Diatribes of Jay

This is a blog of essays on public policy. It shuns ideology and applies facts, logic and math to economic, social and political problems. It has a subject-matter index, a list of recent posts, and permalinks at the ends of posts. Comments are moderated and may take time to appear. Note: Profile updated 4/7/12

23 July 2016

Tim Kaine: A Risky Choice for Veep

[For analysis of the present historical context and day-by-day analysis of the GOP Convention in Cleveland, click here.]

There are times when Hillary seems to have a tin ear. Progressives like me, who are trying to conjure up enthusiasm for her candidacy, gasped in disbelief upon hearing of her choice last night of Tim Kaine as running mate.

Voters in both parties want change. GOP voters want change enough to have rejected every conventional or establishment candidate and to have picked an utterly inexperienced maverick as their champion. Democrats want change enough to have nearly dropped Hillary in favor of a self-declared “Democratic Socialist.” They thirst for the change they expected in 2007 and (due to the GOP’s scorched-earth opposition) didn’t get. The notion that Tim Kaine represents the kind of change that voters in both parties crave is sheer fantasy.

So what does Kaine bring to the party as Veep? He covers Hillary’s right flank. His experience as ranking member of our Senate’s Armed Services Readiness Subcommittee and an important Foreign Relations subcommittee give him heft and substantive knowledge. He can use them in rebutting bogus attacks on Hillary, such as the Benghazi Attack Committee’s.

Kaine is also a man. He can help dispel unconscious bias against a woman as a commander in chief facing serious foreign threats. Finally, from all reports Kaine gets along fine with Hillary, so she will be comfortable with him and will listen to him when she needs a “Devil’s advocate.”

All these things can be helpful. But this election is still about economics and a rigged system, not national security. It could move more toward national security, for example, if we had a big domestic terrorist attack, or even if the steady drip-drip-drip of small attacks at home and bigger ones abroad continues.

In focusing his acceptance speech primarily on “law and order,” Trump sought to cover that base (not to mention follow tried and true GOP demagoguery). But in doing so he also took a calculated risk.

At the same time, Trump made a direct appeal to Bernie’s voters. He didn’t just ask for their votes. He repeated, vehemently and more than once, Bernie’s charge that the system is rigged. Having Tim Kaine a heartbeat away from the presidency will do nothing to keep those voters from straying, or to bring them back if they have already strayed.

At the moment—and perhaps for the duration—the most important issues in this election are those that Bernie raised and that the Clinton candidacy has never adequately addressed. Millions of voters are out of sorts, both here and in Britain, not because they fear terrorism but because they see the middle class of which they once were part dissolving in economic inequality, bad trade deals, and unfettered immigration. Those are the issues that Hillary must address well to win big.

For a variety of reasons, voters don’t trust Hillary. She talks well. She may be the best orator and the best debater among all presidential candidates in all parties in this election cycle. But skeptical voters need more than talk; Hillary can’t gain or restore their trust by talking. The only way for her to win their trust is for her to have people on her team who’ve earned their trust and have it now.

With Dick Cheney and Joe Biden, the vice president morphed from an attack dog waiting for disaster to a real member of the Cabinet and a trusted presidential adviser. No one should begrudge Hillary having the same sort of helper. Indeed, that’s particularly important for her: her amateurish advisors so far have caused her a lot of harm. Tim Kaine is no Dick Cheney and no amateur, so that’s all to the good.

But in the next week, Hillary must name other names that the people and her party trust much more. As I’ve written before, she must name names like Barack Obama, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, Sherrod Brown, Paul Krugman, and Joe Stiglitz. She must name them not just in abstract praise, but as prospective members of her Cabinet.

“Triangulation” has been Hillary’s Achilles Heel. Among other things, it led her to make her most disastrous mistake: her early and much-too-prolonged support for Dubya’s disastrous invasion and occupation of Iraq. In any event, today’s GOP provides no visible point of triangulation. The party, its leaders, and Trump himself are all over the block. Trump changes his views, in substance and in nuance, every few days, as the winds blow.

You can’t triangulate when one point is oozing mush. Nor can you find any single Republican individual whom the right trusts as much as the left trusts the people named above (and others).

Hillary has talked a blue streak, articulately and cogently. But her negatives just keep getting higher. She needs leaders—named leaders—on her team whom the people trust. Tim Kaine is not such a person, if only because he’s not well known outside of Virginia.

If Hillary’s selection of Kaine means a step to the right on issues of terrorism and national security, that’s reasonable. If it means a step to the right on domestic economic policy, it could be fatal to her candidacy. Or it could turn a possible three-branch sweep into a niggling win that does nothing to cure national gridlock.

To win big and become a transformational president, Hillary must keep all of her base—and all of it fired up! She also must attract new voters with trusted names and personas, not arguments. If she does not, she may miss the first real chance in a generation to remake this nation. In the worst case, she may help elect a clueless, unqualified and dangerous demagogue who could ruin this nation and our world.

Erratum: An earlier version of this post confused Tim Kaine with Jim Webb, a former senator from Virginia and former Secretary of the Navy, who performed abysmally in the first Democratic primary debate last year. I regret the error. (The fact that a political junkie like me could make that error shows how little Kaine is known nationally and how difficult it will be for him to cure Hillary’s trust deficit while establishing his own national reputation.)

What’s at Stake

It’s one thing for people who consider themselves insightful, like me, to deride and fear Trump’s character. It’s quite another thing for a gifted journalist who spent eighteen months with Trump, and who probably knows him better than anyone outside his family, to do so.

This week Tony Schwartz, the man who actually wrote “Trump’s” best-seller The Art of the Deal, allowed a tell-all interview of his views of Trump to be published in The New Yorker magazine. Here are a few highlights, as quoted from Schwartz and reported by the interview’s author, Jane Mayer:

1. “He has no attention span.”

2. “I genuinely believe that if Trump wins and gets the nuclear codes there is an excellent possibility it will lead to the end of civilization.”

3. If Schwartz were writing the same book today, Schwartz would title it “The Sociopath.”

4. “More than anyone else I have ever met, Trump has the ability to convince himself that whatever he is saying at any given moment is true, or sort of true, or at least ought to be true.”

5. “[I]t’s impossible to keep him focussed on any topic, other than his own self-aggrandizement, for more than a few minutes, and even then . . . . If he had to be briefed on a crisis in the Situation Room, it’s impossible to imagine him paying attention over a long period of time[.]”

These, of course, are reasons to vote for Hillary under any foreseeable circumstances. But they are also reasons for all thinking people, not just progressives, to keep Hillary under constant scrutiny. A misstep in her campaign leading to Trump’s election could be catastrophic for her political career and for humanity.