Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Tim Kaine, the "radical optimist"

Evan Osnos writes about Tim Kaine's "radical optimism" in the New Yorker.It's partly a biography and partly a manifesto of Kaine's political philosophy. It's long but a good read. Below are snippets to give you a flavor

As governor, he mastered the political tide that pulled Virginia away from the past. Can he do the same for the nation?

Members of the Senate pride themselves on a tradition of comity between the parties, but these days it’s more of a myth than they freely admit. Kaine has tried to defuse the animosity. He dined alone with Ted Cruz. Senator Jeff Flake, an Arizona Republican, recalled that an early encounter with Kaine was at a charity event: “We were both in a spelling bee,” hosted by the National Press Club. Most senators had ignored the invitation. Flake was eliminated after misspelling “malfeasance,” and Kaine went on to win. When the event ended, Kaine called him. “He asked if I would go to dinner off campus with him and a group of people who were looking at federal education policy,” Flake recalled. “We need more coders, fewer political-science grads, of which I’m one.” He said, “For somebody who headed the D.N.C., he has what seems to be the lack of a partisan bone in his body. He knows which team he’s on—every politician does—but that’s what I remember being surprised about.” (Flake has refused to endorse Donald Trump.)

Even if Trump’s campaign fails, the animus that he has unleashed, and intensified, will endure. When I spoke to President Obama, he offered an oblique warning to his successor: “I think the challenge of a Clinton-Kaine Presidency will be similar to mine, and that is that the Republican caucuses have become much more concentrated around a far-right, anti-government agenda.” But, in Obama’s view, his ability to forge compromises was politically handicapped by the financial crisis that struck shortly before he took office. “If, in fact, it’s a President Clinton and Vice-President Kaine, they will come into office in a different position than I did,” he told me. “They won’t be confronting a crisis of historic proportions. They will have, hopefully, the luxury of choosing what are the first couple issues to work on, and, so, rather than trying to pass an eight-hundred-billion-dollar stimulus, or save the auto industry, or revamp the financial system—all of which were fraught with concern for Republicans steeped in small-government or no-government philosophies—they may be able to work on something like infrastructure, that is more likely to lend itself to pragmatic solutions.”

When I asked Kaine how he would help mend the divisions in the country, he said, “I think that’s going to be the test of a Clinton-Kaine Administration. Can we actually give people more of a sense that here’s a ladder that I can climb?” Part of his approach privileges function over spectacle. “A lot of it is infrastructure: roads or broadband deployment. That’s something we can speak to right away in this economic agenda that we’re going to push. If we allocate the funds, we can go into some of the harder-hit parts of the country and do something that not only can hire people there but also help them raise their platform.” He went on, “I’ve talked to Hillary about this, what I might be able to do as V.P. I’ve been a civil-rights lawyer, and I care about the equity issues, but I’ve been a mayor and a governor, so I can do economic-development deals, and I care about the prosperity issues. So, in a ‘shared prosperity’ agenda, I’ve spent a lot of time working on both sides of it.”

As a politician, Kaine has elements of Joe Biden’s heart and Barack Obama’s brain: schmaltz in service of political advantage. He has never lost an election.

Let's hope that Kaine, the radical optimist, can effectively express those qualities in the service of a campaign to bring America together.

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