Sunday, May 03, 2009

The Washington Post Rorschach Test on McAuliffe

Today, Amy Gardner's article on Terry McAuliffe, in the Washington Post, has generated a narrative and counter narrative that is a Rorschach test of its readers.

Before I go any further, I have to say that, as somebody who has frequently been highly critical of Gardner's work, this is a fair, balanced, and extremely well done story. That's important to acknowledge because to be a critic is not always to be negative. When you catch somebody doing something right, it's very important to point that out too. So, kudos to Gardner for an exceptionally well done job with this report.

Meanwhile, here is what's so curious about the story. While McAuliffe and his campaign were happy with it, Brian Moran's supporters were also pleased and were using it as proof of their own points about Terry.

For example, Moran supporter Aimee Fausser used the Washington Post article to further her argument that Terry McAuliffe is not the right candidate to be governor of Virginia. She picked out parts of the article, like this quote:
Terry McAuliffe has a simple message for Virginia: Elect him governor this year and he will bring jobs, because he has more business experience than anyone else in the race.

Yet McAuliffe's business pedigree is not so simple. He is a dealmaker who made millions from investments. And many of his biggest deals came in partnership with prominent donors and politicians, creating a portrait over the years of a Washington insider who got rich as he rose to power within the Democratic Party.

McAuliffe is, at his core, a salesman -- and even called himself a "huckster" in his autobiography. In his bid for governor this year, McAuliffe is selling the idea that his uncanny knack for making money can bring prosperity to all Virginia. But at a time when public mistrust of millionaires and politicians is high, that strategy could backfire.
And this one:
But they belie the complexity of a business career built mostly on intricate land deals and dot-com investments, often with wealthy political donors -- and sometimes with no jobs to show for it.
For McAuliffe, politics and business have always been intertwined.
He was Richard Gephardt's national finance chairman and later gave Gephardt a loan from the bank he led, Federal City National Bank. He worked with then-House Whip Tony Coelho on the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in the 1980s and later worked with him at a Washington real estate brokerage, the Boland Group.
McAuliffe made $16 million developing a shopping center in Florida after persuading a top labor leader he knew through the Democratic Party to invest $40 million from the union's pension fund
And as Fausser sums it up in a very well-reasoned post:
"I don't want a Governor who views his election as his next big business move. It sounds like no matter what Terry's job is, he's always looking out for himself first..."
Meanwhile, McAuliffe's people are very satisfied with that same article. So much so that they sent out emails to supporters linking to it and put it up on their website. From their point of view, it illustrates the argument they've been making, which is that Terry McAuliffe is a successful business man who will bring his Midas touch to Virginia's governor's mansion. According to their reasoning in favor of McAuliffe, his business acumen will make him a successful governor who will bring jobs, economic growth, and prosperity to Virginia.

Maybe. Maybe not.

Lots of candidates, especially those without an actual track record of elected office, have run on their life experience as successful business people. In fact, usually those who make that argument run as Republicans.

And among those who have succeeded with this approach, many have also foundered once in office because they've learned that the skill set that helped them to succeed in business is very different from the skill set that works for a public official. In many ways, the talent, skill, and knowledge that one needs to accomplish one's goals in the public sphere are very different from what it takes to be a successful businessman.

Of course, there are notable exceptions, such as Mark Warner, who succeeded both in business and as governor. But he is a man of unusual depth and ability, and he impressed people with his seriousness and intellectual capacity. He might have been an entrepreneur, but I don't think anybody ever referred to Warner as a huckster - a word McAuliffe freely applies to himself.

The other thing that strikes me is that this may not be the right time and place for candidates to run on their business experience because, as Gardner also observes when she quotes Robert Holsworth:
"People are somewhat skeptical at the moment of certain kinds of business dealings," said Robert D. Holsworth, a political scientist and author of the blog Virginia Tomorrow. "There is a populist resentment that's directed at both government and business simultaneously. I don't know how that's going to play out."
I would agree with that summation. In fact, I'm rather startled that McAuliffe's people even took this to be a complimentary article considering its very title is "McAuliffe's Background Could Be a Liability." And although Gardner is very careful to point out that McAuliffe has done nothing illegal or wrong, her main theme is that, at this time, when so many people have been harmed by some of the same businesses with whom McAuliffe has had such lucrative associations, the very background Terry touts may be his biggest liability.

The very "hucksterism" he celebrates may strike a discordant note with a public that is no longer enamored of every robber baron that comes along. I am willing to bet that if people were to watch the movie Wall Street today, they would no longer be cheering as Gordon Gekko gives his "greed is good speech," as they did back in the 1980s.

