The Case Against Tim Kaine
Yesterday we made the case for why Barack Obama should pick Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine as his vice presidential running mate in the fall.
Today, we tackle the opposite argument.
Foreign Policy Foreign
Kaine's record of service on domestic issues as the mayor of Richmond, lieutenant governor and now governor of the Commonwealth is hard to argue with.
But, that experience carries nothing more than a tinge of foreign policy -- a potentially disqualifying credential when Obama's relative dearth of policy experience abroad is also factored in.
Kaine backers note that he has traveled abroad regularly during his term as governor, but a trip to promote international business relocating to the Commonwealth (as Vokswagen recently did) or making a trip to Iraq to visit Virginians (as he did in the spring of 2006) is not the same as dealing with major foreign policy questions as an elected official.
John McCain has made no pretense that he is running -- almost exclusively -- on a resume, both in and out of office, filled with foreign policy know-how.
This excerpt, taken from a speech McCain delivered earlier this year, sums up how the Arizona senator sees the choice between himself and Obama:
"I can honestly say, I have prepared my entire life for this moment. In uniform and in office, in war and peace, I have learned how to lead a nation at war. I know how to keep us safe. I have been involved in every major national security challenge of our time. I have met and taken the measure of the world's leaders; those who are our friends and those who are not. I understand the capabilities, the needs and the sacrifices of the men and women of the United States Armed Forces better than any other candidate in this race."
Given McCain's intent to turn the race into a referendum on who is ready to lead at a very dangerous time in the world, it could be seen as Obama tempting fate if he picked Kaine, a one-term governor with no serious foreign policy credentials, as his second in command.
Serving in the military is no longer the requirement for national office that it once was, but when running against a decorated military veteran who plans to put his time spent in a North Vietnamese prison camp at the center of his campaign, many Democrats believe Obama, who hasn't served himself, would do well to pick a military man (or woman) as a his running mate.
That's not Kaine who, at 50 years old, wasn't even a teenager during the height of the Vietnam War. (Obama, born in 1961, wasn't even that old.)
Many Democratic strategists remain wary of being painted as doves on foreign policy (the ghosts of Vietnam remain) and don't believe that a presidential and vice presidential nominee who have not served in the military can stand up to McCain when he says, as he does frequently, that "I hold my position [on Iraq] because I hate war, and I know very well and very personally how grievous its wages are."
One counter argument: Sen. John Kerry (Mass.) won the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination based in large part on the presumption that his status as a decorated Vietnam veteran would insulate the party from charges that it was soft on defense and national security. That theory wound up backfiring.
Death Penalty Debate
During the 2005 gubernatorial race, Republicans believed that Kaine's opposition to the death penalty -- a stance rooted in his Catholic faith -- was the silver bullet that would lead to his defeat.
In an ad entitled "Stanley" a man whose son and daughter-in-law were murdered said that Kaine "voluntarily represented the person who murdered my son" (Kaine denied that fact) and went on to note that Kaine opposed the death penalty even for Adolph Hitler.
The ad created a HUGE furor, which ultimately redounded against former state Attorney General Jerry Kilgore (R) whose campaign sponsored the ad.
But, while Virginia Republicans may have gone overboard in trying to exploit Kaine's opposition to the death penalty as an issue, it would almost certainly come up again in the context of a national campaign with Republicans using the issue as code for the Democratic ticket being soft on crime.
Polling suggests it would find some receptivity among voters. In an ABC News/Facebook survey conducted in December 2007, nearly two-thirds of the national sample said they favored the death penalty for people convicted of murder while 30 percent said they opposed it.
Kaine's position then -- despite the fact it is rooted in a religious conviction -- puts him on the wrong side of an emotional issue that has been used before as a wedge in presidential elections.
Tested and Ready?
No one-term governor gets that many chances in the national spotlight. And so, you have to make the most of every one.
Kaine's big moment came in early 2006 when he was tapped by the national party to deliver the Democratic response to the State of the Union address. (Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, another Democratic vice presidential hopeful, delivered the 2007 SOTU response.)
Kaine, who is generally regarded as an able speaker, drew tough reviews from critics who said he looked nervous and halting to those who wondered about his trademark eyebrow arch. (For the record, we are pro-eyebrow arch -- if you smeeeeeeeell what The Fix is cooking.)
Kaine's badly-reviewed performance may give some vetters pause who wonder whether a man who was elected governor just three years ago is ready to stare into the klieg lights of the national stage and perform.
Agree? Disagree? What did we miss in making the case against Kaine? Feel free to offer your thoughts in the comments section. And, for other "case for/case against" posts, check out our "veepstakes" section.
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