Sunday, May 24, 2009

Creigh's Progressive Cred

Now that Creigh has gained the endorsement of the Washington Post, and now that several recent polls are showing a clear trend in his direction, enough such that purveyors of the conventional wisdom believe that Creigh now has a legitimate shot at this thing, he can expect more criticism from the other campaigns -- what the McAuliffe campaign might refer to as “negative attacks.”

One meme that has already seen the light of day is the myth that Creigh is not a strong Progressive.

It is a charge that is utterly without merit. The fact is that Creigh has a strong Progressive record, one that is all the more impressive given that the district he represents is more conservative than many. As the Washington Post wrote in its endorsement last week:
Some progressive voters may look past Mr. Deeds, assuming he's too far to the right on social issues. They should look again. … Yes, he describes himself as a supporter of the Second Amendment. He's willing, however, to put limits on gun ownership when the stakes are highest, brokering a compromise in an effort to close the state's notorious gun show loophole. His support for abortion rights and for an amendment to prohibit the Confederate flag emblem from being displayed on state license plates are all the more impressive considering the weight of conservative voters in his district.

Still, it was an article last week in the very same Washington Post by Anita Kumar that signaled the emergence of this particular “negative attack.” Entitled “Conservatism Could Hurt Deeds in the Democratic Race,” the article lacked any specificity or context whatsoever – it was heavy on general allegations and sweeping conclusions, but short on actual facts and convincing reasoning – and to me it had the smell of an oppo research foundation dump that, from time-to-time, the MSM inadvisably repeats uncritically and convinces itself constitutes original reporting.

For example, here are some of the key “facts” Kumar offers to support her thesis that Creigh’s “votes on several politically charged issues could put him out of step with voters in next month's Democratic primary:”
Those [Conservative] votes have included support for a family life program in schools that would define abstinence before marriage and fidelity within marriage as "moral obligations and not matters of personal opinion or personal choice," a mandate that the words "In God We Trust" be displayed prominently in every school and a bill to increase the penalty for killing a fetus.

First, in addressing this, a point of personal privilege. These positions are not “Conservative” or “Non-Progressive” in any classical, or even common sense understanding of those terms, IMHO. As a political approach toward governing, Progressive philosophy reflects a view that government can be an active catalyst for and implementer of specific policies designed to advance society and the well-being of people in general, with a safety net of minimum standards in place to protect all from the worst human nature has to offer, namely, the moral tyranny of the majority and the competitive excesses of the free market. In this sense, Progressive ideology is the opposite of Conservatism, which advocates the removal of government from most societal intercourse in the belief that natural forces and instincts, mainly selfishness, whether in an organized market or in the day-to-day interaction within a community, will ultimately benefit the society the most by stimulating innovation and incenting risk-taking that propels humanity forward, albeit with a small minority benefiting greatly at the expense of many.

That said, these votes by Creigh are neither Progressive nor Conservative. Rather, they reflect certain traditional values that are typically, but incorrectly in my view, associated with Conservative ideology. However, the point of this post is not to debate the meaning of Progressivism in contemporary American political life and society. While that is certainly an important issue, we can possibly and probably debate it forever without ever reaching a resolution, and we’ve got an election in 16 days.

The question really is whether there is any validity to the charge that Creigh is not a Progressive.

For example, Lowell at Blue Virginia responded to Kumar’s article with a post of his own, explaining that while he liked and respected Creigh, “as a progressive, I disagree with him on a wide variety of issues. Strongly, in some cases (e.g., mountaintop removal mining). Today's Washington Post story by Anita Kumar pretty much sums it up.”

So, it is back to Kumar’s article (although to be fair to Lowell, he has felt this way with respect to Creigh, certainly on environmental issues, for the duration of the campaign).

Still, the fact of the matter is that Lowell cites several items from Kumar’s article. But Kumar left a great deal of context out of her story that may surprise you.

For example, she makes these votes on these social issues sound like very Conservative votes demanded by Creigh’s rural constituency.

