Oh, no. It's yet
another "rising star" governor of the Democratic Party
to the rescue!
Bush's State of the Union address, Democrats trotted out Tim Kaine,
the recently elected "centrist" governor of red-but-increasingly-purple
Virginia to present their response.
Kaine gave a laundry list of purported ills that afflict America
and declared repeatedly, "there is a better way." Apparently
the qualities Kaine represents are some democrats' vision of what
it takes to beat Republicans in 2006 and 2008.
On the surface,
Kaine seems politically appealing. He can "talk faith."
He speaks the vocabulary of free enterprise and often speaks of
Virginia as "the best managed state" as if it were a
corporation. More importantly, he is "a rising star in the
[Democratic] party who... [won] election in a state that Bush
won comfortably in 2004." During that election, he even did
unexpectedly well in Loudoun County, Virginia, where I live, which
is a quintessentially Republican exurb.
But, as the
saying goes, I have seen this movie before.
moved to Virginia, I lived in Washington State, home of now ex-Governor
Gary Locke, who gave the Democratic Response to President Bush's
State of the Union address in 2003. Governor Locke, too, was a
much-heralded "rising star" of the Democratic Party
at the time.
also considered a centrist, someone who showed fiscal restraint
and was not given to the ranting of the Michael Moore wing of
the party. In one way, he was even more compelling than Kaine
-- he embodied the classic American dream story. Born to poverty-stricken
immigrants, he went to Yale and rose to become the first Asian-American
governor outside Hawaii. There was much hope for Locke's future,
even a discussion about a potential vice presidential candidacy.
Then it all
came crashing down. In the first place, Locke's victory inflated
the perception of his political skill and appeal. His Republican
opponent had run a particularly bad and controversial campaign.
While Locke might have been "centrist," his party was
not. He was thus beholden to the liberal institutional interests
of the Democrats. For a while, the tech boom masked flawed leftist
policies, but when the crash came, the economy of the state sank
while many red states fared better.
By the end
of his second term, Locke was so unpopular that he gave no boost
to his Democratic successor, Christine Gregoire, who barely won
by literally a few hand-recounted votes in a botched gubernatorial
election -- in an overwhelmingly blue state -- that was a national
Kaine's "centrist Democrat" victory in a purportedly
beat-red state loses much of its luster, when one examines the
election that brought him to office. As with Locke's Republican
opponent in Washington State, Republican Jerry Kilgore ran a poor
campaign against Kaine in Virginia. Dick Morris, who knows a thing
or two about elections, called the Republican gubernatorial campaign
here variously "horrible," "lousy," and "stupid."
past poor ratings from the National Rifle Association, his campaign
actually completed the questionnaire from Virginia Citizen Defense
League, a prominent local gun rights organization. Not only did
the Kilgore campaign refuse to do so, it insulted the organization's
head too. It is telling when a Republican campaign alienates gun
owners, a strong component of the conservative base.
Loudoun County voters, many of them Republicans, told me that
they found Kilgore unappealing and that Kaine -- even if a Democrat
-- "couldn't screw things up too much" so long as the
Republicans controlled the state legislature.
This is hardly
the winning recipe for the national Democrats in 2006 and 2008,
especially since the national Republicans are unlikely to run
such particularly incompetent campaigns.
will, no doubt, make much political hay out of the corruption
scandals, the continuing struggle in Iraq and other politically
messy events. But the forces that brought the fundamental conservative
realignment have not changed. Red states and counties are still
growing in people and clout while blue states and counties are
generally losing them.
neither Locke nor Kaine's purported "centrism" really
presents a workable Democratic vision that can sustain electorally
victories in the long run. While they may have the edge in "mommy"
issues like education and healthcare, they still do not have a
convincing, coherent vision of national security in the Age of
Global War on Terror.
the national Democrats can repeat "There is a better way"
endlessly. The voters are not going to trust them unless they
can present a unified, realistic, tough and, indeed, better plan
to protect America. So long as the Democrats are beholden to the
Michael Moores, the Deaniacs and the Kossacks, whatever political
advantage they derive from a temporary Republican weakness is
not going to amount to much in the long-term.
Remember that the
"promise" of a rising star of a centrist Democratic
governor in 2003 was followed swiftly by a resounding Republican
victory in 2004.
J. Na, senior fellow in foreign policy at Discovery Institute
Washington D.C., runs "Guns and Butter Blog" (gunsandbutter.blogspot.com)
and "The Asianist" (asianist.blogspot.com).
2000-2006 RealClearPolitics.com All Rights Reserved