I read a little while ago that Tim Kaine had been given the bittersweet honor of presenting the "Democratic Response" to the State of the Union on Tuesday. I immediately thought hey, decent choice--show off your big winner from 2005 in an implicit presaging of 2006, give Mark Warner a little secondhand smoke up his dress as Kaine's godfather, and push a little of that "new Democrat" blood that shows up in personalities like Schweitzer of Montana and Barack Obama. And I let it go. I moved on, I found other topics, and although I am quite familiar with Kaine having lived in Richmond while he was mayor, I didn't even bother mentioning it here.
If you aren't familiar with Kaine yourself: he is not particularly dynamic (Obama), not particularly senior (this is just his second statewide or federal office), not particularly able to showcase one issue and hammer it into the ground (Murtha), and almost entirely unknown (nearly everybody else). But as I said, he's of a newish breed of Democratic politicians who seem at ease with conservatively usurped "values", but also focus on pragmatic issues and approaches--what used to be called "kitchen table politics." Bill Clinton is definitely NOT of this breed, but he perfected the art of taking small steps with programs that gave off visible results, and then selling himself as not a politician but a governor (small g).
Tim Kaine, still basking in the glow of Mark Warner's coalition-building shadow, is a well-schooled member of this new group. As the mayor in a weak-mayor council system and (if I recall right) the only white member of the council in a majority black city, Kaine learned nothing if not how to get along with different constituencies and interests. But as someone who often debated issues from the right on a strongly liberal council, Kaine now seems at home standing to the left of a strongly conservative House of Burgess...er, General Assembly.
Not THAT far left, perhaps, but well enough. For instance, I was surprised that so few progressive Virginians beyond the gay community were giving Kaine the business for agreeing to sign Virginia's truly shameful gay marriage amendment. This disturbing bill goes well beyond being merely redundant to a state DOMA law, but also takes aim at transactions and associations unmarried couples may enter into. I found nothing at Sullivan under "Virginia amendment," although I recall something he wrote about a similar bill that did not pass last year. But this one passed! And Kaine was going to sign it...until recently, when either he a) actually read the thing, or b) picked up the phone and heard angry people saying, "have you read this thing?"
And as Kaine's supporters also note (and this is something you Portlanders will perk your ears at), he's already exercising his will and pushing a strong-government agenda: smart growth. Folks, traffic is that bad in the DC area, and from personal experience it's worst in Virginia. So people are ripe for any kind of solution.
But it should boggle the minds of Northwesterners to hear people in the East say, "hey--OK, maybe it's time to let localities set limits to development in their area." People would be toppling Portlandia if it came down from government that you couldn't stop a Wal-Mart or a seal-clubbing farm or a toxic mold plant in your own backyard. Heck, they'd rattle her pitchfork just for having fewer than 20 public sessions on it. You can literally see the difference that tight planning makes, and it's overwhelmingly positive, even if it's far from perfect. So that will be an achievement for him if it happens.
So like I said, I have a hopeful view of the guy, and he seems like a rational choice for what is ultimately a rough gig. And as I said, I moved on.
In a season of deserving outrage at the stale joke that the Bush administration has become, for the life of Brian I cannot figure out why choosing Tim Kaine represents a calamity or even missed opportunity for the Democrats. And yet as the days rolled by after his selection, that's what I began seeing in the lefty blogs. Arianna complained the loudest, or at least got the most play--but several places I went to took the time from their day to say, "What idiots, those Democrats--picking Tim Kaine! Ha! Dolts!" Heck, even others at Huffington Post said it, too--like it was the biggest mistake EVER.
A couple of days ago I linked to Peter Daou's complaint that the traditional media is helping reinforce stereotypes of Democrats as weak, fractious losers. There are, however, other groups who are helping reinforce them--Democrats. I have to ask: why are supposedly favorably Democratic writers slamming the party so publicly on this? Why are they basically attacking Tim Kaine personally by denigrating the choice? How do they not have to time to exhort their readers to press the principle and do whatever necessary this weekend to keep Alito off the Court, but they've got virtual printer's ink to spare on the choice of the fucking SOTU rebuttal! Who watches that thing? Who is going to have the captive eye for rhetorical disaster long enough to get through Bush's speech...and then sit up attentively for Democrat X?
Cause that's why the dissent here really bothers me. I like being among the critical thinkers rather than the lockstep zombies. I like being in a coalition as opposed to a private club. I like debate within agreeing positions. But on stuff that MATTERS, how about? Run down the party for cowardice and poor choices on any number of issues over the last five years, and I'll back you. But shut up with the Kaine thing! Who cares?
Bruce Reed at Slate had the same thought, and although he published the day before this came out, I assure you I had all those thoughts he did, a few days before he had them. Here are his:
The Kaine mutiny is troubling not just because a few bloggers are picking on the wrong guy. It's also a disturbing reminder of how much time most of us in the blogosphere—and in politics generally—waste pretending that daily tactical decisions are what matters.
I happen to think Tim Kaine will give a good talk next Tuesday. But if I really thought the Democratic Party's future turned on the Democratic response, I'd pack it in and start looking for a new profession. I've watched the post-State of the Union ritual for 20 years now, and not once has the poor soul giving the response—or his party—come out a winner for it.
Exactly. So why bust his chops on it? He doesn't mention Alito, but the contrast is clear. Confirmation of a balance-shifting member of the Supreme Court is not a tactial decision needing strategy, it's a long-term strategic reality that needs tactics to support the right path. Nobody wants to talk about prepping up to try to move opinion Monday morning before the cloture vote, except to the extent that they bash Kerry for trying something that might actually fail. Don Quixote of the Swiss Alps, if you will. Well Christ, liberals--wasn't that what you wanted? So
If the DLC types win the battle for the soul of the party, it may end up being so because the progressive left became impossible to please, and the party figured there was no point in trying to accomodate them. I hope it doesn't come to that.