Shaw Friedman: Progressives can easily embrace Sen. Kaine
Thursday, July 28, 2016 10:48 AM
LaPORTE – Sorry, Fox News. That dog won’t hunt. In the hours after Hillary Clinton announced her choice of Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Virginia) as her vice-presidential pick, certain voices on the right clucked that there might be resistance from factions within the Democratic Party to the supposedly “safe” choice of Tim Kaine vs. what some viewed as more “inspiring” picks like Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) or Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio).
Fact is, once again, the talking heads at Fox have not done their homework. As former head of the Indiana Progressives PAC, I’m in a pretty good position to spot a “progressive” when I see one, and I have to say, as one who has followed Tim Kaine’s career, this is a guy whose progressive values were formed early and mainly through his religious upbringing as a Catholic in the Jesuit social justice tradition.
Look at the decision he made while at Harvard Law School to eschew the traditional resume-building track of a high profile judicial clerkship or an internship at one of the white shoe law firms on Wall Street. Instead, Tim Kaine made the decision to “step away from the treadmill” to “decide on my path in life” and he actually took a year off to join Jesuit missionaries in Honduras, an experience that clearly had a lasting impact on him. There, he worked with young men facing grinding poverty as he helped run a technical school set up by the Jesuits. At the school, he trained young Hondurans in various crafts who were hungry for hope and opportunity, and he had a chance while there to make a difference.
This is a guy whose “progressive” values were formed early and his decision to move to Richmond, Virginia, and settle in an integrated neighborhood and take up housing discrimination law were also very formitive and influential on his world view. Again, rather than seek out a position at one of the old-line Virginia law firms that were swooping up Ivy League law school graduates at the time, he represented not only death row inmates, but he took on representation of victims of housing discrimination. The team he worked with actually won a $100 million jury verdict in a red-lining case against Nationwide Insurance. While the verdict was overturned on appeal, his team was able to negotiate a $17.5 million settlement, bringing much needed relief to victims of housing discrimination.
Not only does Tim Kaine talk the talk, he’s walked the walk. As governor of a state that is practically home to the National Rifle Association, he took on the nation’s gun lobby, pushing for common sense restrictions on gun purchases such as signing an executive order after the tragedy at Virginia Tech that would keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill. In the U.S. Senate, he’s supported increased background checks.
Though personally pro-life by virtue of his Catholicism, he’s been a forceful and articulate advocate for the rights of women to make that difficult choice in tandem with their physicians and he wins plaudits from Planned Parenthood. Also, unlike our governor, who for much of his career has parroted the absurd line pushed by the tobacco industry that cigarettes do not kill, Tim Kaine had the difficult task in the heart of a tobacco-growing state to sign a statewide smoking ban in restaurants. And while we are at it comparing Tim Kaine to Mike Pence, unlike our governor who inexplicably turned down an $80 million federal grant that would have provided universal pre-K to young Hoosiers, Tim Kaine brought universal pre-K to the Old Dominion State.
When I was called by one of my strongly progressive friends in Indianapolis after Hillary made her choice and who seemed disappointed with the choice of Tim Kaine, I quickly reassured my friend that this progressive is very comfortable with the notion of Kaine. Sure, he’s not anti-TPP as most Democratic progressives are, but I’m willing to cut him a break on an issue or two when I see a worldview and a civil, decent and compassionate approach to politics that someone like Tim Kaine has practiced during his entire time in elective office. I frankly think it was an inspired choice and am most comforted by the fact that Tim Kaine as a practicing Jesuit has notions of social justice that are deeply imbedded in him.
Having had the opportunity to attend Notre Dame Law School as I did in the early 1980’s, I came to understand and appreciate the commitment that Jesuits have to making a huge difference in the lives of people they encounter. I suspect that year spent in the poorest neighborhoods of Honduras had a deep and abiding impact on the man who could be our next vice president. It’s clear from his choices made while in law school and afterward when he went into law practice that Tim Kaine felt a need to put his religious values to work in his profession.
Having picked this Spanish-speaking Christian missionary was not only the politically savvy thing for Hillary Clinton to have done, but it’s also the right thing to have done. We progressives ought to be tickled pink with this choice.
Shaw Friedman is former legal counsel for the Indiana Democratic Party and a longtime HPI columnist.