Friday, May 29, 2009
On June 6, Virginians have the opportunity to vote in the Gubernatorial Democratic primary. To my mind, the choice could not be clearer - there's the vote for Clinton political operative Terry McAuliffe, conventional Democrat Brian Moran - two Northern Virginians - or Creigh Deeds, a Virginia native from rural Bath county with longstanding generational ties to the State and a story that suggests strong ties to and sympathies with people for whom home and place are central to their self-definition (rather than position, wealth and mobility). The Washington Post endorsed Deeds the other day - in some ways, a surprising but admirable choice - for his willingness to make some hard decisions that sought to take into account the common good of Virginia. For once, there seems to be a real choice in an upcoming (primary) election.
Two stories in today's Washington Post confirm my suspicions. The first is a background story about Deeds' life, which chronicles his rural background, his long roots in the Commonwealth, his background as a farmer and a hunter. I particularly like the stories of his time in college (where he met his sweetheart and eventual wife), particularly the detail regarding the fresh venison he was able to provide to grateful classmates. He admits to fearing "the perception that some of the conservative values common in rural America are out of sync with the Democratic mainstream." This is a rather amazing concern, given that it was these rural values that was long one of the mainstays of the Democratic party. That this background may now be a liability - particularly given the growth and dominance of Northern Virginia in electoral politics - is a sad statement of the disconnect of the Democrats from the deepest roots of their own commitment to a kind of civil and economic equality (not simply a devotion to meritocratic upward mobility - a system that results in profound inequality). It was in defense of these sorts of homespun values that the party originally was created by Jefferson, against the specter of Hamiltonian commercialism.
By contrast, there's a story on Terry McAuliffe's efforts to buy off Ralph Nader during the 2004 Presidential election. McAuliffe does not deny the story that he tried to pay Nader - using DNC funds - to remove his name from contests in 19 battleground states. If this action was not strictly illegal (and there's no suggestion that it was - surprisingly - though it wouldn't matter, since Nader turned down the bribe), then it's surely damnable. McAuliffe exhibits many of the most egregious qualities of the Clintonistas, above all, literally the desire to win at any cost. As Mark Plotkin averred the other day, while Deeds and Moran have shown a devotion to constituents in the state of Virginia, McAuliffe has shown felicity in one thing - raising money by leaning on potential beneficiaries of a Clinton presidency. His motivation seems to be personal glory and political upward mobility. Surely he could care less about putting in his time in lower offices; instead, his first run will be for the Governor's office, surely with an eye out for bigger and better things.
Could there be a more obvious choice on the ballot - between someone for whom it's easy to imagine that the Governor's office would be the fulfillment of a lifetime's devotion to a place and the fulfillment of obligations and gratitude to a State that made him who he was; and someone for whom the office is clearly a stepping stone to the place that really counts for him - Washington D.C.? I hope that Virginians eligible to vote in the coming Democratic primary will look closely at these candidates - their character and reasons for seeking highest State elective office - and vote accordingly.