Commentary Magazine


Topic: Virginia Gov

You Have to Perform

After the election you have to govern. That is an opportunity for some and the undoing of others. Recall Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine. He won the governorship of a key swing state, was on the short list for Obama’s VP, accomplished virtually nothing as governor, presided as head of the DNC over a disastrous run of high-profile Democratic losses, and is now everyone’s favorite whipping boy. What ever happened to Tim Kaine? Well, he couldn’t do his job well. So he ends, at least for now, a promising political career.

Last year, Chris Christie and Bob McDonnell won high-profile gubernatorial races. McDonnell is sticking to his no-tax pledge and has unveiled an impressive charter-school program. He’s setting out to do precisely what he said he would, including selling off state-owned liquor stores. He seems serious about governance. If he is, he’ll avoid his predecessor’s fate.

Then there is Chris Christie. He’s also doing what he promised. He appointed a school-choice advocate to the howls of the teachers’ union. And he has announced a real spending freeze:

Announcing the freeze on $1.6 billion of unspent money, Mr. Christie was blunt: “Today, we come to terms with the fact that we cannot spend money on everything we want. Today, the days of Alice in Wonderland budgeting in Trenton end.”

That seems like a better idea than hiking taxes, if the aim here is to fix the gaping hole in the state budget. The liberal tax-and-spend policies of his predecessors have been stark and debilitating for his state:

From 2004-2008, author John Havens found “a large decline in the number of wealthy households entering New Jersey” as well as “a moderate increase in the outflow of wealthy households leaving.” The result: a net decline of $70 billion in household wealth while the “expected giving” became a net outflow of $1.132 billion.

So what happened in 2004? The study doesn’t purport to explain what caused the wealth movements. But the state’s most notable economic policy event that year was an increase in its top income tax rate to 8.97% from 6.37%, on incomes starting at $500,000. That’s a 40% increase.

Christie also seems to be in the “sober about governance” category. The lesson here for politicians of both parties is quite simple: you have to deliver. If McDonnell and Christie make good on their promises and continue their early focus on smart reform, fiscal sobriety, and conservative economic policy, they will become the models for the next generation of conservative governors and presidential hopefuls.

And, yes, that brings us back to Obama. At this point he seems headed for Tim Kaine-like flash-in-the-pan status. All that anticipation and so little ability. So much hype was followed by virtually no interest in doing the job to which he was elected. Challengers have the luxury of convincing voters to take a leap of faith; incumbents must defend what they have done. And if they don’t deliver, no amount of hype and no blame-shifting is going to rescue them. That is why, I suspect, Obama now thinks out loud about a single term. It could not have escaped his notice that he is not remotely pulling a ” B+” in the presidency.

After the election you have to govern. That is an opportunity for some and the undoing of others. Recall Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine. He won the governorship of a key swing state, was on the short list for Obama’s VP, accomplished virtually nothing as governor, presided as head of the DNC over a disastrous run of high-profile Democratic losses, and is now everyone’s favorite whipping boy. What ever happened to Tim Kaine? Well, he couldn’t do his job well. So he ends, at least for now, a promising political career.

Last year, Chris Christie and Bob McDonnell won high-profile gubernatorial races. McDonnell is sticking to his no-tax pledge and has unveiled an impressive charter-school program. He’s setting out to do precisely what he said he would, including selling off state-owned liquor stores. He seems serious about governance. If he is, he’ll avoid his predecessor’s fate.

Then there is Chris Christie. He’s also doing what he promised. He appointed a school-choice advocate to the howls of the teachers’ union. And he has announced a real spending freeze:

Announcing the freeze on $1.6 billion of unspent money, Mr. Christie was blunt: “Today, we come to terms with the fact that we cannot spend money on everything we want. Today, the days of Alice in Wonderland budgeting in Trenton end.”

That seems like a better idea than hiking taxes, if the aim here is to fix the gaping hole in the state budget. The liberal tax-and-spend policies of his predecessors have been stark and debilitating for his state:

From 2004-2008, author John Havens found “a large decline in the number of wealthy households entering New Jersey” as well as “a moderate increase in the outflow of wealthy households leaving.” The result: a net decline of $70 billion in household wealth while the “expected giving” became a net outflow of $1.132 billion.

So what happened in 2004? The study doesn’t purport to explain what caused the wealth movements. But the state’s most notable economic policy event that year was an increase in its top income tax rate to 8.97% from 6.37%, on incomes starting at $500,000. That’s a 40% increase.

