We have to admit that until Hillary Clinton chose him as her running mate, Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia was not on our radar. Yet a look back at various articles about him over the years has helped mightily to bring him into focus. Our attention was drawn, in particular, to the story of his youthful sojourn in Honduras.
A 2005 profile in the Washington Post put it this way: “teaching at a fledgling Jesuit school in El Progreso gave his life direction, inspiring him to public service and rekindling his devotion to Catholicism.” In a 2010 CNN interview, Kaine told Candy Crowley that he “was at Harvard Law School and didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life.” So he “took a year off and worked with Jesuit missionaries in Honduras.”
A New York Times article by Jason Horowitz that appeared this past September 2 focused entirely on Kaine’s Honduras episode. Headlined “In Honduras, a Spiritual and Political Awakening for Tim Kaine,” the article, in familiar Times fashion, painted America as the bad guy (“Around him, the United States-backed military dictatorship hunted Marxists and cracked down on the Catholic clergy for preaching empowerment to peasant farmers.”) and Kaine’s Jesuit friends, who were devotees of liberation theology, as heroes:
Honduran military leaders, American officials and even Pope John Paul II viewed liberation theology suspiciously, as dangerously injecting Marxist beliefs into religious teaching. But the strong social-justice message of liberation theology helped set Mr. Kaine on a left-veering career path in which he fought as a lawyer against housing discrimination, became a liberal mayor, and rose as a Spanish-speaking governor and senator with an enduring focus on Latin America.
An article by Ken Blackwell that appeared in The Hill on September 9 helped put the egregious Times spin into perspective. Blackwell – a former mayor of Cincinnati, Secretary of State of Ohio, and ambassador to the UN Commission on Human Rights – summed up liberation theology very succinctly: its advocates preached peace, but ran guns. As Blackwell noted, documents since uncovered in the Soviet and East German archives have made it clear that liberation theology was nothing more or less than a cynical Kremlin tool, its purpose being to undermine papal influence among the Latin American masses and thus render them more susceptible to Communist belief.
One champion of liberation theology was too radical even for the other members of the radical religious community to which he belonged in pro-Soviet Nicaragua. Blackwell identifies this radical priest as an American Jesuit named Father Jim Carney. This is the same man who, as the Times explained, was such a hero to Kaine that the future senator “hopped off a bus in northern Nicaragua, walked miles to Father Carney’s remote parish and spent a memorable evening listening to the priest describe ‘both getting pushed around by the military and getting pushed around by the church.’”
What, exactly, made Carney a hero to the likes of Kaine? The Times, eager as it was to paint a picture of a noble liberal politician whose conscience was forged amidst the religious conflicts of Reagan-era Central America, delicately avoided the uncomfortable details. Blackwell didn’t. He spelled out the hard facts:
In 1983, Carney was part of a 96-man unit that invaded Honduras to bring the Nicaraguan Communist revolution there too. The insurgents were Cuban and Nicaraguan trained and led by Jose Reyes Mata, Cuban-educated, and Honduras’ top Marxist. Reyes Mata had previously served with Che Guevara in Bolivia.
Lest it be forgotten exactly what kind of masters Carney was serving, let us point out that Nicaragua was governed at the time by the Sandinistas – a group founded by KGB man Carlos Fonseca and funded lavishly by the Kremlin, Castro, and East Germany. As Blackwell vividly explained, moreover, the insurgency in which Carney took part was ruthless:
Some prisoners were executed by being hacked to death, or by being flayed alive. Others had family members sexually assaulted in front of them. By every measure, the atrocities the Sandinistas committed were far worse than the dictatorship they had replaced.
What blocked them from total victory was the Reagan administration and the Catholic Church.
This, then, was the man whom Kaine was determined to befriend – and whom he has continued, throughout his political career, to cite as a personal moral exemplar and spiritual guide.