Spiritually Motivated: How Tim Kaine Navigates His Faith and Politics

By Roewe, Brian | National Catholic Reporter, September 9, 2016 | Go to article overview

Spiritually Motivated: How Tim Kaine Navigates His Faith and Politics


Roewe, Brian, National Catholic Reporter


OVERLAND PARK, KAN. -- Tim Kaine has got the faith.

Faith in God and the Catholic church. Faith in Hillary Clinton leading the Democratic presidential ticket. Faith that after a heated and divisive election cycle the U.S. can still locate common ground on major issues--including jobs and immigration --that would signal the nation is more united than divided.

For Kaine, a self-described optimist, the first step, come January, must start at his current place of employment: Congress.

"That's really where the rubber meets the road," the Democratic vice presidential candidate told NCR in a sit-down interview Aug. 17 in the Kansas City suburb of Overland Park, Kan. "But some strong work early, on areas where there is likely to be common cause, might be a way we can start speaking to people who feel divided."

As predicted by his chief of staff, Kaine, 58, arrived early for the morning interview, the last item on the Kansas City agenda before taking the campaign trail westward. The quick visit in town served as part fundraiser, part homecoming--his first visit back to the region since accepting the Democratic vice presidential nomination. He reunited with his friends from his Jesuit high school, forgoing a night in a hotel for the comforts of a bed at his parents' home.

The Virginia senator and former governor arrived to the 2016 presidential election largely unknown.

But the first few weeks after becoming a veep nominee revealed some details about Clinton's new right-hand man: He's fluent in Spanish (a credit to his missionary year in Honduras); he plays the harmonica (and has pulled it out on the campaign trail, including at a North Carolina brewery); and he's comfortably, in his own words, "boring," illustrated even more through the sitcom dad persona and #TimKaineDadJokes that sprung up on social media following his speech on the third night of the Democratic National Convention ("i bet if tim kaine has leaked voicemails at the DNC they were all reminders to stay hydrated" was one popular tweet).

In an election so far defined by who's hurled (and received) the worst insults, which party is more torn or disconnected, and why, in an examination of the American psyche, so many so dislike the presidential candidates, Kaine comes across as a politician apart.

Kaine, too, has his political flaws. As lieutenant governor and governor of Virginia, he received $160,000 in gifts. (All were determined legal, properly publicly disclosed, and primarily used for work-related travel expenses.) As mayor of Richmond, Va., his compromise solution over a racially contentious mural didn't satisfy everyone. (It was eventually burned down.) And he has received criticism from both the right, for his high rating with Planned Parenthood, and the left, for the 11 executions he oversaw as governor, despite being personally opposed to both abortion and capital punishment.

On the campaign trail, like all running mates before him, Kaine has extolled the positives of his party's candidate, taken shots at the opponent, and shared who he is. That latter has often had him talking about his Catholic faith.

"What I've tried to do is be a religious person and just share who I am with people. Not to proselytize, not to make them be who I am ... because if I tell people I like to play the harmonica, and I like to camp, I got three kids, I'm married, why wouldn't I share what's the most important thing to me?" he said.

Kaine is the third Catholic to appear on a presidential ticket in the past two election cycles, all VP nominees. (Current Republican vice presidential candidate Mike Pence was raised Catholic but now identifies as an evangelical Christian.)

In 2008, Joe Biden said that while others may talk about his faith, he seldom does, instead driven by his Irish upbringing to allow his actions to speak for themselves. Four years later, Paul Ryan was greeted with a chorus of criticism in 2012 for his interpretation of Catholic social teaching to justify a budget proposal that included deep cuts in programs assisting the poor. …

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