There’s a lot to be said about what last night said about the Democratic Party and what it has learned from the past decade and a half of American political life. The speeches by President Obama and Vice President Biden were well-written and delivered better than the text. They presented less of a defense of their record than the case that Donald Trump is unqualified, by temperament and character, to sit in the Oval Office. Obama’s speech was, with a few exceptions, the sort of thing you are more used to hearing at a Republican convention than a Democratic one. The thread that runs through his remarks stands out as a critique that could have been easily offered by Ted Cruz or another conservative Trump critic.
This is a more fundamental choice – about who we are as a people, and whether we stay true to this great American experiment in self-government… [Trump is] betting that if he scares enough people, he might score just enough votes to win this election. That is another bet that Donald Trump will lose. Because he’s selling the American people short. We are not a fragile or frightful people. Our power doesn’t come from some self-declared savior promising that he alone can restore order. We don’t look to be ruled.
It was stirring stuff, albeit marked by a bit of underlying concern, nagging at the edges. We didn’t look to be ruled, once. Perhaps now things are different, and the people are different, too. Perhaps something about our politics, and the failure of our hopes for change, helped make it so.
The more interesting event of the evening, though, was the nomination of Tim Kaine as the Vice Presidential choice of the Democratic Party. His speech was the most boring of the night, launching a host of dad jokes and comparisons to Ned Flanders. The speech was partially awkward because of the cultural gap between the Catholic Kaine and a crowd that is more secular and progressive – when he praised his Marine son and said “Semper Fi”, the audience didn’t seem to get the reference. And that’s fitting – as a politician, Kaine represents better than perhaps any other prominent Democrat how great the cultural sort within the two parties has been in the past decade.
A little more than ten years ago, Tim Kaine was running for governor of Virginia. Here is an ad he ran at the time.
“The truth is, I cut taxes as mayor of Richmond. I’ll enforce the death penalty as governor, and I’m against same-sex marriage. I’m conservative on personal responsibility, character, family and the sanctity of life. These are my values, and that’s what I believe.”
In another ad he ran at the time, he detailed his support for parental consent laws, preventing any taxpayer funding for abortion, and banning partial-birth abortions – he even criticized his Republican opponent for failing to pass a version of such a ban that would withstand legal challenge, even starting the ad by saying he’s “not afraid to tell you where I stand.”
His ad on “Values” sounds more like something run by a more fiscally conservative Mike Huckabee than any modern Democrat. His positions on abortion were viewed as so out of the Democratic mainstream at the time that NARAL declined to endorse him. In an interview in 2008, he reiterated his opposition to abortion and support for restrictions on it. And as governor, he continued to frustrate the pro-choice lobby – he backed state funding for crisis pregnancy centers and, in a particularly irritating move, signed the bill authorizing the state’s “Choose Life” license plates that crop up a lot outside of Northern Virginia.
This was always going to prove a challenge for Kaine if he was going to rise up the ranks of power as a Democrat. So when he arrived in the Senate, he changed course, racking up a 100 percent voting record with NARAL and muting his opposition to abortion. He backed off any opposition besides expressing the occasional moral qualm, or being reluctant to defend Planned Parenthood. It still wasn’t enough, though – it took getting picked as the Vice Presidential nominee for Kaine to take the one last step away from his record, and endorsing taxpayer funding for abortions and the repeal of the Hyde Amendment.
“The senator is not personally for repeal of the Hyde Amendment,” a spokesman for the Clinton-Kaine campaign said Wednesday. He added: “But as he’s made clear, he is committed to carrying out Secretary Clinton’s agenda.”
The oddity here, of course, is that the Clinton agenda on abortion is far out of the mainstream of American positioning on the subject. Taxpayer funding for abortion is opposed by more than 60 percent of Americans, and more than 60 percent of Americans who identify as pro-choice would support restricting abortions to the first trimester. For all the talk of a Republican war on women, it is women who are overwhelmingly in support of 20 week bans on abortion, even more so than men. As of 2016, these figures don’t seem to matter to either party – but they illustrate how out of step those who favor taxpayer funded abortion on-demand up to the point of birth are with the country.
The absence of any vibrant, winsome pro-life politician on our national stages over the past couple weeks reveals a stark disconnect between the interests of national politicians and the passions and principles of their base.
That disconnect is not an accident. It is driven by active interest groups who have shifted the Democratic Party ever leftward on this issue, and made it impossible for someone like Tim Kaine to rise through the ranks while being honest about what he believes is morally right.