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Editorial: Democrats’ Cautious Centrist Ticket


Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Tim Kaine is not such stuff as progressive dreams are made on. Hillary Clinton’s uninspired and uninspiring choice of the Virginia senator as her vice presidential running mate on the eve of the Democratic National Convention casts doubt on the depth of her commitment to the values and policies espoused by Bernie Sanders and his legion of supporters, which she now claims to embrace. The Sanders’ constituency is not one she can afford to take for granted even in a race against the thoroughly repugnant Donald Trump.

That Clinton did not do herself any favors with the choice of Kaine is evident on the issue of trade agreements, which has become a lightning rod in this year’s presidential primary campaigns in both parties. Under pressure from Sanders and Trump, Clinton experienced an epiphany and abandoned her previous support for the pending Trans-Pacific Partnership deal, on the grounds that it fails to adequately protect American workers. Kaine has long been a true believer when it comes to free trade and was one of only 13 Democratic senators who supported giving the president so-called fast track authority to negotiate the Trans-Pacific deal. Almost as soon as the choice of Kaine was announced, The New York Times reported, aides were signaling that he was also likely to undergo a conversion to free-trade skeptic, which does not speak highly of the depth of his political beliefs.

Another area of vulnerability for Clinton is her extensive ties to Wall Street, which Sanders effectively exploited during the primaries. In response, she has made the case that her own proposals for regulation are actually better than those of the Vermont senator. “My proposal is tougher, more effective and more comprehensive because I go after all of Wall Street, not just the big banks,” she said during one debate, the argument being that the failure even of mid-sized institutions — those with more than $250 billion in assets but less than the behemoths — could also set off a financial panic like the one in 2008. Kaine is no help in this regard. Within the week, he signed a letter to Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen asking that the central bank exempt some regional, midsized banks from having to report daily on their financial condition — that is, to calculate their liquidity, which is a measure of how well positioned banks are to repay their debts in the short term. This is an arcane matter to be sure, but in essence the requirement is a check on institutions’ ability to make riskier loans and a potential bulwark against turmoil in the financial system.

And in a year when the status quo has been upended by widespread public revulsion at political-business-as-usual, Kaine’s record as governor of Virginia from 2006 to 2010 and lieutenant governor before that displayed a troubling willingness to accept gifts from corporations, sometimes when they had business pending before the state. To be sure, this was all perfectly legal at the time and Kaine was apparently meticulous in meeting disclosure requirements, but taking $160,000 worth of gifts such as expensive trips certainly does not exhibit great ethical sensitivity.

Some Sanders supporters believe that Clinton’s choice of Kaine was her way of intentionally sticking a thumb in their eye. We doubt it. It’s far more likely she and Kaine are “soul mates,” as he put it in their first public appearance together, cautious centrists comfortable with each other. Whatever calculation was involved on her part probably centered on the belief that progressives have no option but to support her in the fall. We hope that they will rather than sitting it out, but the Kaine choice did not increase the odds, whatever other strengths he brings to the ticket. This is especially true with the disclosure, via leaked emails, that the Democratic National Committee under Debbie Wasserman Schultz basically operated as an arm of the Clinton campaign during the primaries, just as the Sanders camp had alleged. There are many Americans who now believe that the system is rigged, and the DNC debacle provides more evidence just how pervasive that rigging is. Clinton will need to pick up her game this fall, and members of the party’s progressive wing will do her a favor in the race against Trump by insisting that she abide by her promises to advance their positions.