Christie also seems to be in the “sober about governance” category. The lesson here for politicians of both parties is quite simple: you have to deliver. If McDonnell and Christie make good on their promises and continue their early focus on smart reform, fiscal sobriety, and conservative economic policy, they will become the models for the next generation of conservative governors and presidential hopefuls.

And, yes, that brings us back to Obama. At this point he seems headed for Tim Kaine-like flash-in-the-pan status. All that anticipation and so little ability. So much hype was followed by virtually no interest in doing the job to which he was elected. Challengers have the luxury of convincing voters to take a leap of faith; incumbents must defend what they have done. And if they don’t deliver, no amount of hype and no blame-shifting is going to rescue them. That is why, I suspect, Obama now thinks out loud about a single term. It could not have escaped his notice that he is not remotely pulling a ” B+” in the presidency.

Read Less

Still Pointing Fingers

The Washington Post editors acknowledge the message of the Massachusetts race:

The hard truth for Democrats is that the Massachusetts election resonates with national polling results. Voters, not just in Massachusetts and certainly not just in the Republican Party, are worried about government spending. Budget deficits and the national debt alarm many Americans, and rightly so. Voters also are disappointed that President Obama’s promises of pragmatic, bipartisan cooperation have not been fulfilled. On that score, too, we sympathize.

(By the way, that’s a far cry from the preceding day’s take by Fred Hiatt, which Max pointed out was comically generous, even by grading-on-the-curve standards.) So the editors urge Obama to ignore his liberal base, which “will conclude that he needs to be more combative and ideological.” That’s a start.

But then they can’t pass up the opportunity to bash the other side, the party that has won an impressive string of victories and made that exact case against Obama’s overreach. The editors warn Republicans:

With their scare talk of a “government takeover” of health care, and their demagogic about-face on Medicare savings, they no doubt feel they’ve done well for themselves. But ultimately we don’t believe voters will reward a party that just says no, either; Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell won with a very different promise, of a pragmatic and cooperative conservatism.

Okay that takes some nerve. It was the Post that vilified McDonnell, portraying him as a whacked-out extremist bent on sending women back to the dark ages. But beyond the jaw-dropping hypocrisy, the editors seem a bit disingenuous in this equal-opportunity blame-mongering: don’t the conservatives have a point on health care? Obama is proposing to slash $500 billion from Medicare. And Obama is proposing a new entitlement program with unprecedented powers for the federal government. That explains, after all, why so many voters are freaked out.

So what do the Post editors suggest? They seem reluctant to assign the full measure of blame where it rightly belongs. And it doesn’t belong to poor Martha Coakley or the mean Republicans. No, the president and his party have only themselves to blame. And the sooner they and their spinners stop looking for other targets, the faster they can get on with the business of political recovery.

The Washington Post editors acknowledge the message of the Massachusetts race:

The hard truth for Democrats is that the Massachusetts election resonates with national polling results. Voters, not just in Massachusetts and certainly not just in the Republican Party, are worried about government spending. Budget deficits and the national debt alarm many Americans, and rightly so. Voters also are disappointed that President Obama’s promises of pragmatic, bipartisan cooperation have not been fulfilled. On that score, too, we sympathize.

(By the way, that’s a far cry from the preceding day’s take by Fred Hiatt, which Max pointed out was comically generous, even by grading-on-the-curve standards.) So the editors urge Obama to ignore his liberal base, which “will conclude that he needs to be more combative and ideological.” That’s a start.

But then they can’t pass up the opportunity to bash the other side, the party that has won an impressive string of victories and made that exact case against Obama’s overreach. The editors warn Republicans:

With their scare talk of a “government takeover” of health care, and their demagogic about-face on Medicare savings, they no doubt feel they’ve done well for themselves. But ultimately we don’t believe voters will reward a party that just says no, either; Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell won with a very different promise, of a pragmatic and cooperative conservatism.

Okay that takes some nerve. It was the Post that vilified McDonnell, portraying him as a whacked-out extremist bent on sending women back to the dark ages. But beyond the jaw-dropping hypocrisy, the editors seem a bit disingenuous in this equal-opportunity blame-mongering: don’t the conservatives have a point on health care? Obama is proposing to slash $500 billion from Medicare. And Obama is proposing a new entitlement program with unprecedented powers for the federal government. That explains, after all, why so many voters are freaked out.

So what do the Post editors suggest? They seem reluctant to assign the full measure of blame where it rightly belongs. And it doesn’t belong to poor Martha Coakley or the mean Republicans. No, the president and his party have only themselves to blame. And the sooner they and their spinners stop looking for other targets, the faster they can get on with the business of political recovery.

Read Less




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