Sunday, August 23, 2009
Meet Bob "Dubya" McDonnell: Will we get fooled again?
Bob McDonnell’s love of George W. Bush’s economic policies is not the only thing Bob has in common with our 43rd president, perhaps the worst in our history.
In fact, if Bob McDonnell is elected governor, odds are he will do for Virginia what Dubya did for the United States. So, I guess, if you liked George W. Bush, you will probably love Bob McDonnell.
As for me and all other sentient Virginians, however, it scares the Bejesus out of us.
In 2000, when Bush ran for president, one of his problems was his past record. Oh, his years as a drunk could be excused easily enough by his religious conversion, but his ham-fisted, frat-boy worldview and his lifetime record of business failure at everything he attempted bespoke an uncurious and uncaring mind, a lack of judgment and poor leadership skills. These qualities would come back to haunt us.
Bush may have fancied himself a businessman and entrepreneur, and indeed, he was somewhat successful at creating this image of himself in the media, but the truth of the matter was that he was a serial failure in business. He was able to make millions anyway thanks to his family’s connections – after all, when your Dad is a former head of the CIA and a President of the United States, there are plenty of people vying for the opportunity to bail you out.
Similarly, Bush sought to portray himself as a successful governor of Texas with a reputation for reaching across the aisle and forging bipartisan solutions. The truth, however, was that the governor of Texas is a weak post, and Bush did nothing of consequence in his time in office beyond public relations.
As it turned out, George Bush’s past record was a harbinger for our future, from his failure to pay attention to a memo entitled “Bin Laden determined to Strike in U.S.,” to the sheer incompetence of his response to Hurricane Katrina, to economic policies so steeped in a discredited ideology that they nearly plunged us into another Great Depression. All of this was easily foreseen from Bush’s record. And it is not as if this record was hidden; the mainstream media reported it all, even if they did not embrace it as a theme for their campaign coverage.
The reason is that Bush ran a brilliant campaign in 2000 that showed an uncanny knack for manipulating media coverage to his benefit.
Times were good. After eight years of good management under Bill Clinton, the country was doing well, and it was hard for people to envision how a President could screw it up so royally. Clinton, in his way, made it look relatively easy to be a competent president, even if you disagreed with his policies. So, the Bush campaign asked us, “Who would you rather drink a beer with, me or Gore,” as if that was a rationale criteria for choosing a president, and we never focused on the fact that being President is a really hard job that requires a lot skills – skills Dubya lacked.
There were two reasons for this state of affairs. First, The Bush campaign did an excellent job of keeping the focus during the 2000 campaign on the political process rather than substance. Was Al Gore telling another white lie? Was he changing the color of his clothes? Are the Clintons against him? Was his kiss with Tipper at the convention in poor taste? And on and on.
Second, for a variety of reasons the MSM far preferred writing stories about these process issues rather than do serious and more difficult reporting, reporting that admittedly may have been arguably less appealing to readers generally, but without question more useful to informing voters. (If you have time and want to take a fascinating look at the press’s performance in this election, go check out the incomparable archives, circa 1999-2000, of legendary web site The Daily Howler.)
In 2009 in Virginia, Bob seems to have the very same problem that Dubya had in 2000, nationally. He has a record as a legislator – anti-choice, anti-public education, obstructing efforts to create jobs, anti-worker, anti-Southside, and gay – that were it fully understood and evaluate would be troubling to Virginia’s growing purple population.
That is why Bob is working very hard to obfuscate his record in this election. So far, so good -- for him, at least. The press has not shown an inclination to really probe into Bob’s record and let voters know what that record may say about what kind of governor Bob McDonnell might make.
And like George W. Bush, McDonnell has (so far) successfully sought to keep the campaign's focus firmly on process, not the issues. For example, when Creigh raised the issue of Bob’s record on choice, the MSM covered is mainly as a process story, evaluating it as a campaign tactic, rather than getting to the substance of the charge that Bob's rhetoric was at odds with his record. The MSM didn't even flinch when Bob simply refused to discuss it, because as a matter of process, it was a brilliant strategy. And when McDonnell falsely charges that Creigh promised not to bring up social issues in the campaign, well, yee-ha, we got us another process story!
Faced with a record of hostility toward gay Virginians and a consistent record of supporting discrimination again gay people throughout society, Bob simply says, “I won’t discriminate.” Oh, all right then -- a good tactical move, even if it is totally inconsistent with his entire career.
Creigh made a major speech this past week defining the differences between himself and Bob. The McDonnell campaign falsely alleged it was just another is a series of restarts, when everyone knew that the real campaign has not even begun yet – that will happen on Labor Day. And, of course, the MSM was only too willing to cover the speech as a process story, reporting on, but eschewing any serious discussion of the issues Creigh’s speech raised. Rather, we got a process story about Creigh and NoVA, right out the McDonnell/Bush playbook.
The story is the same on virtually every substantive area. On transportation, Bob proposes a funding plan so absurd it is difficult to think someone as smart as him actually believes it. But, he sure expects us to buy into it. On education, Bob has been singularly uninterested in public education his entire public career, but somehow expects us to believe it will be a priority for him if elected governor. Anyone who has looked at Bob’s record, however, knows this is just so much hooey.
It goes on and on.
And to be fair, it is not just the MSM. Certainly, conservative bloggers, sadly reduced to vehicles for reprinting Bob and the RPV’s inane talking points rather than providing any kind of interesting, thoughtful discussion, have been completely focused on process. And even on the Progressive side of the blogosphere, several very popular bloggers have been focused on criticising Creigh’s campaign strategy, staff shake-ups and other process-related issues.
But here is the cold, hard truth.
Records matter. More than the rhetoric candidates utter in the crucible of an election, records are much better indicators of what a politician may do once they get into office than anything else, particularly campaign rhetoric.
Bob can try to run from his extreme Conservative record and from his clear focus on narrow, ideologically driven responses to critical issues in the Commonwealth. He may even succeed as a candidate.
But the fact is that Bob’s record is a much more accurate indicator of the kind of Governor he will be, and that is why it is important that he be forced to respond to questions raised on social issues; questions raised on his non-existent record on supporting public education; questions raised on his drill, baby, drill certitude on off-shore drilling even though the science is unclear; and questions raised by his clear ideologically-driven record on the economy, for example, his position rejecting federal funds to help the Commonwealth’s less fortunate families who, thanks to this Bush recession have found themselves unemployed and in dire economic straits.
In other words, nothing in Bob's record even remotely suggests that he will follow through on his much of his rhetoric this campaign, which includes exactly the kind of government intervention and aid against which McDonnell has preached his entire life.
One way or another, voters need to see and comprehend Bob’s record, or we could be seeing the Third Bush Term in Virginia for the next four years.
I can only quote, ironically enough, former President Bush’s own words of warning: “Fool me once, shame on me. Fool me twice, and, uh, we won’t get fooled again.”