(Cross-posted at Daily Kos)
I’m still seeing a lot of ambivalence among progressives over Terry McAuliffe’s candidacy for governor, in comments on blogs, newspaper articles and elsewhere. As too frequently happens, the Republicans have united their (lunatic) base, while ours continues to hem and haw.
So is Terry the perfect candidate? No, but Jesus decided not to run this year. Gandhi, King, Lincoln and FDR similarly declined. So I guess we better focus on the candidate we’ve got rather than the ones we don’t.
Rather than just dismissing the guy outright, or saying you’ll “hold your nose” and vote for him, it’s important to understand the reasons why folks on the left should be actively and enthusiastically supporting Terry’s candidacy without delay.
The first reason is obvious to all Virginia-watchers: We are up against the most dangerous Republican in America right now, Ken Cuccinelli, who takes pride in taking the most extreme stands in his party and pushing them like a vicious bully. Where others simply mouth the words to the slogans of climate change denial, Cuccinelli spent two years in a legal assault against climate scientist Michael Mann, costing the University of Virginia hundreds of thousands in legal bills. He coerced the state health board into regulating abortion clinics as hospitals, which could drive all the clinics out of the state. He sued the Obama administration the moment the Affordable Health Care Act was signed, and has sued EPA multiple times for daring to regulate fossil fuels. He still thinks sodomy laws are a good idea, and went to court to prove it.
And his election could easily sweep his newly-minted running mates into office as well: E.W. Jackson, who calls abortion “genocide” and has compared Planned Parenthood to the KKK, for Lieutenant Governor; and Mark Obenshain, who sponsored bills to give fetuses “personhood” rights and require women who have miscarriages to report them to the police, for Attorney General.
The pivotal swing state of Virginia could continue to move forward under a Democratic governor — or plunge back into the Dark Ages under Cuccinelli and his gruesome sidekicks. Your choice.
Beyond the clear threat of the opponent we face, however, it’s important to confront the aspects of Terry that make progressives uncomfortable and examine if they really amount to anything.
I hear few actual, substantive complaints against Terry, but more of a general distrust of him based on his style. Folks on the left tend not to be comfortable with the big money fundraiser/schmoozer types, for obvious reasons — because the Republican party has been taken over by such types in order to advance corporate interests.
But the truth is that having a candidate who’s a powerhouse fundraiser is a political strength, not a weakness. In the first quarter of this year, Terry crushed Cuccinelli, raising $5 million to Cuccinelli’s $2.4 million (which included a $1 million gift from the Republican Governor’s Association). This is important not only for winning the governor’s race: Terry made a clear pledge when opening his Fairfax office to pour money into General Assembly races and beyond for a “10 year project” to build a solid Democratic majority in Virginia (see starting minute 11:30 of video here.) This is truly music to any Virginia Democrat’s ears.
Let’s be honest: we need money to beat the Republicans at their own game and create actual governing majorities. While I’m so glad that President Obama won re-election, it is painful to have to watch him deal every day deal with a Republican House that refuses to work with him at any level. It shows why just winning the top of the ticket is not enough.
The larger context of fears on the left of business types is, of course, a concern that they will tend to lean right in their policies. Yet the evidence suggests that Terry could end up being one of Virginia’s most progressive governors ever. Let’s start with recent historical trends. The Democratic resurgence in Virginia began when Mark Warner was elected governor in 2001, in a campaign well known for its sops to Southern culture, notably his sponsorship of a NASCAR team. Warner then, as now in the U.S. Senate, is well-known for his tendency to tack to the center whenever possible.
Tim Kaine, following Warner to both the governorship in 2005 and the Senate last year, while hardly a flaming liberal, has consistently shown his ability to succeed in Virginia while taking more progressive approaches than his predecessor. This trend reflects the growth of Northern Virginia (and other urban centers in Hampton Roads and Charlottesville) with more educated and diverse populations that can carry progressives to victory — as it did with President Obama two election cycles in a row.
This is a trend that Terry McAuliffe cannot ignore but to his own peril. The Obama campaign has proven that Democratic victory in Virginia today depends on energizing the base and turning out young people and minorities to vote. That is partly his responsibility, and partly ours — we are in the same boat here, and our voices will be more effectively heard from within that boat than grumbling on the shore.
Nor is his campaign neglecting to focus on progressive issues. Priorities he’s emphasized to date include protecting women’s health, funding education and stimulating the economy through green energy investments. He has strong union support.
His political history should encourage, not discourage, Democrats. He’s been a major figure in national Democratic politics since 1980, when he first served as Deputy Treasurer and Director of Finance to the DNC, and was phenomenally successful in putting national Democratic organizations on a firmer footing financially and organizationally over a span of 25 years, culminating in his position as DNC Chairman. This is a record of service that deserves an awful lot more thanks and praise than criticism.
One more aspect of the left’s distrust of Terry is a fear that he does not seem serious — he smiles too much, he’s too happy, he’s having too much fun! Partisans like us tend to trust the angry warrior more than the happy one. But happy warriors can be quite successful. Ronald Reagan brought conservatism into the modern era by replacing the sourpuss demeanor of the typical conservative with a sunnier, more optimistic style.
The fact that Terry enjoys politics, and shows it, is no more a weakness than his knack for fundraising or his friendship with Bill Clinton, who will undoubtedly spend time campaigning for him this year. The bottom line, then, is that none of the grumbling on the left against Terry has much if any substance to it. It’s pretty much all about Terry’s style.
Which is why we need to get over it, and get on board his campaign as soon and actively as possible to help him beat the fanatics, and make Virginia a blue state once and for all.