Virginia Senator Tim Kaine will be speaking at Tufts on Jan. 23. United States Congress via Wikimedia Commons

Senator Tim Kaine talks diplomacy, policy at Tisch College

Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) visited Tisch College on Feb. 5 to reveal his insights on foreign policy, discuss his experiences in various governmental offices and share his thoughts on the upcoming presidential election. The discussion, which had about 40 undergraduate and graduate students in attendance, was facilitated by Professor of Political Science Richard Eichenberg.

Alan Solomont, dean of the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service, opened the event by introducing the senator and speaking to his kindness and receptiveness. First-year political science major Deb Mayo, who lives next door to Kaine, then gave a brief overview of the senator’s accomplishments and government experience. Following the introduction, Eichenberg launched into a one-one-one discussion with the senator.

Eichenberg’s first question focused on the role of foreign policy in the coming election cycle, which Kaine, who is a member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, predicted would be extremely salient when voters head to the polls in the coming months.

“Six to eight months ago, this cycle would have been very driven by domestic issues, [but] my sense is that this has changed,” Kaine said. “Had the war against ISIL not expanded from Iraq to Syria [outcomes may have been different, but with] bombings and terrorist attacks, I think it is coming closer to home…[and] security fears [that] people have are going to make an important issue.”

Kaine explained that effective diplomacy demands nuance and modulation and pointed out that some of the heated rhetoric from some of the current candidates has had negative foreign policy implications. In particular, Kaine said that some of the more extreme remarks are due to the nature of the party primaries—where the candidates are trying to appeal to an energized 30 percent of party-loyal constituents and are not necessarily trying to put forth the most representative ideas.

Specifically, Kaine talked about a recent trip he took to the Middle East to meet with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in which both leaders expressed concern over anti-Muslim sentiments expressed by some U.S. presidential candidates. Kaine said that he ultimately believes the American electorate would prevent any anti-Muslim policies from being enacted.

“They each have their challenges of folks coexisting…and have kind of been able to rely on the U.S. as a place where…people make it work,” Kaine said. “It gives them hope that one day they can make it work, and when they look at our system and see grandstanding, they worry about here and what it’ll mean [back in their own countries].”

After posing a few more questions rooted in foreign affairs, Eichenberg opened up the forum to students in attendance, many of whom are members of Tufts Democrats and Cooperation and Innovation in Citizenship (CIVIC). Questions touched upon a wide array of topics, including reforming the tax code, increasing female representation in Congress, diplomatic relations with Ukraine and Russia, cybersecurity, the Transpacific Partnership, environmental issues following the 2015 Paris Climate Conference and growing prescription drug abuse.

Kenny Weitzman, a sophomore in Eichenberg’s “Public Opinion and Foreign Policy” class, explained that he appreciated having the opportunity to hear a politician speak in a non-traditional setting.

“I live in New Hampshire, and campaigns come through all the time … I’ve seen my fair share of candidates … he definitely went into a lot more detail about how the process works and [mentioned] that issues politicians give really clear cut answers to are actually more nuanced than they seem, which was really cool,” Weitzman, a sophomore, said. “It was nice to hear all the different steps and work that had to be put into it, into why decisions were made the way they were, instead of criticizing them for being wrong.”

Sophomore Stephen DiMauro, who was also in attendance, said he enjoyed hearing the senator discuss changes to the tax system and education reform.

“He talked about promoting wages instead of investment earnings due to the fact that people with higher in socioeconomic statuses are better able to invest and make earnings off of that, so we should tax wages,” DiMauro said.

DiMauro also said he agreed with Kaine’s beliefs that Americans should look more closely at the benefits of vocational schooling, which he discussed during the lecture.

“For the last 50 years, we’ve been diminishing the idea of vocational school and trade work and [promoting] the idea that college is for everyone,” DiMauro said. “People should be more open to having their children pick up their trade because they can…earn a good living to support themselves and… it’s something that helps the economy and society.”

Kaine, a former mayor of Richmond and governor of Virginia, spoke at Tisch College en route to New Hampshire to campaign for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in her race for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Kaine cited Clinton’s background in diplomatic relations and previous membership in the Senate Committee on Armed Services as uniquely equipping her with the perspective to be a powerful player in the realm of international affairs. He told the group that he believes Clinton has a strong understanding of the different foreign policy tools at her disposal and when they would best be employed.

Following the event, Kaine sat down with the Daily and spoke about some of the particulars of the upcoming electoral race. In particular, he said that Senator Bernie Sanders’ (D-VT) message has resonated markedly with younger voters.

“I know Bernie and like him a lot … I think of the things people love, and frankly, his Senate colleagues love about Bernie is that he is unashamedly who he is,” Kaine said. “We are in a world where a lot of politics seems so scripted … everybody knows he is saying what he believes…[and] he is speaking very truthfully about economic anxieties.”

Kaine lauded Sanders’ authenticity and pointed out that Sanders‘ stances on income inequality and social immobility have garnered a lot of support and are agendas he has been pushing for years. He explained that even if Sanders does not win the nomination, he will inevitably have set the agenda and facilitated dialogue on the issues that were of import to his candidacy.

However, Kaine said he still maintains his support for Clinton as the Democratic presidential nominee.

Thirty nine Democratic Senators have declared for a candidate, and all 39 of them have declared for Hillary,” Kaine said. “We know Bernie, and we love him, and we know Hillary, and we love her. The reason the 39 of us support Hillary…and it’s a really wide bunch…is because we all are there to get things done and we want to work with a president who can get things done. That is where we think Hillary has a head and shoulders edge over Bernie.”

Kaine’s name has also been thrown around as a potential running mate for Clinton, although Kaine insists that a vice presidential run is not his fate for this election cycle.

“In [2008] I was on a very long list of potential running mates for [then] Senator [Barack] Obama and then I ended up being on a list of two, but I never thought it was going to be me, even when it got down to two,” Kaine said. “I kind of have the same feeling.”

Kaine explained that no one has expressed interest in him as a vice president, and that the second-in-command position is not one he is hoping to add to his litany of governmental positions just yet.

“I really like my job…[and] Congress is what really needs to be fixed,” he said. “The president will be able to find a good vice president—that is not a problem. And I actually feel like not only am I working on things I care about, but some of the dysfunctions in Congress are things I really have a role in fixing so it’s not anything I spend a lot of time thinking about.”

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