Sunday, December 16, 2007

Waldo is wrong

It took me a couple of days to get around to reading Waldo Jaquith's "Why the Democratic majority cannot dominate." I have to respectfully disagree with my friend's pessimistic assessment.

Waldo posits the existence of an urban-rural split among Democrats that is somehow unresolvable. I simply don't see it. To suggest that Creigh Deeds can't get the statewide nomination for governor because he is too moderate is to forget that he got the nomination for attorney general just two-and-half years ago. Nor are Northern Virginia Democrats necessarily more liberal than Democrats in other parts of the commonwealth. It's been less than two months since the election of Chap Petersen in a campaign that saw his Republican opponent routinely attack him from the left on issues like gun control.

It is also false to draw the "NoVa" versus "RoVa" distinction. That construct ignores the critical and growing role of Democrats in Tidewater Virginia. Democrats could not have taken back control of the Virginia Senate without the victories of these Democrats from the Southeast, and there is room for improving the Democratic margin in that part of the state.

I foresee the growth of a strong Democratic majority in Virginia along the key transportation corridors of the commonwealth: I-95 and I-64. It is a simple question of functionality. These transportation corridors are key to Virginia's continued success. Maintaining statewide transportation infrastructure requires skillful government management and financing. Republicans don't believe in skillful government management and financing, as was demonstrated by the way that they rammed HB 3202 through the General Assembly earlier this year.

HB 3202 imposed unelected regional authorities and extreme funding measures like the so-called "abuser fees" on Virginians; months later Virginians rejected the Republicans at the polls. The disaster that is HB 3202 is almost entirely a Republican fiasco. Democrats should take every opportunity to remind Virginians of that fact.

The big challenge for next year's General Assembly is no secret: it will be the need to fix or replace HB 3202. As they approach this debate Democrats hold one critically important advantage: Democrats believe that good government can solve tough problems. Republicans simply don't believe that simple premise, and it sabotages their efforts to respond to crises and large problems. Virginians are demanding solutions to problems like transportation and health care, and Republicans simply don't believe solutions to these problems exist.

As our society becomes increasingly complex, it will demand the kind of results-oriented, optimistic, and skilled management that Democrats in Virginia have always delivered. As Virginians demand more from their government they will inevitably turn to the political party that has shown that it represents skillful management: the Democratic Party.

As the Democratic Party regains dominance there will be growing pains. I think that it was these growing pains that triggered Waldo's gloomy post. Parties that are permanently in the minority can indulge unrealistic ideological posturing, but purity tests have no place in a political party that is building a governing majority.

Many local Democratic committees have allowed themselves to become too insular, too small, and too weak. The most troubling divide in the Democratic Party of Virginia is not between urban and rural, but between young and old. When I have visited these committees in the past--and I have visited quite a few in the course of my adventures--there is a distinct shortage of members under the age of forty and the overwhelming majority of committee members seem to be over fifty. The great challenge to the Democratic Party will not be solving the perceived divide between urban and rural, it will be in recruiting the next generation of leaders to fill Virginia's growing demand for Democratic leadership.

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