Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Virginia, Learn from California. Vote Deeds.

Angelidify: v., a Republican campaign tactic involving early, clear definition of a Democratic candidate using failed conservative economic ideas that sound nice but don't work.

Memo to the Creigh Deeds campaign: there ain't nothing in the middle of the road except yellow stripes and dead armadillos.

Compare these three ads. First, Schwarzenegger (R) vs. Angelides (D), 2006 for CA Gov - one of the best ads that Steve "we have functional unemployment at 17%... I think Schwarzenegger has been a great Governor" Schmidt ever produced:

Now, McDonnell (R) for VA Gov...

And Deeds (D) for VA Gov...

All three ads hinge on forward/backward and the economy. The Deeds ad is close to getting away with the jujitsu that Obama pulled. Obama's argument on taxes and the economy was basically "we'll do what works, not what Bush was doing." Deeds is trying to take the same line, but there are two problems.

First, the difference isn't sharp enough. Deeds is trying to inoculate with the tax cuts, pro-business blah blah, but my God, how many bailouts are we going to have to suffer through before some kind of Democrat, somewhere cowboys up and says "basta!" You can't say "I'm real different from Bush!" and then follow it by a bunch of proposals that say "I'm exactly the same as Bush!"

It's not quite tone-deaf; clearly there's still a lot of ambient conservative conventional wisdom on economics that Deeds is trying to glom onto (and in the process, reinforce). But there's lots of room between flat-out explaining to people that tax increases are good for the economy and this limp middle of the road stuff, which is costing him authenticity, and in turn both killing him with moderates and draining base passion.

The second difference is that the Obama campaign was running a clinic in sharp political positioning and definition from the moment they got started. That kind of definition gives you a lot of maneuvering room by giving you the capacity to talk about what you want to talk about, not what they want to talk about. Doesn't seem like Deeds has established that, so the last two weeks of this election will most likely be about whatever McDonnell wants it to be about.

Matt Miller wrote a nice book about the tyranny of dead ideas. What he left out was why zombie dead ideas like politicians running on tax cuts refuse to die. The VA Gov race should be a case study. It's another example of an ugly cycle of failure for the left: ideas about a progressive alternative for the economy don't exist, so we run millions upon millions of dollars of ads trying to glom onto the conservative ideas (and that's on top of the millions and millions of dollars of ads that they're running), thereby strengthening them, which in turn reinforces the impossibility of creating an alternative, and on and on.

If Virginia elects McDonnell, they can look to California as an example of what happens when conservative "starve the beast" economics meets a transitioning 21st century economy: start with gross, across the board underinvestment in public education, from pre-K to city colleges & public universities. Pile on deficits because the government needs to spend on is going to be debt-financed. Watch wages stagnate and unemployment climb even in up business cycles, and then shoot up when the business cycle goes flat, because all the tax cuts and resulting mountains of debt prevent counter-cyclical public sector spending. Don't forge the massive, always-growing inequality (and the resulting increases in political polarization) because the tax cuts are always somehow tilted towards either rich individuals or corporations, or both. (Here in CA we've managed to pass $2.5 billion in tax cuts for corporations, while we were billions of dollars in debt and giving teachers pink slips. Awesome stuff.)

Then, get ready to sit in some traffic jams that stretch over the horizon, because those tax cuts that went to the wealthy? They jammed up any investment in public transit or new roads. Even with the Federal government doing the right thing on public investment, you'll be surprised at how much a conservative governor can screw things up. And try not to get stuck on a bridge, too, because all the maintenance budgets are also getting cut.

If McDonnell is really following the Governor Schwarzenegger playbook, you can expect some paper-thin green initiatives that he will make an enormous amount of very public fuss over, and then work to undercut in back room deals, so you're looking at zero progress on investing in green tech or dealing with global warming, but probably some nice tax giveaways for oil & coal. You might even have to close down your parks.

And if any of the workers or anyone in the state house gets organized and call BS on this, expect a bunch of name calling and hissyfits rather than a substantive response.

This is how the conservative economic agenda plays out in reality, underneath their smokescreen of "economic freedom." But the freedom conservatives like McDonnell and Schwarzenegger are talking about always seems to come down to either more stuff or more guns. They're right about one thing: it is our damn money, and it's time we used it to rebuild a functioning civilization and expand real freedom. It's time for American (and Californian, and Virginian) Dream version 2.0, or a second tax revolution. Whatever you want to call it, it's time.

Jerry "Born Again Tax Cutter" Brown is already making noises like he's going to run the same plays next year. California could lose a governor's race to a woman who has only occasionally even bothered to register to vote. Hopefully Virginia can still avoid going through what California's been dealing with for the past five years.

But how many lost elections is it going to take before we start to break this cycle?

Update: From the you have got to be kidding department, Governor Schwarzenegger hath twittered thusly: "Check out this Time article - http://bit.ly/1GJfi9. The California Dream is alive and well." In a state with a bunch of cities with unemployment climbing into the 20% range, and worse in the central valley, this is beyond just Happy Talk. It's an insult.

Yes, Governor and Time magazine, things are great for the rich. The Time piece is right to challenge the idiocy of the corporate press "business-friendliness" rankings, and it rightly identifies some of the silver linings and tectonic changes occurring. But it manages yet again, as the corporate media invariably always does, to miss the growing grassroots progressive movement and Democratic party revitalization, which are the state's brightest and perhaps only hope for true renewal.

When even very well-educated, should-easily-be-middle-class families like ours, who have received every lucky break imaginable, can feel the Balrog of potential economic calamity coming up from the depths reaching up for us, something is deeply wrong. No amount of corporate media cheerleading should paper over the fact that the decisions Governor Schwarzenegger has made have brought about calamity for large parts of the state.

This is not personal, as his star-complex apparently is craving (and Time is so willing to feed). It isn't about schadenfreude or gloating when the jock wrecks his car. It's about leadership that's going to help us build a functioning society or not, and how the Governor's simpleminded clinging to the ideological wreckage of conservatism brought nothing but calamity and stagnation. That's your story, Time Magazine.