October 10, 2005 [LINK]

The Kilgore-Kaine debate: a gas!

The two main candidates for the Virginia governor's race engaged in the only debate that will be broadcast statewide during this campaign last night. Since I was just returning from a trip out of town, I only caught the tail end of it, plus a snippet after midnight on C-SPAN. My previous impressions of Kaine as a slick, fast-talking, two-faced professional, and of Kilgore as a competent "semi-pro" whose sincere personal convictions are often diluted by excessive coaching, were both reinforced. From news reports (see Washington Post and/or Richmond Times-Dispatch), the event consisted mostly of rehearsed answers to questions that were submitted in advance, and therefore lacked the basic attributes of a real "debate." (Par for the course these days.) So many questions were asked that there was no time to address the major issues in a serious way. That seems like a major flaw to me; I would like to know if the moderator, Larry Sabato, had any control over the debate format. Instead, both candidates painted their opponents in a caricatured, negative light on hot-button issues such as abortion. Kaine danced around that issue very cleverly, saying that as a Catholic, he would not oppose the Church's position on that issue, or the death penalty. The formerly anonymous Chad Dotson thinks that Kilgore exceeded expectations, putting Kaine on the defensive in an arena in which the latter was supposed to excel. See Commonwealth Conservative; Chad also has a roundup of other Virginia bloggers' reactions.

I am solidly in the Kilgore camp, and not just because of my party affiliation, but I feel compelled to voice dissent on Kilgore's high-profile opposition to any hike in the gasoline tax. This is obviously not an appropriate moment to raise the gas tax, but if such a measure had been enacted back when gas was cheap, say two years ago, it just might have encouraged American consumers to face up to the reality of global energy scarcity in time to make the necessary lifestyle adjustments, without the need for silly Carteresque appeals to altruistic conservation. Rush Limbaugh often says that gasoline is "the life blood of democracy," exposing the Republicans' unique vulnerability to popular discontent whenever the economy slows down, since the easy remedies to recession run counter to GOP basic principles. I hate to say it, but Kilgore's anti-gas-tax position looks to me like pandering to uninformed populist impulses, setting a dangerous precedent. I see the present energy crunch in much the same way as the preventable flooding of New Orleans, as the consequence of failing to anticipate adverse future conditions. Conservative leaders are supposed to make prudence the supreme virtue, but too many Republican office holders these days just want to keep their heads buried in the sand and "let the good times roll." How long can this go on?

The Potts non-factor

State Senator Russell Potts, a moderate Republican who is running as an independent, was excluded from the big debate because he has not reached 15 percent in the polls, the standard that the Kilgore camp insisted upon. Potts initially appealed to economic conservatives (like me), but he let slip the opportunity to be taken seriously when he resorted to crowd-pleasing cheap shots against Kilgore. He may still attract enough voters from Kilgore to tip the election in Kaine's favor, which would be a disaster for those of us who are worried about wasteful government spending at the state level. On the plus side, Kilgore is far more dynamic than the last Republican nominee for governor, Mark Earley. If Kilgore keeps hammering Kaine on the cultural-values and spending issues, he stands a very good chance of winning, in spite of Potts.