Tim Kaine had stepped off a plane the previous night after a congressional visit to Vienna, Jerusalem, Istanbul and Ramallah. He was nursing a sore throat and was due for a root canal the following morning. But the Virginia Senator was determined to join Richmonders of all faiths and backgrounds in a show of unity in the face of anti-Muslim sentiment and xenophobia.
“We spent two and a half hours with the president of Turkey,” Kaine told a diverse gathering of 600
at Congregation Beth Ahaba.
“His first question was, ‘Why is there so much hostility to Muslims in America?’ I was able to say to him, ‘Let me tell you about the event I will be attending in Richmond on Sunday.'”
“One of the most important things we can do for the world is to do what we do when we are at our best: people of different backgrounds working together,” continued Kaine, who serves on the Foreign Relations committee.
“Nations around the world are looking at us and this is what they love about us.” When we go “off track,” he said, they are concerned. Our example speaks louder than treaties.
President Obama made a similar point in his final State of the Union speech. “The world respects us not just for our arsenal but for our diversity and openness.” He also noted that democracy requires “basic bonds of trust between our citizens.”
Those bonds are being sorely tested. Obama admitted his own failure to overcome political partisanship and that “rancor and suspicion between the parties has gotten worse instead of better,” adding that “a president with the gifts of Lincoln or Roosevelt might have better bridged the divide.”
While some Republicans leaped to condemn the speech even before it was delivered, the official GOP response by South Carolina’s governor, Nikki Haley, was more self-reflective: “We need to be honest with each other, and with ourselves: while Democrats in Washington bear much responsibility for the problems facing America today, they do not bear it alone. There is more than enough blame to go around.
“We as Republicans need to own that truth. We need to recognize our contributions to the erosion of the public trust in America’s leadership. We need to accept that we’ve played a role in how and why our government is broken.” Haley, the daughter of Indian immigrants, also took aim at extremists in her party.”During anxious times, it can be tempting to follow the siren call of the angriest voices. We must resist that temptation.”
Two days earlier in Richmond, Tim Kaine had also addressed the anger, anxiety and negative rhetoric dominating the public space: “So much of this is about suffering and when there is suffering people look for someone to blame.”
He concluded his remarks by drawing on the story of Job in the Hebrew Scriptures who was tested by God almost beyond endurance as he lost everything, yet he remained faithful. “The question for Job was whether he would be true to his principles. And after 9/11 and Paris we can either blame others or see it as a test of our principles.”
The challenge for us today, said Kaine, is “not to flunk the Job test.”