Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Tim Kaine

The American Prospect (via CBS [!]), is running a column on Tim Kaine, the current Lt. Governor of Virgina, and a candidate for the top spot.

Rob Garver, the columnist, thinks that Kaine will be a good test case: can an openly religious Democrat make it?
In many ways, Virginia is the ideal proving ground for a Democratic strategy of attracting religious voters. Southern Baptists and conservative Catholics make up a dominant share of the voting population, so if a religious Democrat can make it here, he can make it (almost) anywhere.

There's some justification for this point of view. As Garver points out, Kerry did particularly bad among those conservative Virginia Catholics. And the DNC has pumped $5 million into Kaine's campaign. Obviously, they think there's some potential there.

I'll withhold much judgment, since I know bupkus about Kaine at the moment. Still, I'd hesitate before making him out as the Religious Dem Prototype. For one thing, despite his apparent disdain for John Kerry's reluctance to talk about his faith (Kaine slams him for "talking about windsurfing and hockey than he did talking about his beliefs"), he doesn't exactly come across as any more sincere than Kerry did:
"The law in Virginia right now," he says, "is that the death penalty is the law of the land for the most serious crimes, and on abortion, the law of the United States is that women have the freedom to make their own reproductive decisions early in pregnancy, and I will honor those laws, If someone says, 'Well, that's wishy-washy,' I say, 'No, it's not -- it's being true to my oath.'

"Is there moral unease about [the death penalty]? Sure there is. But remember, when you take an oath, the honesty principle, I think, is the first principle. It is the same position President Bush has often stated about abortion. He is against abortion. He says, 'The voters know my heart.' But he has not done a single thing really to overturn Roe v. Wade.

"I feel like I am in exactly the same position as he is. I tell people what my heart is. I tell them I am good to my word when I take the oath. Does it pain me that there are executions and that abortion is common? Yes, it pains me. But I believe the system of government we have -- which is rule of law, not of men -- is the best system there is on this planet, and it is very important that the leaders who run to lead and execute the laws of the state be able to say that they will do it, and to say it honestly."

Garver calls this "nuance." Seems more like trying to have it both ways to me. Fact is, Kaine doesn't have to sign death warrants if he doesn't want to. He'll have to pay a political price for it, of course, but if this is a matter of principle, that ought to be okay, right? The same goes for abortion: if the law goes against your moral convictions, why not work to change it?

It feels good to say that you'll uphold the law, regardless of your personal feelings, but that's a dodge, a way of avoiding responsibility. It's for precisely that reason that the early church--and many believers still today--did not participate in secular government. If you take on responsibility, then you need to live up to it.

And then there's this:
But not everyone thinks Kaine's chances are good.

"I think it is an extremely hard sell for him," said Mark Rozell, a professor at George Mason University who has studied the role of religion in Virginia politics. "On the conservative issues, the conservative Catholics and evangelicals have really come together in support of Republicans. I'm not sure how Kaine can conceivably crack that alliance at all."

As Fred Clarkson points out here, much of the power of the Christian Right is its extreme effectiveness at political organization, and its ability to stick together once they've made a coalition. They're not going to be swayed by a religious Dem, not because of their off-the-deep-end religious beliefs, but because he's a Democrat.

Which gives the lie to this little bit of sanctimony:
In addition to actively talking about their own faith, Kaine says, Democrats need to temper their comments about other peoples' faith.

"The second thing that Democrats have to do better on is not attacking the 'religious right,'" he said. "I think that has been a standard bogeyman that Democrats have often used in campaigns, including campaigns in Virginia. If somebody advances an idea or position that's wrong, then attack them for having a bad idea. But they are not wrong because they are religious.

"When Democrats kind of cavalierly attack the religious right or go after Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell, our candidates have sent the signal to a lot of religious people, 'Well, I guess they are not interested in me.' And I think this includes a lot of people who would fit very naturally within the Democratic Party."

First of all, other than some ill-considered comments on dKos, I haven't heard too many Dems attacking people simply for being religious. Second, the notion that Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell's ideas are anywhere near a natural fit for the Democratic Party is simply nonsense. If the Schiavo case indicates nothing else, it's that the values of Robertson, Falwell, Terry Randall, Gary Bauer, Ralph Reed, etc. etc. ad nauseum are anything but mainstream. We've all seen the poll results: overwhelming majorities would not want to be kept alive artificially, do not want the federal government to interfere in a painful family decision, and think that Terri Schiavo's feeding tube should stay out, so that she can die a peaceful death with dignity.

Hm. Seems like those Republicans are on to something, doesn't it?


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