When a song is not enough

The Washington Times Daily - - Metro -

Earl Long, the “late and great gov­er­nor of Louisiana,” once boasted that he knew how to fix an elec­tion, and a vot­ing ma­chine was no more dif­fi­cult to mas­ter than a pa­per bal­lot. “I can make a vot­ing ma­chine play ‘Home on the Range’ all night long,” he said.

The wizards of pol­i­tics and the shamans of the dark sci­ence of groom­ing pub­lic opin­ion never grow weary of gam­ing the sys­tem, try­ing to make it sing their fa­vorite tunes. They some­times do it by fram­ing ques­tions and anoint­ing the right can­di­date, and some­times by get­ting as close as they can with­out get­ting caught at some­thing deeply sin­is­ter.

The po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tists, at work deep in the dun­geons where sci­ence pur­sues the for­mula for alchemy, put Vir­ginia in their test tubes in the wake of the week’s work at the polls. What hap­pened? And where’s the why and the there­fore? Most im­por­tant of all, what does it tell about the prospects else­where for next year and two years af­ter that?

Nearly ev­ery Demo­crat, ex­cept maybe his mother, con­cedes now that he is safely elected that Terry McAuliffe as­pires only to work on the shady side of the street and in the al­leys that lead to promis­ing cul-de­sacs. How was he elected gov­er­nor in the first place in a nice place like Vir­ginia, and why was it such a squeaker? The polls, the pun­dits and the usual sources of what passes for wis­dom all said he would be a run­away win­ner, clos­ing with a mar­gin in the dou­ble dig­its. He didn’t come close to that, and if the cam­paign had lasted another three or four days, he might not have won at all.

Ken Cuc­cinelli, the Repub­li­can, found the hot but­ton, the sweet spot of the vot­ers’ fears, too late. He found his voice against Oba­macare too late to re­pair the dam­age done by the McAuliffe mil­lions in­vested over the fi­nal six months in lit­tle lies, medium-sized lies and big lies, all spread across the tele­vi­sion screens.

The Repub­li­cans for­got that you need a smart can­di­date to beat even a bad can­di­date. Mr. Cuc­cinelli’s heart was in the right place, but his head was stuck in the warm and cozy com­fort of the state nom­i­nat­ing con­ven­tion, sur­rounded by friends and ad­mir­ers. Vir­ginia’s cu­ri­ous sys­tem of pri­maries and con­ven­tions, al­ter­nat­ing at the party’s will, to choose can­di­dates for statewide of­fices can shield nom­i­nees from the heat and anger of pub­lic opin­ion. Sup­port­ers of the sys­tem ar­gue that over sev­eral cy­cles, there’s not much dif­fer­ence in the per­for­mance of the can­di­dates. Some are good, and some are not so good, on the stump and in the field.

But con­ven­tions can be con­trolled, with dif­fi­culty, and pri­maries can’t. Con­ven­tions can be stam­peded by a can­di­date with a sharp and elo­quent tongue, but pri­maries re­quire danc­ing on a high wire and no net. Pol­i­tics, af­ter all, is a game of risks. Some­times an un­likely dancer catches fire in a pri­mary and burns the house down. Two years ago, the Repub­li­cans sali­vated at the prospect of re­gain­ing con­trol of the U.S. Se­nate. The can­di­dates anointed by the party es­tab­lish­ment, who looked like locks in Ne­vada, Missouri, Indiana and Delaware, turned out to have the moxie of pet rocks.

Up­start can­di­dates, with lit­tle ex­pe­ri­ence in statewide races and with lit­tle judg­ment in when to keep bizarre opin­ions to them­selves, won in­stead, and earned only the dis­dain of the Repub­li­can es­tab­lish­ment, which went into a deep sulk and of­fered no help. The Democrats kept the Se­nate, re­main­ing un­der the thumb of Harry Reid.

Mr. Cuc­cinelli got the thumb, too, but in the eye, from es­tab­lish­ment Repub­li­cans. He got no help even when he be­gan mak­ing a race of it. Vot­ers can al­ways con­found the ex­perts, no mat­ter how wise the ex­perts think they are. A day late and a dol­lar short is the sad­dest re­frain in pol­i­tics.

Mr. McAuliffe, tak­ing due dili­gence, made the usual nice noises on the morn­ing af­ter the morn­ing af­ter. He’ll have to deal with a Repub­li­can leg­is­la­ture in Rich­mond, and he prom­ises to prac­tice some­thing called “bi­par­ti­san­ship.” That in­vari­ably trans­lates to “We’ll be your friends if you’ll just be more like us.”

Bi­par­ti­san­ship, which no­body has seen much of in a long time, re­quires com­pro­mise, split­ting the dif­fer­ence on con­tentious is­sues, lis­ten­ing to an op­po­nent make his case. It’s dif­fi­cult to see how any­one can split the dif­fer­ences that di­vide us now. Good will is nice, but will alone is never good enough. The lessons un­learned two years ago went un­learned again this year. Win­ning takes more than a song, no mat­ter who plays it.


Terry McAuliffe

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