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For a candidate who must persuade American voters that she is fully committed to addressing the precarious economic position of tens of millions of Americans, Hillary Clinton’s “safe” choice of the pro-corporate centrist Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine may prove to be anything but sound judgment to counter the phony populism of Donald Trump.
It's hard to see how Kaine will strengthen Hillary Clinton’s aura of authenticity as a hard-charging fighter for significant reforms. Kaine will help Clinton’s chance to win the key state of Virginia with its thirteen electoral votes, but what appeal will he hold for key demographic groups where Clinton has fared poorly, including alienated blue-collar voters and the young?
Clinton clearly needs to inspire confidence that she thoroughly understands these voters' worries about falling wages, job insecurity, rising tuition and student loan debt, and disappearing pensions. But listening to Hillary Clinton during the primary campaign, it sometimes seemed like she was only faintly aware that 90 percent have been shut out of the economic “recovery.” She suffered significant defeats in Rust Belt states including Michigan, Indiana and Wisconsin which have been devastated by the forces of corporate globalization and deindustrialization.
Clinton’s carefully-calibrated and cautions policy prescriptions for the economy appear at times to betray a marked distance from the desperation for sweeping change felt by many working Americans. One chief factor fueling the growing sense of insecurity: the offshoring of U.S. jobs to such low-wage nations as Mexico and China, facilitated by “free-trade” agreements like NAFTA and the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership. From 2000 to 2010, America’s largest corporations slashed their U.S. work forces by 2.9 million while increasing employment overseas by 2.4 million.
Yet Clinton chose this moment in history to select a staunchly pro-corporate Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia as her vice presidential candidate. Kaine’s record is particularly distressing on the explosive issue of NAFTA-style trade deals and the corporate offshoring of U.S. jobs. The export of U.S. jobs to low-wage, high-repression nations helped fuel the startling insurgent candidacies of democratic socialist Bernie Sanders and the pseudo-populist billionaire Donald Trump, despite Trump’s flimsy grasp of this issue.
The choice of Kaine will surely be well received by the Democrats’ donor class largely situated on Wall Street and in Silicon Valley. With Kaine ardently backed by former president Bill Clinton, who relied on Newt Gingrich and his GOP henchmen to ram through NAFTA in 1993, and mega-fundraiser turned Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, Kaine’s selection has already been greeted with delight by the party’s other elder statesmen and power brokers.
His consistently pro-corporate policies will win favor with donors and Democratic big-wigs, but are alienating to much of the party’s base. Just recently, while campaigning for the 2016 VP slot, Senator Tim Kaine signed on to a letter calling on Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet
Yellen and others calling for bank deregulation. This prompted Charles Chamberlain of Democracy for America, one of many progressive groups which have sprung up in response to rising inequality, to argue that this position alone disqualified him from being considered as Clinton’s vice presidential pick.
The spate of bank de-regulation legislation enacted during the Bill Clinton presidency is widely seen as setting the stage for the Wall Street meltdown of 2008 and prolonging the ensuing financial crisis from which the vast majority of Americans have not yet recovered. The American middle class no longer includes the majority of Americans and median household incomes fell by 7.2% 2000 to 2013, according to Pew Research studies. “The American middle class is losing ground, no longer the majority and falling behind financially,” a Pew report concluded.
Against this backdrop of financial decline and anxiety for working Americans, Kaine’s positions place him far outside the mainstream of an electorate that has shifted sharply to the left as inequality has intensified and democratic institutions have been hollowed out by corporate influence.
Even Clinton’s own supporters are seeking a profound, fundamental shift from an economic system designed to maximize the profits of the top 1 percent at the expense of family-sustaining jobs, economic security, and community stability. Fully 56 percent of registered Democrats, including 52 percent of Clinton supporters, now view themselves as “socialist.” This sentiment is particularly strong among young voters. Nearly half—49 percent of those under age 30- prefer socialism to capitalism (which 42 percent favor), according to a YouGov poll.
While Hillary Clinton may believe that Obama’s signal achievement, the Affordable Care Act, has delivered “90 percent” of the reforms needed for healthcare coverage, both ordinary Democrats and the general public see the situation quite differently. About 30 million Americans are still uninsured and those with insurance find themselves stretched to the breaking point by for-profit insurers who impose plans with high deductibles, creating the widespread problem of unaffordable underinsurance.
An overwhelming majority of both Democratic voters and the general public see the need to move far beyond the original “Obamacare” to a Canadian-style “Medicare-for-all” or single-payer plan. A May Gallup poll shows that nearly 75 percent of Democrats want a Canadian-style single-payer healthcare system. A solid majority—just under 60 percent—of the broader public wants a single-payer health system, including 41 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents.
Kaine’s politics have never shown any elements of the egalitarian impulse now animating the base of the Democratic Party. "Selection of a corporate militarist—flacking for Wall Street, pursuing the despoiling of the environment and promoting vast militarism—would underscore Hillary Clinton's commitment to destructive policies,” RootsAction leader Noman Solomon told Common Dreams. Kaine’s selection represents. “a very pronounced middle finger to the 13 million people who voted for Bernie."
Further, while Clinton and Kaine–since he came on the ticket—now proclaim their opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Clinton’s support for NAFTA in the 1990’s and her role as Secretary of State under Obama have sapped much of her credibility on trade and the offshoring of jobs. “Clinton claims to oppose the TPP, but she has a credibility challenge on the subject. She helped negotiate the deal as secretary of state and frequently spoke in favor of it before running for president,” writes Jeff Cohen, a RootsActiion leader of progressive Democats. Kaine is a “liability” in confronting Trump’s faux populism on trade, Cohen says.
Kaine, while well liked by his colleagues, simply drains the Democrats of enthusiasm and vitality. His choice is surely perceived by Sanders suppoters—who represent 13 million primary votes—as an outright insult. Against Trump, Kaine reinforces Clinton’s problem of being seen as a long-time Washington insider whose opposition to the TPP and corporate offshoring is suspect.
Make no mistake about it, Tim Kaine is widely liked and respected as a humane leader. He has shown the flexibility to set aside his personal views on reproductive rights and become a strong backer of women’s right to choose.
However, Clinton’s selection of Kaine is deeply out of touch with the current hunger for far-reaching reforms of our economy and democracy urgently felt by her party’s base and the public.
Roger Bybee is a labor studies instructor, longtime progressive activist, and writer who edited the weekly Racine Labor for fourteen years.