Apparently Hillary Clinton thinks Donald Trump has a lock on the market for boldness, so she decided to go the safe-and-oh-so-boring route in choosing Sen. Tim Kaine as her running mate. Kaine is pretty much cut from the same mold as Clinton–a moderate (by the party’s 2016 standards) with extensive foreign and domestic policy experience. He’s also shown a finger-in-the-wind approach to social issues. Especially LGBT issues.
Kaine came out in favor of marriage equality in 2013, just two weeks after his would-be boss announced her support. Up until then, when it came to marriage equality, Kaine was a cross between a pretzel and a waffle.
What preceded was a long and painful-to-watch evolution during which Kaine engaged in verbal acrobatics to finesse the issue. It began in 2001, when Kaine expressed his support for “civil benefits” for gay couples, something he made clear was not marriage or civil unions. When Massachusetts legalized same-sex weddings in 2003, Kaine issued a statement that went further than necessary in distancing himself from the court ruling.
“Marriage between a man and a woman is the building block of the family and a keystone of our civil society,” Kaine, who was lieutenant governor at the time, declared. It has been so for centuries in societies around the world. I cannot agree with a court decision suddenly declaring that marriage must now be redefined to include unions between people of the same gender.”
The real test came in 2006, when Kaine was governor. By veto-proof margins, the legislature passed a bill to put an anti-marriage amendment on the ballot. Kaine opposed the measure, saying it went too far in forbidding civil unions, but he signed it nonetheless. As partial redemption, he campaigned against the measure, which handily succeeded anyway.
Fast forward as the debate heated up. In 2012, while running for his Senate seat, Kaine proclaimed himself in favor of “relationship equality.” Did that mean marriage? Well, not exactly. “The labels get in the way of the issue,” Kaine said.
All of this was the classic attempt of a middle-of-the-road Democrat to find a middle-of-the-road solution. He was trying to split the baby. Unfortunately, we were the baby.
Since his conversion, Kaine, a practicing Catholic, has been quick to celebrate our victories. And to give him credit, he was willing to spend some political capital for us on other issues. As governor, he extended an executive order forbidding workplace discrimination. He also supported the right of gay couples to adopt. He just wasn’t about to get out in front on the marriage issue, not until public opinion made it safe to do so.
But Kaine is a throwback to the kind of candidate we saw in the Bill Clinton era. He’s coming from a mindframe that LGBT issues are a little bit risky and worth being cautious about. Contrast that with the future of the party: young Democrats overwhelmingly support LGBT rights and consider the issue closed for debate. Caution won’t cut it with them.
That attitude is shifting the party to the left. So what once looked moderate, like Kaine’s positions, now look conservative. If Kaine is going to capture the imagination of younger voters, he’s going to have to shed his past quickly. Clinton has been doing her best to do so. Too bad her choice is a reminder of a time that we’d all like to forget.