George Allen in the Grapefruit League

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    Before he enters the venue, his team fans out inside. Anyone with a digital camera and lens is asked “Are you with the press?” No sign of the Kaine tracker. Allen saunters in and is guided to a front table. He relaxes like a quarterback solidly protected in the pocket.

    “Patriots all, Good Morning,” Allen always begins with a little ingratiating banter.

    The commencement featured a dedication sung a capella that invoked the Alamo as a metaphor for 9/11. They couldn’t wait for Governor Perry to drop by. Assuming that there is nary a soul in the audience who isn’t on board with his standard spiel, Allen is poised to let them lap it up. An old compadre is missing; his former teammate from UVA, Kenny Golden. The last time they met in this room, Golden was then the Committee Chairman and Allen recognized him presenting a small oak sprouted from an acorn picked up off the hallowed ground at the Reagan ranch, potted in an emptied margarine tub (a manifestation of his personal fiscal discipline). Golden left the Republican Party to make an independent run for Congress and hasn’t returned. Delegate Bob Purkey’s (R-82nd) introduction included a now threadbare call for diversity and a big tent for this party. And as usual, he appealed to a crowd that counted among the hundred or so eating breakfast, two visible minorities. By now he should have figured out that the other 98 or so were accompanied by every like-minded minority acquaintance they have.

    In this league, Allen is free to pitch the narrow set of principles and issues his coaches have prepared for him and the crowd allows a very generous strike zone. The only video camera in the room belongs to team Allen and if he misses the plate without notice by this uncritical group, it can be reviewed in private later and adjustments made for the next appearance on the grapefruit circuit mound. Pitching is so much easier in a league with no batters.  

    The former Governor likes to break down things into threes; three pitches, three strikes, but unfortunately for him, more than three innings. His first threesome is what he calls “three key principles we must recognize because they are what makes America great:”

    • Number one: Freedom…freedom and liberty
    • Secondly: This needs to be a land of opportunity for all regardless of what race, religion, ethnicity, or gender
    • And thirdly: the key principle is personal responsibility: responsibility for one’s self, for one’s family, for one’s community

    Allen tells the group that what’s been happening in Washington is the opposite of those. A centralized government has dictated mandates, redistribution, and the initiative sapping dependence on government. In response he has crafted the design for America to regain its “stature:” Blueprint for America’s Comeback. Go to the website, he says, but goes on to highlight a few points: “three key things that need to get done.”

    • Number one: we need to get our country more competitive for investment and jobs
    • Number two: we need to unleash our American energy resources
    • Number three: we need to rein in this overspending, overreaching federal government

    Consistent numbers rather than mixing in ordinals. I am reminded of an American student in Canada who tested audiences by using “first, B, and last” to order his points, just checking if anyone was listening. Allen just cares that the points are broad enough for consensus. But more to the point is the way his threes seem to stack on each other, then diminish their very foundation.

    “Folks, why are we here? Why are we here this morning?” Allen blusters. “Cause we care about America, we care about our country. We want to save America. We want to make sure that American dream is there for future generations. The reason I’ve gotten off the sidelines and back into the fight is probably many of the same emotions, sentiments, observations that you all have about the direction of our country.”

    Allen spends a good deal of time explaining how to achieve his key three so that the first three principles may be honored, dedicating some time going directly after Tim Kaine, who, among other things, somehow would have something to do with demolishing what Allen seems to think is Virginia’s only competitive advantage: right-to-work laws.

    Not until the question period does he wander off script. During his first answer he narrows his focus to what he would do in the Senate. It turns out that he has realized as a practical matter, six years is not enough time to accomplish everything. There may be a thousand things you want to do, but you have to be focused on two, maybe three issues. You’ll vote on a hundred things, but you have got to be focused. He promises “to be like a dog on a bone” on the issue of energy; opening Virginia’s offshore rights. Every time they want to talk about the deficit or during any debt ceiling fight, he’ll offer up his solution: “open up Virginia’s coast” to drilling and that will generate revenues for the federal government without raising taxes. That’s the way he says he is going to be: focused on two or three issues and at every opportunity in the Senate.

    …some people heard me say this before and they wonder “why the heck are you running again?” I said, “Gosh, this place moves at the pace of a wounded sea slug which is really frustrating to me.” I like action and things getting done.

    This focus on energy comes across an awful lot like he is pandering to the lobby that has paid his bills since losing his Senate seat. The game film will probably reveal that and result in a critique that once again reminds all of them that extemporaneous moments are not Allen’s best. And always remember: never, never let him speak publicly after sipping a beer. But this is not the regular season; it is not a hot afternoon out in real Virginia and everyone here is welcome, so no harm done. By the time he must face Kaine, the rough edges will be more finely honed and he’ll be able to remember the three things, maybe two, he wants to emphasize instead of being so obvious about who he really wants to represent in the Senate.