As pundits give their opinions on who won the vice presidential debate between Tim Kaine and Mike Pence, there was one portion where Kaine, in my opinion, was the hands-down winner.
Towards the end of the debate, moderator Elaine Quijano of CBS News asked both the candidates to describe how their personal religious beliefs influence their political lives.
“I try to practice my religion in a very devout way and follow the teachings of my Church in my own personal life,” Kaine replied.
“But I don’t believe — in this nation, a First Amendment nation, where we don’t raise any religion over the other, and we allow people to worship as they please — that the doctrines of any one religion should be mandated for everyone.”
“For me, the hardest struggle in my faith life was: the Catholic Church is against the death penalty and so am I,” Kaine continued. “But I was governor of a state, and the state law said that there was a death penalty for crimes if a jury decided them to be heinous. And so I had to grapple with that. When I was running for governor, I was attacked pretty strongly because of my position on the death penalty. But, I looked the voters of Virginia in the eye, and said, ‘Look. This is my religion. I’m not going to change my religious practice to get one vote, but I know how to take an oath and uphold the law. And if you elect me, I will uphold the law.’”
“It was very, very difficult to allow executions to go forth, but in circumstances where I did not believe there was a case for clemency, I told Virginia voters I would uphold the law, and I did… That was a real struggle, but I think it is really, really important that those of us who have deep faith lives don’t feel like we can just substitute our own views for everybody else in society regardless of their views.”
(The video below automatically starts at the relevant portion.)
Kaine’s answer is important to me for this reason alone: it marks the first time in recent memory that a liberal candidate for president answered a question on religion without feeling the need to pander to a certain religious base for safety’s sake.
His message was clear: although he has strongly held religious beliefs, they in no way influence his policy decisions as an elected leader.
Contrast that with Mike Pence, whose current political life has been mostly defined by what he thinks offends Jesus.
“I know you [Tim Kaine] hold pro-life views personally, Pence said, answering the moderator’s question.
“But the very idea that a child that is almost born into the world could still have their life taken from them is just anathema to me… Or I know you have historically opposed taxpayer funding of abortion, but Hillary Clinton wants to repeal the long-standing provision in the law where we said we would not use taxpayer dollars to fund abortion.”
“So for me, my faith informs my life,” Pence continued. “I try and spend a little time on my knees every day. But it all, for me, begins with cherishing the dignity, the worth, the value of every human life.”