by Lauren Victoria Burke
Generally the Washington Post’s piece (“Bobby Scott: The congressman who could make history. Again.”) earlier this week on Rep. Bobby Scott was straightforward, basic. But there are some underlying narratives I wish people would have the guts to speak directly to.
Jenna Portnoy is a very good reporter, so it could have been haphazard editing… hard to tell. But come on, we know Bobby Scott is black – we get it. Go deeper. We know there is only one other black person in the history of Virginia (Doug Wilder) who has been elected statewide. Are white Democrats in Virginia, the media, Virginia Democratic party honchos or whoever scared of this issue?
Surely, Jenna Portnoy must have heard someone say that, so why not WRITE THAT? Say it. Ask the 50,000-ton elephant in the room a question: can a black candidate win statewide in Virginia again? More importantly, can Bobby Scott – with one of the best political resumes, black or white, in Virginia – win a statewide race? This isn’t just a “feel good” or “let’s make history” situation. The question of whether the best pick Gov. McAuliffe can make for Tim Kaine’s Senate seat (assuming Clinton/Kaine win on November 8) is marginalized, because Bobby Scott’s race is at the center of this moment.
This is not just about issues of “history” the Post seems obsessed about. The Post should have looked at Scott’s record and asked: will votes follow? There’s nothing to indicate they won’t. Scott represented a majority-white State Senate district back when Virginia’s demographics were far less diverse. He’s represented the cities in Virginia that have been Democratic strongholds for years.
It was good to see that the Washington Post talked to Dave Wasserman about votes. People are obsessed with race, and money — but it’s about votes too, right? Terry McAuliffe spent $20 million in 2009 and lost. Obviously, that $20 million didn’t win a lot of votes. Mark Warner outspend Ed Gillespie 2-1 in 2014 and received the scare of his political career.
We also need to consider that a great deal of national money would go to Bobby Scott’s 2017 race, and likely in 2018 as well. Frankly, Professor Kidd (quoted in the Post article: “He’s not demonstrated, until recently, an ambition for higher office…There’s an uncertainty whether he can raise money.”) and many other unnamed sources sound a lot like how people sounded right before the first black person in Virginia – Doug Wilder – won statewide three decades ago.
Note that Rep. Don Beyer’s name keeps coming up, even though he’s signaled no interest in the job? Can you imagine if Bobby Scott had lost statewide already — as Beyer has? Would we still be talking about Scott to replace Kaine? Hell no. Beyer lost to Jim Gilmore by 200,000 votes in 1997, with essentially equal money (Gilmore $10M to Beyer’s $9M). If Scott had lost a statewide race by 200,000 votes, we would properly never mention him for a statewide contest again. So why, then, is Beyer mentioned after spending $9 million and losing?
The other narrative in Portnoy’s piece is a product of our f’d-up political times, including a reality-show TV clown and all-around ignoramus winning a major-party nomination. The Post article says Scott is a “professor,” that he’s not “dynamic,” that he struggles for “soundbites,” and that he has no “signature achievement.” That’s what journos write when electeds don’t do bull**** pressers all day or Instagram pics of their food (see: Cory Booker) while getting nothing done legislatively. Journalists should be able to tell the difference between branding and PR on the one hand — and legislative results on the other.
The mighty kings of do-nothing in Virginia – Eric Cantor, Scott Rigell and Dave Brat – have absolutely no legislative achievements in Congress to speak of. Robert Hurt has done nothing. Barbara Comstock has done nothing. Bob Goodlatte has done next to nothing as a committee chairman sitting in the majority. Eric Cantor was the House Majority Leader — can anyone name a single thing he did? Hell no you can’t. What are Rob Wittman’s signature policy pieces?
In fact, it’s the “professorial,” “policy wonk” guys like Scott who author bills that become law, such as the Death in Custody Reporting Act, the Fair Sentencing Act, Every Student Succeeds, the Ft. Monroe/National Monument, the Second Chance Act, the STOCK Act ethics bill — all this stuff is law. This is the substantive, “professorial” work journos don’t bother to mention. Rep. Scott has been at all those bill signings standing right next to the President as a lead author. Who else in the Virginia congressional delegation can say that? How does the Washington Post not know this?
If Scott has “no achievements,” I challenge anyone to tell me what all those other folks have done. What bills have been sponsored by other members of the Virginia delegation that became law? I see many of the Virginia members every day when Congress is in session. I will say that when Frank Wolf and Jim Moran were here, they got things done. But Robert Hurt spends lots of time walking around, talking on his cell phone. “Economist” Dave Brat spends lots of time bloviating to reporters. I have no clue what Morgan Griffith does, other than deny climate science and make himself look like a buffoon. Occasionally, Congress votes on sending our troops to war. I’ll take the boring “wonk” types, thanks.
We also might want to note that the “boring” tag is directed at Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam and Hillary Clinton as well. She’s a “technocrat” or Ralph is not “exciting.” So…being smart and knowing policy details on what you’re talking about is now a bad thing? Sorry, but I want the person I vote for to know what Aleppo is and why it matters. This dumbed-down celeb-politician bull is a product of Trump, a mindless “famous for being famous” culture, and the era of the big mouth, do-nothing Tea Party.
Again, Portnoy’s WaPo piece wasn’t terrible — it just grinds my gears that a major paper like the Post didn’t do basic research on Bobby Scott’s legislative work, and that being a “professor” is cast as a negative.
Lauren Victoria Burke is a former congressional Democratic staffer on Capitol Hill who is now a political analyst and freelance writer. She can be contacted at LBurke007@gmail.com.