leftists wanted was for Mrs Clinton to pursue her own version of a turnout strategy, choosing a running-mate who would excite and energise unhappy Sandernistas and anti-globalisation blue-collar voters in the Rust Belt—and forget trying to persuade those suburban swing voters in Loudon County.

Left-wingers attacking Mr Kaine should check his record. Though personally opposed to abortion, he says that such decisions fall in the sphere of personal morality, and has voted to uphold the right of women to choose abortions. Though he calls Jesuits his moral heroes, his is a rather Latin American social justice Catholicism, with a whiff of Pope Francis to it. He has been an early supporter of gay rights, and a defender of refugees. As mayor of Richmond Mr Kaine sent his children to tough, mostly-black city schools—an act which was itself an example of history rhyming: he married the daughter of the moderate Republican governor of Virginia from 1969 to 1973, A. Linwood Holton, who ended his state’s ferocious resistance to civil rights and desegregated schools.

Mr Kaine opposes the death penalty in person but bowed to the law as governor of Virginia, a once-rural state with a stern conservative heritage, now trending more towards suburban moderacy. He won bipartsan plaudits for his handling of a gun massacre in 2007 on the campus of Virginia Tech, a college, though Republicans in the state house blocked his attempts to ensure background checks on buyers at gun shows. He has an “F” rating from the NRA. As a senator he has specialised in national security and foreign policy, clashing with Mr Obama—of whom he was an early endorser—by joining Senator John McCain, a Republican, in insisting that Congress should formally authorise the use of military force against Islamic State.

Mr Trump, who specialises in insulting epithets, has quickly labelled Mr Kaine “Corrupt Kaine”, referring to $160,000 worth of gifts that the Virginian accepted as governor. Much of that sum involves flights paid for by donors or by the Obama presidential campaign as Mr Kaine flew around the country as a campaign surrogate for Mr Obama in 2008. But the total includes the loan of a Caribbean holiday home by a Democratic donor, valued at $18,000. Though the gifts were reported and were legal under his home state’s loose ethics laws, Republicans sense an opening, not least because a former Republican governor of Virginia was recently convicted of corruption for accepting gifts from a businessman (though that conviction was overturned by the Supreme Court).

In private, Mr Kaine is notably thoughtful, with nuanced views about America’s place in the world. Amidst noisy debates about whether America should be the “indispensable nation” or should pull back from global responsibilities, Mr Kaine calls himself a believer in President Harry Truman and his doctrine of extending aid and support to democracies threatened by authoritarian regimes. A self-declared “boring” man, Mr Kaine is known to like quiet, unflashy words to describe his vision of America—urging his country to be “magnanimous” and to strive to be “’exemplary” so that it can earn its status as an indispensable nation. He is not the most exciting or aggressive choice that Mrs Clinton could have made. But in this election cycle, many will feel there is more than enough aggression to go around.

Leave a Reply

Advertise Here
Advertise Here