Ever since the 1992 convention featured the 17-minute “The Man from Hope,” there’s been this desire to make a mini-biopic for every major presidential and vice presidential nominee. Tim Kaine’s introductory video was short; that may reflect deft editing and an awareness of audience patience, or it may reflect that ultimately, there’s not that much drama or a story to tell in Kaine’s life.
Kaine was born in Minnesota, grew in Kansas City, went to the University of Missouri undergrad and then on to Harvard Law School… because all of our leaders connect to the Ivy League, in one way or another. The video mentioned Kaine’s year as a Christian missionary – “they taught him Spanish,” the narrator declared, previewing what was to come – and then at age 36 he was elected to the Richmond City Council. And it was elected office in one form or another ever since: Mayor of Richmond, lieutenant governor of Virginia, governor of Virginia, DNC chairman, U.S. senator. We were told he was “an aggressive advocate” “a leader in the Senate” and lots of other things that were surprising, considering how few Americans could name him until about a week ago. CNN found 48 percent of voters saying they haven’t heard of him or don’t know enough to have an opinion.
The one bit of drama in Kaine’s governing record was his response to the Virginia Tech shooting… a response that involved promoting gun control laws. Whatever one thinks of the wisdom of those laws, Kaine’s 2005 gubernatorial campaign declared, “Tim Kaine strongly supports the Second Amendment. As the next Governor of Virginia, he will not propose any new gun laws… In Tim Kaine’s view, Project Exile and Juvenile Exile provide a powerful illustration of the right way to combat the problem of gun violence: crack down on the criminals who use guns instead of restricting the rights of law-abiding gun owners.” In other words, the biggest decision of Kaine’s governorship was to break a campaign promise.
As for Kaine’s speech, his introduction to the country helped explain why so few Americans noticed him during his four years in office or previous time as DNC Chair or governor. There were two moments of life in an otherwise meandering and limp speech. Every time he spoke Spanish, the delegates in the room went nuts. (How many of those delegates understood what he was saying?) And Kaine unveiled the world’s least-impressive Donald Trump impression, repeating the words, “BELIEVE ME! BELIEVE ME!” about one octave lower than his usual voice. In some ways it was really funny because it was so bad.
Having said all that, there’s something familiar about Kaine; by being so blandly affable, he may remind people of a suburban dad, a neighbor, the local Chamber of Commerce chairman. He looks like a Muppet version of an insurance claims adjuster, or the kind of actor who plays a nervous small town mayor, telling the local sheriff to ignore those stories about a giant shark offshore. Maybe the electorate will like him; if they do, it will be a vague positive feeling.
“Honey, what was that man’s name again? Tim? Tom?”