Look at it this way: When it comes to the death penalty, The New York Times is to the left of Sen. Tim Kaine. That appears to have been the key factor in producing a rather nuanced news feature on Kaine that, for many liberal Democrats, may be a sobering read.
Then again, maybe not. The message of the Times story("On Death Penalty Cases, Tim Kaine Revealed Inner Conflict") appears to be that Kaine is a strong Catholic, but when push comes to shove he gives voters what they want. That may comfort Democrats on the left, since the nation (or the courts at least) appear to be swing their way on moral and social issues.
The key -- according to the contents of this story -- is that Kaine's Catholic faith is right where the Times editorial page would want it (other than on the death penalty). It's in his heart and in his campaign ads.
That whole "be doers of the word, and not hearers only" thing? Not so much.
Before we move on, let me confess (once again) that I am a pro-life Democrat who -- believing that life is sacred from conception to natural death -- is opposed to the death penalty. Kaine is, or was, the kind of Democrat who once gave me hope that there might be ways to at least compromise on the hot-button moral issues that have dominated American politics most of my life.
The point of that Times piece is that Kaine remains that guy -- in appearance. That's why Hillary Clinton picked him. But read carefully:
For Mr. Kaine, now a senator and Hillary Clinton’s newly named running mate, no issue has been as fraught politically or personally as the death penalty. His handling of capital punishment reveals a central truth about Mr. Kaine: He is both a man of conviction and very much a politician, a man of unshakable faith who nonetheless recognizes -- and expediently bends to, his critics suggest -- the reality of the Democratic Party and the state he represents.
He opposes both abortion and the death penalty, he has said, because “my faith teaches life is sacred.” Yet he strongly supports a woman’s right to choose and has a 100 percent rating from Planned Parenthood. And Mr. Kaine presided over 11 executions as governor, delaying some but granting clemency only once.
Note that 100 percent rating from Planned Parenthood. Now read on:
He cast his decisions in simple terms: As Virginia’s governor, he was sworn to uphold the law -- a message that helped him get elected governor. Calm, never letting his passion overtake reason and open to compromise, Mr. Kaine, 58, is well liked even by many Republicans he has worked with. His centrist appeal is one reason Mrs. Clinton added him to her ticket.
So here is my question, based on the reporting in this piece: What is the definition of "compromise" being used by editors at the Times?
Are they saying that Kaine is consistently willing to compromise his own Catholic beliefs or that he is a Catholic brave enough to push for political compromises in public policies? To be blunt: How does one get a 100 percent favorable Planned Parenthood rating if you are, at the very least, seeking COMPROMISES on moral, religious and cultural issues spotlighted by both the U.S. Catholic bishops and Pope Francis? For example, where is Kaine these days on the First Amendment and the free exercise of religious beliefs?
This is crucial material, since Kaine's Catholic identity will be at the heart of the Clinton-Kaine ticket's attempts to win Catholic swing voters.
You can see the outline of this campaign theme in the new Religion News Service "faith facts" piece about Kaine. Point No. 1 is:
1. He was taught by Jesuits. Kaine was raised Catholic in Missouri. His parents were so devout, Kaine told C-SPAN, that “if we got back from a vacation on a Sunday night at 7:30 p.m., they would know the one church in Kansas City that had an 8 p.m. Mass that we can make.” He attended an all-boys Jesuit high school in Kansas City and worked for a year with Jesuit missionaries in Honduras, where he taught welding -- his father’s trade -- and carpentry. He and his wife attend St. Elizabeth Catholic Church in Richmond, Va., which has a predominantly African-American congregation. He co-founded a men’s study group there.
Then, No. 3 is:
3. He favors allowing women to become priests. When Pope Francis visited Washington, D.C., in September 2015, Kaine attended the pontiff’s historic address to Congress. Before the speech, he issued a statement. “If women are not accorded equal place in the leadership of the Catholic Church and the other great world religions, they will always be treated as inferiors in earthly matters as well,” Kaine said.
This RNS news-you-can-use feature also stresses that "Kaine is a fan of Pope Francis’ 'Laudato Si’ encyclical on global warming and related issues.
That statement, in and of itself, raises interesting issues because of the many ways that Francis links his environmental appeals to "human ecology" -- including some of his strongest language on abortion, the definition of "family" and gender. Surf this Catholic News Agency piece for examples, such as:
It is “clearly inconsistent” to combat the trafficking of endangered species while remaining indifferent toward the trafficking of persons, to the poor and to the decision of many “to destroy another human being deemed unwanted,” the Pope stated. ... Francis also highlighted that concern for the protection of nature is “incompatible with the justification of abortion.”
“How can we genuinely teach the importance of concern for other vulnerable beings, however troublesome or inconvenient they may be, if we fail to protect a human embryo, even when its presence is uncomfortable and creates difficulties?” he asked.
Once the ability to welcome a new life is lost on the part of individuals and society, other forms of acceptance also “wither away,” he said, warning against a “culture of relativism” that sees an absence of any objective truth outside of our own immediate wants and needs.
How about this take on Planned Parenthood's impact on American foreign policy?
“Instead of resolving the problems of the poor and thinking of how the world can be different, some can only propose a reduction in the birth rate.” ... He denounced the fact that developing countries often receive pressure from international organizations who make economic assistance “contingent on certain policies of 'reproductive health.' ”
One more statement from Francis, linked to public debates at gender fluidity:
... Pope Francis also spoke of the importance of accepting and caring for one’s body, since it is through the body that man relates to the environment and to other living things. He cautioned against seeking to exercise “absolute power” over our bodies as if they were something that we own, saying that “man too has a nature that he must respect and that he cannot manipulate at will.”
Accepting and caring for our bodies in their truest nature is essential for human ecology, he said, and stressed that this acceptance includes “valuing one’s own body in its femininity or masculinity.”
Moving on. Journalists need to understand that Kaine has critics on the Catholic left, as well as the right -- a fact gently suggested by the Times. Will they be silent?
Still, it is clear that one of the slogans of the Clinton-Kaine campaign will be his status as a "Pope Francis Catholic," meaning a Catholic in tune with the Francis "tone" in news coverage, as opposed to the full content of the pope's writings and sermons.
Expect to hear that "Pope Francis Catholic" phrase (as demonstrated in the early Washington Post coverage) early and often, as well as the word "missionary."
That religious message, stressed the Times, has worked for Kaine in the past -- even when he drew flak on his personal opposition to the death penalty.
... Kaine’s team prepared, developing a message that cast the issue in terms of his faith, pointing out his work as a Jesuit missionary in Honduras. ...
The ads and religious-themed messaging proved a turning point, said David Eichenbaum, Mr. Kaine’s media strategist. “Once many of these voters learned he was a man of deep faith and actually was a missionary,” Mr. Eichenbaum said, “all of a sudden he wasn’t so liberal anymore.”
Stay tuned, to say the least. As always, wooing Catholic voters in swing states will be a major issue in this campaign.