Here’s the video of Gov. McDonnell’s “State of the Commonwealth” address yesterday, and here’s the text. In short, McDonnell’s agenda is a massive borrow-and-spend program, combined with a bunch of other stuff that adds up to a bunch of happy-sounding buzz words with absolutely no substance to them, plus a few wingnut/Tea Party “ideas” thrown in for good measure. Given the lameness of McDonnell’s agenda, how should Democrats respond? Last night, we got one answer from Ward Armstrong, and similar comments from other Virginia Democrats.
The gist of the response from (conservadem) Ward Armstrong et al: that Democrats agree with several of Gov. McDonnell’s priorities – “funding for transportation, higher education and job creation” – but disagree on “how to pay for them.” Is that what the response should be, in large part or in full? Not in my opinion, and not according to this superb comment by cvillelaw, which I’m reprinting below (bolding added by me for emphasis). What do you think?
I listened to Bob McDonnell’s address, and then to Ward Armstrong’s response, and I just wanted to ask: “How do we expect to win on Democratic messages when we talk like Republicans?”
Continued on the “flip”
Bob McDonnell gave Democrats a great opening when he talked about how borrowing money we don’t have now to spend on road projects now will be an economic stimulus tho make all of our lives better later. That’s what the Obama stimulus was all about. The Republicans have campaigned against the stimulus package by saying “government spending doesn’t create jobs,” and “putting a burden on future generations in the form of government debt will just stifle future economic growth.” The Democratic defense of stimulus spending has been premised on Keynesian economics, not Club for Growth economics.
But Ward Armstrong’s attack is a Club for Growth response, not a Keynesian response. It was fundamentally wrong when John Boehner and Robert Hurt were saying it last year, and it is fundamentally wrong when Ward Armstrong says it this year.
The genius of the Republican message over the past few years has been the persistence with which the lie has been uttered — over and over, when justified and when not justified. I don’t know whether Ward Armstrong actually believes the Club for Growth attack, or whether he just believes that the voters of Virginia believe it so he wants to say something that they will be receptive to. And I don’t know which would be worse.
When Democrats talk like Republicans, many things happen — none of them good.
1. We reinforce the Republican theme, in this case that government cannot stimulate the economy.
2. We make it hard for real Democrats to run on real Democratic messages.
3. We fail to distinguish ourselves from the Republicans, so voters make their decisions not on real issues that affect them (because they see no differences between the parties) but on socially divisive issues that don’t really affect them (Tom Frank’s What’s The Matter With Kansas hypothesis).
I would much rather a Democratic response have come like this — “We welcome Governor McDonnell’s recognition that government spending on infrastructure can stimulate the economy, that government spending on infrastructure can create jobs, that government spending on infrastructure can lead to economic recovery. Democrats have long understood those realities. And we agree that now — when the economy needs the stimulus, when interest rates are low, and when construction costs are low — is a good time to spend more on transportation infrastructure. We wish that Governor McDonnell would have made those points last year, when his Republican colleagues were bashing President Obama for making the same argument, but — better late than never. Welcome to the real world of real economics. We haven’t seen the details yet, but if the details do what the government has talked about tonight, we’ll support him there.”
Which gets me back to my earlier question — did Ward Armstrong say what he said about transportation debt because he believes that borrowing to pay for infrastructure improvements is wrong, or did he say it because he believes that Virginians will agree with him if he says it?
Either way, it’s not good.
I couldn’t agree more.