But when FDR ran again, bipartisan praise for a job well done led to Truman getting on the party’s national ticket. Seventy years later, a young man who grew up in Missouri seemingly has acquired some of “Give’em Hell Harry’s” moxie.
In January, Sen. Kaine co-sponsored legislation challenging President Obama’s professed authority to pursue his Middle East war policy. “It really concerns me that the president would assert he has the ability to do this unilaterally,” Kaine said.
The Virginian’s co-sponsor: Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain, who lost to Obama in 2008.
This meant Kaine, among the president’s earliest backers, had hooked up with the strongest Republican critic of his friend’s Middle East military policy. Media commentators predictably said Kaine and McCain wanted to rein in the president. Their proposed legislation changed the 1973 War Powers Act to give Congress more say — and the president less — in deployment and use of U.S. military force.
Kaine said the historic tension between the legislative and executive branches over foreign intervention had always been a legal “obsession.”
The Constitution gives Congress sole authority to declare war. But since Truman, every president, including Obama, has maintained that the Constitution gives the commander in chief the power to send military forces into harm’s way without official congressional approval.
President George W. Bush, for example, did ask for congressional “authorization” of the Iraq war. But he made clear he didn’t legally need their approval, much less a war declaration.
Kaine believes the current constitutional and legal murkiness needs clarification. Yet Congress’s long-standing ambivalence on the scope of presidential war powers reflects military and political reality.
History shows that it can be politically risky to vote against a president after the commander in chief has made a case that military action is vital to national security.
Sen. Kaine underscored this point by combining his seemingly anti-war measure with strong support for Obama’s actual military policy.
The 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis is also instructive. President Kennedy followed the basic Kaine-McCain approach. He created a special war group that included congressional leaders, met with them whenever requested, shared secret information, gave them full access to the Pentagon brass and didn’t act until getting their final advice.
What happened? Congressional leaders didn’t want to appear weak against communism, perhaps fearing their “secret meeting” recommendations wouldn’t stay secret. Their recommendations surely would have led to a nuclear war.
Fortunately, JFK ignored them. Back-channel discussions with the Soviet premier uncovered his similar willingness to stand up to his own nuclear war hawks, saving humanity.
In the end, no War Powers Act, however amended, can guarantee the required good judgment. Still, Kaine has a valid point: To help get this good judgment, a more defined and mandatory consultation process would seem to be necessary.
Kaine’s self-described “obsession” with the obvious has earned him political plaudits and a Truman-like advantage.
Democrats are generally seen as the anti-war party. Then-Sen. Hillary Clinton’s vote to green light the Iraq war is likely the main reason she failed to shut down anti-war underdog Barack Obama’s campaign in 2008 before it became unstoppable. Tim Kaine is uniquely positioned politically: dovish enough for the anti-war left but covered on the right by hooking up with the hawkish McCain. Front-runner Clinton figures to run more hawkish than the dovish Democratic norm.
The political bottom line: Kaine’s the right balance for her should she win the 2016 presidential nomination. He created picture-perfect politics from perfunctory policy. Luck? No way. Then-Gov. Kaine made the Veep list in 2008. Right now, he leads the one for 2016.