Safe. Boring. Uninspiring. These are the most common words describing Hillary Clinton’s newly minted running mate, Tim Kaine, whom she selected as her vice president on Friday evening.
But the the former governor and current senator from Virginia isn’t your run-of-the-mill moderate. In fact, he’s the closest thing to an American Pope Francis. Much like Secretary Clinton, he attributes his political activism to his deeply rooted religious values. His Catholic identity might make the secular far left unenthusiastic, but perhaps he’ll capture some of the “Francis effect.” Here’s why.
1. Jesuit missionary in Honduras
The obvious connection between Kaine and the Bishop of Rome is their shared Jesuit work in Latin America. Kaine left Harvard Law School to work with missionaries running a school in Honduras in the early 1980s. Upon his return to Honduras as a senator, Kaine said, “I think of El Progreso every day. The people, aside from my family, are the most important in shaping who I am today.” Francis is the first Jesuit to hold the Papacy and spent his pre-Papal life in Argentina. Just like the slums of Buenos Aires have shaped Pope Francis’ tenure in Rome, the people of El Progreso will shape Kaine’s time in the White House.
2. Seamless garment Catholic
The idea of ideological consistency is not a popular one in America, especially during this election. But Kaine holds to a Catholic teaching often called “seamless garment,” or consistent ethic of life. How does this belief present in current American political debates? It means Kaine personally opposes abortion, the death penalty, and all threats to human life. His government service, however, has been another thing. As governor, he oversaw several executions and is a strong supporter of Roe v. Wade. “I’ve taken a position which is quite common among Catholics,” he said on Meet the Press recently. “I’ve got a personal feeling about abortion, but the right role for government is to let women make their own decisions.”
3. Unyielding support for immigrants
One of the starkest divides in this election is the contrast between the Trump-Pence call for a border wall and mass deportations and the Clinton-Kaine championing of a path to earned citizenship for undocumented immigrants. Kaine has been a strong supporter of immigrants — in fact, during the congressional debate over comprehensive immigration reform, Kaine delivered the first speech ever by a sitting senator entirely in Spanish. Similarly, Pope Francis has made supporting immigrant rights the hallmark of his papacy. When the Pontiff delivered an address to Congress last September, he made a strong case for reform. “We, the people of this continent, are not fearful of foreigners, because most of us were once foreigners. I say this to you as the son of immigrants, knowing that so many of you are also descended from immigrants.”
4. Evolving on LGBT Rights
Another point of contention for the left wing of the Democratic Party has been Kaine’s evolution on same-sex marriage and gay rights. Like Pope Francis, he’s evolved on the issue in the past few years. He fully embraced marriage equality in March 2013, but previously faced many questions about his position during campaigns. And again in the Pope Francis mold, Kaine has stressed anti-discrimination and civil rights over arguments about religious ethics. During his 2012 campaign for the Senate, he championed the idea that “relationship equality is a civil right.”
5. Combating climate change
Francis’ first Papal Encyclical, Laudato Si, focused on caring for creation by combating climate change. That’s another shared mission with Kaine, who has spoken out against climate change and opposes the Keystone XL pipeline, one of the most prominent and divisive issues in American environmental politics. He also has a record to back it up: He protected 400,000 acres of land from development as governor.
6. Boring or compassionate?
Tim Kaine resists a politics of divisiveness. Like Pope Francis, he is the anti-Trump. After the papal visit to Congress, he reflected on the powerful message Francis left with America: “We’re in a world of politics where people have low expectations of us, and members of Congress sometimes even have low expectations of each other and what we can accomplish. But what I believe Pope Francis was trying to convey to us today was that he has high expectations of us because he can look into our history and culture and see these examples that have been really powerful, and that there isn’t any reason we can’t rise to that same level of achievement today — whether it’s tackling climate change or economic injustice or the migrant crisis that is seen throughout the world.” That’s not a mean spirited tweet, but a call to higher ground and the common good.
Guthrie Graves-Fitzsimmons writes at the intersection of faith and public policy.