We shouldn't be surprised when vice presidential candidates disagree with a position or policy espoused by the leader at the top of the ticket. In recent years, VP picks have served to unite warring factions of the party, or to become a meaningful pivot to the center.
But everything is different when it comes to abortion. There’s much less room for divergence.
In the past 20 years, the number of abortion-opposing Democrats has shrunk to the verge of extinction, and the polarization of politics on abortion has left little room for disagreement among the Democratic Party’s faithful.
Yet, on abortion, Hillary Clinton and her running mate Tim Kaine, have flown to different wings within the "pro-choice" camp.
Kaine, a Roman Catholic, remains personally opposed to abortion but affirms “a woman’s right to choose.” This is the position, championed by the late Mario Cuomo, that one’s personal, theological perspective on abortion should be kept separate from public policy.
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This line of thinking has proved to be a useful compromise in separating faith from policy, and the result for Kaine has been a reliable voting record for abortion rights.
Still, Kaine, who told "Meet the Press" he is a "traditional Catholic" and "personally I'm opposed to abortion," is in an unenviable position. He would appear to believe the unborn human is a person and while he personally opposes the destruction of that person, he will do nothing to protect that person.
(One wonders what the world would have been like had the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. said his faith taught him that African-Americans should be treated equally but he wouldn’t interfere with laws that deny them equal treatment.)
The difference between Clinton and Kaine is not in their voting record. It's the fact that Clinton appears to have abandoned her old position in favor of a new, much more radical one.
The difference concerns the Hyde Amendment, a compromise between abortion opponents and abortion rights supporters, enacted in 1976 with broad, bipartisan support that banned taxpayer money from covering abortion access.
Kaine supports the Hyde Amendment. He believes that Americans who have moral objections to abortion should not be forced to subsidize violence against the unborn.
For decades, Clinton has also supported the Hyde Amendment and has sought to find common ground with pro-life Democrats by stressing, even as recently as 2008, that abortion should be rare: "And by rare, I mean rare."
But this year, the Democratic Party platform lurched far to the left of any preceding era in our country’s debate over abortion, and Clinton lurched with the party.
She now advocates a repeal of the Hyde Amendment, which would force those Americans who oppose abortion to pay for the abortions of low-income and minority women who cannot afford them through taxpayer funds.
Gone is the language of "safe, legal and rare." Now, the Democratic Party seeks to ensure that abortion is safe, legal, common, and paid for.
Democrats who oppose abortion may have cheered Kaine's selection, but they now say the party's platform betrays them.
In the Los Angeles Times, Charles Camosy and Kristen Day write:
U.S. abortion law (which permits abortion for any reason until viability, about 22 to 23 weeks) already makes many progressive countries in Europe (which set their threshold for abortion at 12 to 13 weeks) look like pro-life radicals. Now the Democratic platform pushes the party to roll back even the very modest abortion regulations currently on the books.
The debate won't go away. Clinton angered abortion rights advocates who vehemently oppose any attempt to attach "personhood" to unborn humans when she said earlier this year that "(t)he unborn person doesn’t have constitutional rights."
Strangely, pro-life advocates agreed with her choice of words: The unborn person has no rights, which is precisely the problem. They see the danger in denying personhood to human beings, or minimizing the personhood of others (should we consider the unborn to be 3/5 of a person?) as charting a course toward dehumanization and destruction.
Kaine's disagreement with Clinton on the Hyde Amendment shows us where the line is today between today's "abortion absolutists" -- the belief that abortion access should be available, subsidized, with little to no restrictions from conception through the moment of birth -- and more centrist positions on abortion, which hold that abortion should be legal, but restricted, especially in the second and third trimesters.
Kaine's disagreement also shows us the line between those who see abortion as a positive social good (a view advocated by Katha Pollitt) and those who see abortion as a necessary evil, or in the words of Hillary Clinton in the past, "a tragic choice."
Kaine represents Clinton’s past. Pollitt is closer to Clinton’s present.
[Trevin Wax is managing editor of The Gospel Project and author of multiple books, including Clear Winter Nights: A Journey Into Truth, Doubt and What Comes After.]