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Saturday, February 18, 2006

Gov. Mark Warner's Holistic Politics

I just had my first look at former Gov. Mark Warner of Virginia via C-Span’s “Road To The White House” where they covered a recent visit to New Hampshire. I found his speech to the New Hampshire Democratic Party's 100 Club Dinner in Manchester last week to be more interesting for what was not mentioned as opposed to the actual content. He basically gave the same speech he delivered to the 2005 DLC National Conversation this past July. First, let’s take a look at, for me, the main point of his speech. After first setting himself up as a Democratic Governor of a red state, he then set the tone at the beginning of his speech reflecting his basic electoral philosophy:

“In today's Washington, you know, for the most part it's all about the issues that divide us and about settling the scores of the past. And while many of you have visited my state, Virginia, and you know that we're only a couple of hundred yards across the Potomac River away from D.C., in so many ways we couldn't be further apart because in Virginia -- and for that matter, all around America, in the heartland -- folks are looking for something else, what I call the sensible center. The sensible center is wide open in this country for any Democrat who can credibly make the case.”

You know Al From is sitting somewhere grinning like a Cheshire cat whenever he hears those words uttered. As one listens to his speech there is no doubt his reference to the ‘sensible center,’ as he called it, are his code words for America’s heartland. Then he ties it in with what most assuredly will be the main instrument to reach that “heartland:”

"In Virginia, we have worked to put down 700 miles of broadband in our rural communities so folks don't have to leave home to find a good quality job. In Virginia, where our economy is booming, we still have 700,000 of our working-age adults -- nearly 20 percent of our workforce -- that don't have a high school diploma because they worked in jobs like textile and furniture and tobacco. Well, we've gone out and actually -- Virginia is a pretty big NASCAR state. We partnered with NASCAR and got Elliott Sadler to be our spokesperson, and we got a "Race to the GED" program, encouraging people to go back and at least get that certificate so they can qualify for 21st century jobs."

Ah yes, NASCAR, the magic bullet for the centrist DLC Democrat. Once his point was made about the “sensible center” the rest of the speech almost had a tone of “we can just govern better:”

"What did we do? Well, we had to make some cuts. But we also used it as a chance to totally reform Virginia state government. We changed everything from the way we buy light bulbs to the total consolidation of our information technology services to completely reexamining all of the state's real estate portfolio in a way that can save the taxpayer money. Ultimately, as Ethan indicated, we had to close a $6 billion shortfall.
We then went about reforming our tax code with a Republican legislature. We were successful in that, in what's been called the most extensive tax reform in the nation in more than a decade. That allowed us to make historic new investments in education, the key to our future. But at the same time, we kept the focus on making our academics more rigorous, and we actually followed and made sure that those new dollars were held accountable in how they were spent in our schools. Because ultimately -- ultimately it's only the results that matter."

Ok. you can manage the government better. The question left in my mind after hearing this is, “Where is the vision?” Where is his central theme about where he wants to take us? At this stage of the game where its to early to lay out any concrete plans I wouldn’t expect details or rhetorical flourishes tied to some grand plan. What I WOULD like though is some idea of how he sees us as a nation. John Edwards, “Two Americas” is a perfect example. I didn’t need any specifics the first time I heard him make that reference in the summer of 2002. But it gave me an idea of where he wanted to take us.

Then there is what he didn’t say that troubled me. It would have been nice to hear about Iraq and some idea of where we fit into the world from a foreign policy perspective. But Iraq seemed almost verboten and I dare say he didn’t even utter the name once. How one can give a speech and not utter a word dealing with the issue of Iraq and it’s drain on our economy, not to mention our armed forces which is directly related to national security is beyond me. It’s almost a tacit nod to the current policy with a wink indicating we’d be better managers. Well, the way things are currently going, the team leaders in a paint ball tournament would be an improvement over the leadership currently in place. Current poll numbers indicate the electorate already understands this, all too well.

All in all the entire speech had a ‘holistic’ quality about it. Before I get to my point about that, first let’s take a look at Merriam-Webster’s definition of ‘holistic:’ “relating to or concerned with wholes or with complete systems rather than with the analysis of, treatment of, or dissection into parts.” That seems to be Mark Warner’s entire approach based on this speech: “We can run the government better than they can as a whole.” Somewhere we’ve got to come up with more than that. We’ve not only got to come up with ideas that oppose their entire program, they have to be ideas that the voting electorate can grasp onto and visualize. There has to be a model backed up with policy ideas that seems sensible and cost effective. I’m not talking about wonkish, white paper blather, I’m talking about casual remarks that form an idea the average voter can hang their hat on. As a voter looking for someone to do just that my advice to the former Gov. would be to start crafting an outlook and vision that shows us the possibilities of where we can go. Not just “we can be better drivers.”

Having covered the substance of his speech I would like to say he looks quite photogenic and he had a Kennedyesque delivery to his speech. He can be very self-effacing in a way to allow his listeners to feel he understands their world, their circumstance. That is the one refreshing thing I sensed in this speech and he easily conveyed it. The GOP’s brand of populism always has, as it’s main central theme, the “I’m one of you” rhetoric. The electorate is smart enough and aware enough to know that politicians on that level are anything but “one of us.” Though the former Gov. did give me the sense in his speech he understands the score, “out there.” I need more than that. A lot more.

1 Comment:

Anonymous said...


In the article about Mark warner, I think you meant to say DLC Convention (not converstion). It's looking good.