Safe to say, this is an unconventional election year. For the first time in our country’s history, the top two major party candidates are the most disliked figures by the American public.
Yet somehow, there’s something worse than being disliked in today’s political climate: being boring.
Enter Mike Pence and Tim Kaine. Scores of party voters criticized both campaigns for choosing “safe” choices. These are not guys likely to inspire the base, or anyone, for that matter. Stephen Colbert refers to Pence as “A man born from a jar of mayonnaise that was struck by lightning” and Kaine as “America’s coolest step-dad.”
After some brief excitement over the announcements, the public went immediately back to not caring about Pence or Kaine.
As conservatives clamored for Chris Christie, and liberals lauded Elizabeth Warren, Trump and Clinton went…conventional? Conservatives wanted a warrior to match their anger and frustration against the Obama administration, and liberals wanted a nod to the Sanders campaign. Clearly, neither got their first choice.
Many policy wonks recommend “balancing the ticket:” a presidential nominee should choose a running mate who is the yin to her yang. So, who are Mike Pence and Tim Kaine? And what do they tell us about Trump and Clinton?
POLITICO and CNN both ran stories on Pence and Kaine, and when one combs through the articles, adjectives like “genuine, humble, ethically consistent, and good guy” come up again and again. Policy choices are one thing, but when it comes to personality and character judgment, there’s bipartisan agreement that these two men are, above all, authentic.
But why should we care about authenticity?
For one, the vice president will be expected to defend and promote all policies on the top of the ticket, even if he disagrees with it. Conservatives have doubted Trump’s credentials on key social issues: abortion, same-sex marriages, and religious freedom. As Indiana’s governor, Pence passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a bill allowing individuals and corporations to cite religious beliefs as justification for offering or not offering services, especially to the LGBT community. Trump sees no problem with transgender people using the bathroom of their choice. Pence believes the issue should be left to the states.
Despite these potential differences, picking the “safe, good guy” communicates one thing: Trump and Clinton want an improved image, and need someone of perceived moral ethic to elevate the conversation from dysfunction to statesmanship. Because both presidential nominees are embroiled in their own tenuous narrative, they are unable to rise above the fray to objectively speak and act from a place of true character.
When Trump refused to initially endorse John McCain and Paul Ryan in their primary re-election races, it was Pence who tried to build bridges between the rogue nominee and the embattled establishment.
Tim Kaine, the Jesuit educated, former Jesuit Volunteer Corps member, lives and acts from his convictions. Having been influenced during his post-grad service in Honduras, he was the first U.S. Senator to deliver a speech in Spanish on the floor of the Senate regarding his stance on immigration. He supports abolishing the death penalty, while Clinton is not opposed to utilizing it for heinous crimes.
What has impressed me about both Tim Kaine and Mike Pence is their ability to stay consistently themselves throughout the campaign–a notion that neither presidential nominee can attest to. They do it in a way that is good natured, calm, and respectful. Neither man is known for throwing rhetorical barbs or hyperbolic exertions. Whether it’s Tim Kaine disagreeing with Hillary Clinton on the Hyde Amendment or Mike Pence choosing to validate and honor the Kahn Family, it is not easy bucking the head honcho. Doing so can be seen as a strain on the campaign, especially when unity and shared message is cherished substantially over consistency in values.
Clearly, Kaine and Pence are not perfect. Maybe they are a bit boring. But, in today’s way-overheated political climate, “boring” is a breath of fresh air.
Yes, it seems boringly nice that Mike Pence delivers cupcakes to the press corps and refuses to adopt the same name-calling tactics as Trump. But isn’t this a welcome respite from Trump’s brash and aggressive nature?
In a Senate known for government shutdowns, fiscal cliffs, and blocked judicial nominations, Tim Kaine has developed a cordial, effective, and working relationship with his Republican colleagues, who have commented on his ability “to be very effective working with people here (in the Senate)”.
We need examples of good-natured statesmen who are willing to fight for their convictions even when they conflict with their own running mate. Though Tim Kaine and Mike Pence have wildly diverging political viewpoints, all signs suggest their character assessment is unimpeachable.
Pence and Kaine remind us that politics should not be about personality but policy. The American people want to know how Washington will change their lives for the better. Shouting accusations, name calling, or trying to get numerous retweets will not cut it. In the blandness of their personality, these two men demonstrate that civility can- and should- be the norm.
As Election Day nears, I hope our country moves its focus away from catchy rhetorical musings that lead to shallow attacks. While Pence and Kaine are certainly not sizzling reality- TV political stars, at least they act like statesmen. For this reason alone, they are one of the few good things American politics has going right now.