By Violet Wang ’24
On Feb. 24, Polis Distinguished Fellow Ambassador Miriam Sapiro joined Sen. Tim Kaine to discuss his experience working in public service as a mayor, governor and vice presidential candidate. The event, organized by Polis: The Center for Politics, also covered current domestic and international challenges facing the United States.
Sen. Kaine has achieved an impressive political career, but remains humble and steadfast in his motivation to serve the greater good of the U.S. He discussed his perspective on upcoming midterm elections, term limits and current foreign policy issues. Sen. Kaine was also able to give unique insight and perspective through his first-person experience, specifically on the 2016 presidential campaign trail.
Going into the interview, I expected the discussion to be quite serious and factual. However, Sen. Kaine was incredibly genuine and demonstrated his commitment to serve the public over any political alliance. For example, he mentioned a phone conversation where former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton asked him to be his running mate, saying “There might be people who are politically better choices than you. But I'm asking you, because if something happens to me, I think you would be a good president.” Sen. Kaine shared his respect for Clinton’s responsibility toward the larger picture of serving the American peoples’ best interest and stated the call was “very, very humbling.” I was touched by his ability to continually bring the idea of working in politics back to the roots of selfless public service.
Sen. Kaine went on to comment on the current foreign policy situation between Russia and Ukraine. Considering all of the controversy in the news about how to approach the issue, I thought it was significant that he did not mention any military force or violence. Instead, he framed the problem through a lens of core American values, stating “We're going to win this by being exemplary and showing people that a democratic model where individuals have both protected freedoms but also the ability to participate and choose their own path is vastly preferable to living under the boot of an authoritarian leader.” He framed the problem beyond a threat for action, but instead described it as a motivating call to character.
In addition to the timely emphasis on foreign policy, Sen. Kaine also raised an important point about what he deemed to be the greatest long-term threat to national security. He referred to a speech by Abraham Lincoln declaring, “Our Nation is so great. The only eventual cause of its demise would be suicide.” This statement still stands true today as internal division threatens U.S. democracy and culture. Sen. Kaine stated, “we are a broad, diverse people with different ideas. We just have to figure out how to harness our differences.” This was significant for me to consider because there are so many policy issues plaguing the world. This perspective on political polarization was significant for me to consider, especially due to its relation with Polis’s current “Discourse for Democracy” campaign. The importance of cooperation, diversity, and conversation is more important now than ever, and Sen. Kaine emphasized this point throughout his speech.
While this conversation was only an hour long, Sen. Kaine was able to impart a cacophony of information and insightful perspective. With all the partisanship in the media currently, it was extremely refreshing to look at political issues from the standpoint of American responsibility.
As a public policy student, I think it is important to return to the idea of service and selfless influence. It can be difficult to ground actions around this value of service during times of controversy and division, but as Sen. Kaine said, “Let us produce a synthesis and work toward a better idea than any of us would have on our own.”
Violet Wang '24 is double majoring in Public Policy and Economics with a Computer Science minor. She is passionate about criminal justice reform and economic equality. Currently, Violet works as a research intern with the Charles Koch Institute and serves as a Polis Director's Fellow.