David Axelrod’s podcast conversation with Tim Kaine is worth listening to in full, but the part that struck me was Kaine’s riff on what it would mean to be the first man to serve as vice president to a woman president. Kaine argues that that, too, is a historic and important first, and he feels the weight of being an example to others:
When Hillary asked me to be her running mate, what flashed through my mind was I’ve been in politics for 22 years; this is my ninth race. In all the previous eight races, I’ve been the guy with my name on the ballot, my name on the bumper sticker and the yard sign. And I’ve had all these strong women supporting me: campaign managers, Cabinet secretaries, agency heads; the voters that we get are more women than men.
And I remember thinking, “Wow, I’m going to have the chance now to not be the top of the ticket. I’m going to be a strong man supporting the first strong woman to be president of the United States.” And as important as it is to normalize that a woman can be president, it’s also important to normalize that strong men can support a woman as president.
Think about the campaign Donald Trump has run, and the person he is, and how he models masculinity to young men. And then think about Tim Kaine, and how he is modeling masculinity to young men.
Voters vote for presidential candidates, not vice presidential candidates, and so Kaine’s personal qualities aren’t a huge factor in this election. But the Clinton campaign really did manage to find the man who is temperamentally and biographically the opposite of Trump. Consider this anecdote from Evan Osnos’s profile of Kaine:
For more than three decades, Kaine and his family have attended St. Elizabeth’s, a traditionally black church in Richmond. “We deliberately put ourselves in a position where we are in a racial minority,” [Kaine’s wife, Anne Holton] told me. “Our African-American friends have done that all their lives in one context or another. There is insight that we can learn.”
For 30 years, Kaine has gone to a mostly black church so he and his family can regularly experience the feeling of being in the racial minority. Contrast that with Trump’s whole campaign, which is about nostalgically invoking the feeling of what it’s like to be a yet-more-dominant racial majority and promising to restore that feeling for his base.
And the contrasts go on:
- Trump is a real estate developer who was sued for housing discrimination. Kaine is a civil rights lawyer who made his name fighting housing discrimination.
- Trump’s rhetorical style is unusually aggressive, confrontational, and dramatic (“Lyin’ Ted! Little Marco!”). Kaine’s rhetorical style — though he was more aggressive at the VP debates — is genteel, conciliatory, and even bland, which is why people parody him as the nice, boring dad from down the street.
Tim Kaine may be late. He just had his motorcade stop to help some kids build a treehouse.— pourmecoffee (@pourmecoffee) October 4, 2016
- Trump began his campaign by calling Mexican immigrants murders and rapists, and his main policy proposal is to build a wall between the US and Mexico. Kaine’s formative life experience was living amid deep poverty in Honduras, and he was the first US senator to deliver a speech from the chamber’s floor entirely in Spanish.
- Trump has risen in opposition to his party and atop a critique of the basic work of politics. Kaine’s whole political career is built on coalitions and relationships: He rose to mayor of Richmond by winning over his colleagues on the city council, became head of the Democratic National Committee by impressing the Obama administration, and became Hillary Clinton’s vice president by building a relationship with Clinton even after he endorsed Obama in 2008.
- Trump is unusually non-religious for a major American politician and has a notably louche personal life. Kaine is unusually personally religious for a major American politician, and he’s been married to the same woman for more than 30 years.
Tim Kaine is the anti-Donald Trump.