Would it surprise you to learn that Brian Moran, touted as the “most Progressive” candidate in the race, supported each of these laws, as well? Don’t take my word for it: Look it up yourself – here are the bill numbers:
SB 1047 (1999 Sess.) – Abstinence Education
HB 1 (2004 Sess.) – Increased Penalty for Feticide
HB 108 (2002 Sess.) – Posting “In God We Trust” in All Schools

Here is some other context Kumar left out. Each of these bills received overwhelming, nearly unanimous support in the General Assembly. While Kumar’s article suggests some divide over these issues between Creigh and NoVA, you wouldn’t know it by how legislators from Northern Virginia voted. There was no dispute over these measures reflecting ideology, political party or region of the Commonwealth.

Third, Kumar asserts that Creigh “voted to void contracts between members of the same sex that would have provided rights associated with marriage, such as hospital visits.” I am not sure what law Kumar is referencing here, but if it is the notorious HB 751, Creigh did vote for an early iteration of that noxious bill, but later re-evaluated and voted against it because he deemed it mean-spirited. In no sense of the word can he be said to support that legislation.

Fourth, Kumar of course brings up Creigh’s votes on Marshall-Newman, but Creigh has made his position on this clear. First, he personally voted against the Amendment when it was on the ballot, but even more importantly, he has evolved in his thinking about his own vote.

How refreshing: A candidate who admits to intellectual growth and explains how he has learned from past actions.

More meaningful than cherry-picking a couple of votes out of 50,000 cast to create conflict where there is none, a more salient guide for the Progressive voter are Creigh’s interest group ratings, which in my mind clearly establish his Progressive bona fides. Here is a sampling from recent years:
Reproductive Rights
NARAL- 100% (2006)
Planned Parenthood- 100% (2002)
Virginia Education Association- 100% (2006)
Virginia Education Association- 100% (2002)
Virginia League of Conservation Voters- 88% (2006)
Virginia League of Conservation Voters- 100% (2004)
Virginia AFL-CIO- 100% (2006)

As with any candidate, it is fair to examine their record and decide whether you agree with them or not. That is what democracy is all about. But in describing the records of each candidate with the use of familiar shorthand terms, we ought to be fair, IMHO, and any fair reading of Creigh’s record as a whole makes clear he is a strong Progressive.

I suppose there are plenty of reasons not to vote for Creigh, although I can’t think of any off-hand. His commitment to principles of Progressive governance, however, is not one of them.


  1. great post, Aznew, as usual. I wonder, however, if this meme will play well with Virginians during the general. While, during Democratic primaries, people tout progressive principles - conservatives do the same on the other end of the spectrum - but during the general election, the public wants candidates more to the middle (see McDonnell's centrist campaigning). Don't you think this, true or not, will play well with the public at large?

  2. That is absolutely true. But I see a huge difference between the Conservative/Progressive distinction, and the argument over values, which is completely different. The most successful Democratic politiicans of late in virginia seem to me to be the ones, like Creigh, who bring Progressive principles to governance, and then marry those principles to traditional values.

    As you know, Tom Perriello is the best example of this.

    I do believe people want moral guidance from government, although they do not want any specific value system imposed upon them.

    Also, of particular importance (and moving beyond the mere political tactical aspects of all this), is the fact that when government steps into this sphere, it ought to be as a teacher of last resort, not of first resort. A child who is getting value from sexual education in a public school, as a general matter, is IMHO being failed by family, church, and other support systems that should be teach them about this stuff. How can we serve this at risk population without some set of values?

  3. Great points, all.

    I would suggest that going into detail about the specific charges, while necessary for this discussion, is ultimately counter-productive to Creigh's cause in establishing progressive bone fides. His interes group ratings are MUCH more easy to understand and much more persuasive for a broader messaging effort.

    In face, if I were campaigning for Creigh, which I'm not, I would trumpet those numbers in every way possible through June 9.

    great work.