Thursday, November 10, 2005

Kaine Wins First Post-Katrina Election

by F. T. Rea

Tim Kaine’s resounding victory put smiles on a lot of faces in Richmond's Fan District on the sunny morning after. People on the street were smiling, waving and giving thumb's-up signs to one another like the Redskins had won the Super Bowl, or perhaps a particularly tedious spell of bad weather just ended.
(Illustration: F. T. Rea)
For many depressed Democrats, coast-to-coast, no doubt that morning’s headlines were the brightest sign they’d seen in a long time. In the interest of full disclosure the grin on my face is still there because I'm sure Kaine’s win sent a specific message to the GOP brain trust -- like it or not we are all living in a post-Katrina environment.

It took almost four whole years for an event of sufficient impact to occur to jostle the collective national psyche enough to allow for turning the page on the shock, loss, fear and anger of 9/11. At last Hurricane Katrina has done it.

Nobody is forgetting 9/11 but putting it into its historical perspective is healthy and useful. Obviously, there's a big difference between a four-pronged terror attack that kills thousands and violent forces of nature that do the same. Yet the nightmare for those unlucky enough to be in the wrong place at the worst of times can be much the same. The sense of helplessness -- rampant anxiety -- shared by all for some time after such catastrophes has similarities, too.

After absorbing the shock, loss, fear and anger that Katrina set loose on the Gulf Coast Americans now do have a fresh perspective on how not to prepare for, and deal with, calamities.

In the numbing smoke-filled air of Ground Zero and the panic of the anthrax scare Republicans gained power. In the fearful public’s eye they seemed better suited to deal with the situation than did the Democrats. Plus, people naturally rallied around their president. Consequently, the political pendulum suddenly swung to the right, even further than many of us thought possible.

In the fours years since those hijackings and exploding buildings, in truth, the Bush administration's response has not worked out all that well on any front. Here we got a fear color code, now stuck on yellow. Abroad, it has created an unfolding disaster in Iraq with no end in sight. There's plenty more but it took a hurricane blowing into New Orleans to finally pull the curtain back far enough to reveal what a bad joke the Bush administration’s signature Homeland Security Department was/is -- “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job.”

Out of nowhere it was like an instant civics lesson for the whole country -- hey, sometimes only the government can fix it, or it doesn't get fixed.

Opportunists who’ve been getting elected by telling us how government can’t solve the problem because it is the problem, don’t necessarily know how to make government's gears work smoothly when the need arises. After years of slogans from tax-cutting, chest-beating Republicans, claiming to be devout fiscal conservatives and robust can-do guys, in the real world it has turned out they might be neither.

So, as much as anything the candidates said on the stump or in a commercial, the muddy horror show in New Orleans set the stage for a Democrat to win in Virginia. Moreover, Kaine is an unapologetic believer in the power of government to improve the lives of the people it serves. To his credit, Kaine has always been that sort of guy, he never denied it. So, it’s quite fitting that he should be the first to benefit from the old pendulum starting to return from its swing to the right.

That's exactly what I think is happening. And, I bet sniffing weasel Karl Rove can already smell it.

Of course, weasels or not, there were many other factors which contributed to Kaine’s convincing win over Kilgore. First and foremost, Gov. Warner is quite popular for good reasons. Then there’s Kaine well-earned reputation as a skilled politician who can work effectively on both sides of the aisle. Also, Kaine’s sensible core message was upbeat; it made him accessible to independents and moderate Republicans.

Republican state senator turned independent Russ Potts hammered Kilgore in the last week of the campaign: “Kilgore is the most inept, pathetic candidate to ever run for governor in my lifetime. And I believe he would be the worst governor in the history of Virginia.”

OK. Those words are not going to be forgotten soon.

On his own behalf, Kilgore didn’t present his case well. His inability to sell himself with his own words, coming out of his own mouth, hurt him, especially at the end of the run. Kilgore’s handlers chose to keep him under wraps, while they unleashed an avalanche of abrasive attack ads.

But they probably didn’t anticipate their candidate’s somewhat dandified demeanor would combine with those dark and diabolical death penalty spots to make for a witch’s brew, image-wise. And that disturbing image would creep-out, or even disgust, a lot of Virginians. The utter failure of Kilgore’s slick but over-the-top television commercials is something that will be studied behind closed doors for some time, no doubt.

As far as how much of a boost Kaine’s win will give to Mark Warner’s presidential bandwagon, I don’t know about that, yet. It certainly can’t hurt him. Still, before the national pundits and spinners convince themselves the way Warner or Kaine won in Virginia is a formula for winning elsewhere, they should look more deeply into the Old Dominion’s political history. The schism in the Virginia Republican party that facilitated both victories for the Democrats has been around for a long time. Ask Ollie North or Mark Earley about the vestiges of the Mountain Valley Republicans.

Post-Modern Blue State and Red State thinking aside, tradition is still big in Virginia. So, for the experts to figure out there's this: For the eighth election in a row Virginians have voted-in a governor of the opposite party from that which controls the White House. The string goes back to 1977, when Republican John Dalton was elected governor while Democrat Jimmy Carter was the president.

What does the win in Virginia mean for the rest of the nation? Smile, the post-Katrina pendulum swing has just started.

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3 comments:

Scott said...

I am glad Kaine won, after all, I did reluctantly vote for him over Kilgore.

Now our challenge is to make sure Kaine does not continue to sell out the environment (the Mattaponi), sell out civil liberties (EqualityVirginia.org), and ignore renewable power (in favor of Lake Anna nukes and Dominion coal). We have to make sure he does not remain the corporate lapdog he was as Mayor of Richmond and Lt. Governor.

We are still a long way from a Green agenda. And these 'centrist Democrats' now think they can still get elected by denying that agenda.

F.T. Rea said...

Scott: In a two-party system Kaine is just about as good as it gets. His victory is huge in my book.

However, I'd love to see the Greens, Libertarians and other so-called third parties grow, prosper and field candidates that can win local, then statewide elections. But in this country’s modern history it seems third party movements generally concentrate on national politics, putting little or no emphasis on winning elections. So their efforts, however sincere, tend to look like stunts to a lot of people who pay little attention to politics.

John Q. Public ignores third parties. Win some elections, anywhere, and that could change.

curmudgeon said...

I almost voted for Kaine. He is anti abortion and anti death penalty and Kilgore bashed Catholics when he tried to smear him. But good ole Kaine saved me by committing heresy, saying even though he knows that abortion is murder he would block any law that limits it. We have a waffle for a Governor. enjoy.