I’m not in the predicton game, so I don’t know whether Brian Moran will win the Democratic primary in June, but if he does prevail it will be in spite of, not because of, the campaign he has run.
Consider the central theme of Brian Moran’s campaign – “We Need a Fighter” -- and how this rhetoric actually works against the campaign he has run. There have been at least three basic problems with the way in which the Moran campaign and its supporters have framed and pursued this strategy.
The first problem is that, despite his tough words, it is not exactly clear from his record how much of a fighter Brian Moran actually is. It is true he argued with Republicans for many years in the House of Delegates, and it is true that he has staked out consistently liberal positions in a state and in a legislature in which liberals were not always the most popular of characters. We can agree that he was a fighter in the sense that he was a persistent advocate for his positions.
Of course, “We need a debater” isn’t much of a rallying cry, either.
When I think of a fighter, I think of someone with skin in the game. Virginia may have been conservative, but Brian Moran’s district was always reliably liberal. As I said, he has been a passionate advocate – fair enough -- but I’m a bit unclear on where the risk in that advocacy lay for him.
That risk is a necessary element of the “fighter” argument the Moran camp is making, because it is implicit in the argument that Brian Moran possesses political courage and fortitude so worthy of admiration that it is enough to elevate him to the highest office in the Commonwealth. If there a true record of political courage in Brian Moran’s background – one in which he really put something personal at risk, where he profoundly disagreed with the majority of his constituents, or a vote that might have risked his seat, or where he had to go back to Alexandria and challenge his district to follow his lead, his campaign has not put that record forth.
Which leads to the second problem, namely, that in the conduct of his campaign, neither Brian Moran nor his supporters have demonstrated they are fighters. They have been whiners, complaining about the unfairness of every criticism. They have been bullies, letting loose attack dogs to hurl untrue accusations against bloggers who endorsed an opponent, leaking private e-mails or knowingly putting people’s livelihoods in danger. And they have pitched fits -- I have been called nuts, crazy, insane or some variation thereof several times by a prominent blogosphere supporter of Brian Moran’s.
At the same time, questions have been raised – legitimate question, in my view, about Brian Moran’s record on choice, about campaign contributions from businesses who may be currying favor with his brother, about the inconsistency between Brian Moran’s position on the Surry and the Wise coal plants, about the conduct of his campaign and his operatives and about the behavior of volunteers attached to the campaign. Not a single question has been forthrightly answered.
The evening of the dueling blogger dinners, for example, Creigh Deeds subjected himself to several hours of on-the-record questioning by one blogger, Lowell Feld, who supported an opponent, and by another blogger, Ben Tribbet, is equally tough on everybody. Brian Moran, meanwhile, had a dinner to which, for the most part, only bloggers who supported him were permitted to attend. And even with that, much of it was off the record.
The third problem is that the construction of the argument itself suggests that Brian Moran will be a Governor who fights, but doesn’t deliver. In government, it is a role in which Brian Moran likely feels comfortable, not for lack of effort or desire, but because he has spent his entire legislative life in the minority party.
Conditioned as he is by life in the House of Delegates, I fear that Brian Moran thinks fighting is the goal. It isn’t. Above all else, citizens want their chief executive to get things done, not merely fight. Governing effectively is the goal.
Sure, I want a Governor who will fight and hang tough, but I also want a Governor who is comfortable enough and skillful enough at the art of governing to be able to sit at a table with his political opponents when it is called for and cut a deal from a position of strength. And, when the situation calls for it, walk away from that table, as well.
In this regard, Brian Moran has been one-dimensional. He has asserted that he will be a fighter – one can accept that or not – but he has not even attempted to explain how he will be a Governor, or why he is the right person for that part of the job.
I may not agree with the views of 49 percent of my fellow citizens in the Commonwealth, but once this election is over, they will still be my fellow citizens, and the fact is that my welfare is wrapped up in theirs.
Taken together, I wonder whether this dissonance between rhetoric and record, between assertion and action, is the reason why, between Feb. 3 and March 30, Brian Moran’s favorable rating has stayed at 34, while his unfavorable has risen from 11 to 15.
As Chico Marx once said, “Who are you going to believe, me or your eyes?”