Wednesday, February 01, 2006

In praise of Tim Kaine

Blue Girl reports that Tim Kaine was every bit as bland and dull as I feared he would be.

But it probably doesn't matter since apparently Bush was so much blander and duller that most people who bothered to tune in who were still in front of their TVs by the end of the State of the Union were there because they'd fallen asleep on the couch. The rest were either hopelessly partisan political junkies, determined good citizens and conscientious bloggers like Blue Girl, or folks who had misplaced the remote and were watching with half an eye as they searched for it under the sofa cushions.

But if the Democrats were lucky there were also plenty of white Southern males still glued to their tubes.

Last week, when I posted my dismay with the Democrats for choosing Tim Kaine to rebut the President's upcoming State of the Union as it Exists in My Own Fevered Imagination and How it Will Feature in Republican Campaign Ads This Fall and wondered what the devil the Dems were thinking, Roxanne Cooper came along to point out the obvious:

He's an attractive white man from the South. And the last two Democrats that won (three if you count Gore) were attractive white men from the south. That's why.

I'm sure Rox is right, that was a big part of it. Virginia is a Red State shading purple, shading blue. There's a good chance that the Democratic candidate could pick it up in 2008, especially if that candidate is former Governor Mark Warner or, if as at the moment I think more likely, Warner's whoever's the candidate's running mate---I like the sound of Warner Bayh, but Edwards Warner sounds good to me too. Warner Clark? Maybe. Clark Edwards sounds too much like the name of a guy I'd buy insurance from so I can't give the possibility the serious thought it deserves.

Putting Kaine out there as the Democratic spokesman of the moment is a way of telling Virginians that the Party is paying attention to them. It reaches farther than that, too. It's a way of telling all Southerners that the Party wants them in it.

Without getting into why some Southerners won't vote for any Democrat who's a goddamn Yankee while goddamn Yankees have no problem voting for Johnny Reb and whether or not those Southern chauvinists should be kowtowed to, there's just no getting away from the fact that there'd be a Democrat in the White House right now if we could have carried a couple of Southern States in 2000 or 2004.

And a few more Southern Congressional seats and a new Senator or two would help too.

So even if nobody watched Kaine's, at least the name of a Southern Governor is going to be attached to the word Democrat.

But although it would be good if the Democrats could make gains in the South, they don't need the South.

Which is good, because besides Virginia (and possibly, amazingly, Texas) few parts of the South that aren't already blue show signs of changing any time soon.

The Democrats need the Southwest and the Rocky Mountain States. And there are plenty of signs those states aren't just going to change, they are changing, where they haven't already changed.

Kerry would be President if he'd won New Mexico, Nevada, and Arizona. He came very close in the first two. I'm not sure what would have happened in Arizona if he'd put in a strong effort there from the first. Arizona has a Democratic governor, unlike Ohio and Florida, so the Bush Leaguers might have had a tougher time stealing it.

And while Kaine was getting himself elected in Virginia a new Democratic Governor was already in charge in Montana and a new Democratic Senator was representing Colorado.

In the comments on my Trojan Rabbit post, Off Colfax wondered if either of the Colorado Salazars, Senator Ken or Congressman John, might have been better choices than Kaine. At the moment I'm not particularly happy with Senator "Pat Dobson Owns My Ass" Ken (Can anyone confirm that Salazar got a bad rap on that one?), but Off Colfax says Congressman John is good on TV.

Maybe next year.

There are of course two more States of the Union to be rebutted before the 2008 Presidential election. The Democrats could tap John Salazar and either or both of the Western Governors, Arizona's Janet Napolitano or Montana's Brian Schweitzer.

And, because the Midwest is vital too---Minnesota and Michigan were too close for comfort, and I don't know what the hell happened in Iowa---there's Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius.

I really like the idea of Schweitzer. But I don't know much about him. How's he working out there, John Clayton?

And I hate to say this, I'd be wary of using Napolitano or Sebelius because they are women.

The last thing the Democrats need right now is more reinforecement of the idea that they are the girls' Party.

Yes, I know, the Democrats are losing women's votes too. But I'm sorry. The gender gap really is the Democrats' problem, not theirs. The Democrats lose more among men than the Republicans lose among women. And this, by the way, is why, as much as I admire her, if I hear the name Barbara Boxer one more time I'll scream. Shoot me.

So, with that in mind, Tim Kaine wasn't all that bad a choice. If the Democrats were thinking that no one watches the rebuttal anyway, then how well Kaine comes across on TV doesn't matter. More people will read about his speech than will have watched it and in print the work will get done.

Because, you know, the newspapers have done such a bang up job of getting the Democrats' message out in the past.

Look, this isn't a trivial issue. You can argue that Democrats---and Liberal bloggers---are wasting their time worrying about Tim Kaine's squinty eyes and pug nose. You can argue that we'd all be doing something more productive if we focused on and worked harder on the issues that really matter. Get out there and win some elections, you can say, and forget Tim Kaine and a speech nobody cares about anyway.

But part of winning elections is getting the message across, and the way you get your message across these days is through television.

There's no way of getting around that. And the Democrats have been very, very bad on television.

The message is only as persuasive as the messengers anyway.

The rebuttal in and of itself isn't a big deal. But it's part of a process that the Democrats have been bungling.

Ask yourself who are the faces of the Democratic Party these days.

Most people in the country see Hillary Clinton. They see John Kerry. In some quarters they still see Ted Kennedy, mostly in the dead of night, coming out of their closets to eat their children.

I am proud of Hillary, as my Senator. I'm proud of my vote for John Kerry. I'm proud that Ted as the conscience of the Party. But to most of the country these are not people to identify with. Theirs are not faces that warm the cockles of their hearts and make them reach for the checkbook and rush out to vote.

Tim Kaine's face, Nancy Pelosi's face, Harry Reid's face aren't giving anybody the warm and fuzzies either.

The Democrats need stars.

They need stars who come across as fighters because they are fighters.

Better a real conservative Democrat than a Liberal who is sheepishly trying to pass for one or, worse, managed to pass so well that they've obliterated the difference and gone right over into quasi-Republicansim.

And, frankly, better a real conservative Democrat who is a star than another run of the mill Liberal who washes out in the spotlight.

That's why if I was living in Ohio I'd be working for Paul Hackett and not Sherrod Brown.

And that's another post.

Undaunted by Katrina vanden Heuvel's disapprobation, Ezra Klein came up with another reason for wishing the Democrats had found someone other than Kaine to give the rebuttal that has nothing to do with Kaine's squinty eyes. Kaine, says Ezra, is last year's war.

Kaine's selection is an explicit attempt to address the "values question". His claim to fame is not simply winning election in a pink-tinged state...but doing so through constant, authentic, and successful invocation of his Catholicism.

See? The Democratic Party is religious!

But...the battle du jour isn't religion, but corruption. Republicans would love for us to make 2006 a reprise of 2004's lame protestations of piety. What they'd prefer not to deal with is a focused critique on the nexus of Republican dominance, lobbyist influence, and corporate power. Deploying, say, an Elliot Spitzer to argue that case would make sense. It would be relevant. Tim Kaine, however, is not the party's most visible or credentialed spokesperson on anticorruption issues. He's uniquely relevant to 2004's election, but not 2006's.


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