We know that greed is not good for the average person and that Gekko was not our benefactor. And it may be that pro-business Terry Mac isn't either. In fact, it may be that Americans are finally fed up with hucksters and want public servants.

Both Creigh Deeds and Brian Moran fit that category. While McAuliffe was out making deals and using the Democratic Party, and his access to the highest levels of government, as career accessories, they were toiling in the more unglamorous Virginia General Assembly and the Senate, when both were Republican strongholds. While neither Deeds nor Moran are paupers, neither man is as rich, audacious, or capricious as McAuliffe and that is a good thing - for Virginia.

Of the two serious candidates, my favorite is Moran because his are the more progressive credentials, if by a hair. One can quibble over a lack of purity or an inconsistency here or there, but overall, Moran has stood with women, gays, environmentalists and working people over a lifetime of fighting for our interests. Creigh has, by his own admission, been a bit slower to come around on some issues. That does not disqualify him in the least. He would do the Democrats proud in a general election.

But since on primary day you can only pick one, my first choice is Brian because he was a bit quicker on the uptake when it came to gay rights and environmentalism. Terry, meanwhile, wasn't even in the Virginia race - he was out practicing the art of the deal.


Existential Punk said...

Terry McAuliffe is an opportunist and picked VA to run in because he feels that's his best chance of getting elected. His other 2 resident states were bigger risks. i don't like him, never have and don't really trust him. i do not believe he is good for my state of residence.

Catzmaw said...

When faced with the probability that deleterious information about a litigant or witness will come to light, trial lawyers often sandbag their opponents by introducing the information themselves. This seeming enthusiasm on the part of Terry's supporters for this article smacks of sandbagging and spin.

Peel away the platform and glitzy packaging and all that's left is a fast-talking salesman and promoter, not an administrator. Maybe Terry has some hitherto unknown talent for executive administration, but the governorship of Virginia is not the place for him to develop that talent. Does he really want to be a public servant in this state? Then let him run for legislative office.

AnonymousIsAWoman said...

You're right Catzmaw. Clever politicians, like good lawyers, know that if damaging information is going to come out, the best strategy is to get out ahead of it.

Releasing this first, pointing to the Post article themselves, and spinning as if their lives depended on it was about the best they could do in the McAuliffe camp.

But it's a legitimate debate, and, frankly, I'd rather this all come out before the primary rather than in the middle of the general election.

As I've said before, the best antidote to an unpleasant October Surprise is a spirited primary!

Chris said...

"Of the two serious candidates..."

As a Deeds supporter, and a political observer in general, I don't know where to begin...

I assume you saw the latest poll? Not to mention the 1st quarter fundraising numbers that were supposed to be terrible for Deeds and huge for Moran?

There's another poll coming out tomorrow...I anxiously await those results. :)

wereuse said...

alankrishnan said...

"Of the two serious candidates..."
What audacity! Who is not the serious candidate? Since you are touting for Moran, is McAuliffe nor serious, or is it Deeds?

Deeds is a fine candidate and will make a great Governor in good times. Even today, he will make a great Governor, he just will not bring new jobs fast enough to grow Virginia's economy and pull the state out of the recession.

McAuliffe is another fine candidate, who will surely bring the most new jobs to Virginia, and help pull us out of this recession. Of course he lacks the depth of experience in Government administration and old boys network that Deeds has, and Moran has, but get a grip on what we need in our Governor today - Virginia is among the best Governed state in the United States not just because we have a great Governor, but because we have a dedicated, hard working and informed bureaucracy that implements what they are paid to. From a Governance perspective, it does not matter who is our next Governor, all four candidates will do a great job.

What we need today is a Governor who will be our CEO and will sell, yes sell, Virginia as an investment destination. That needs investments in renewable energy, better environmental standards, better education (producing stronger, educated work force), less time sitting in traffic (= improved transportation), and affordable health care (which is over 10% of payroll costs in most cases).

Which of the four candidates is best qualified to deliver on these fronts? Check out their published plans, check out their websites, ask them questions. I have.

Only McAuliffe has a plan, every one has goals. I do too. McAuliffe has a plan, that has a very good chance of working. He has demonstrated his ability to be the bulldog Virginia needs - bite on something and not let go until the end is reached. McAuliffe is the man of consensus - he fought fiercely for Hillary, but once she conceded, he forgot even harder to get Obama elected as our President.

McAuliffe has recently supported many Democratic successes in Virginia - Governors Warner and Kaine; Senators Webb and Warner; Congressman Connolly, Chairman of the Fairfax Board of Supervisors Sharon Bullova, and the campaign on Moon. McAuliffe has supported more Democratic campaigns nationwide than any one else in this race, he has demonstrated contacts in business and industry more than any one else has, he has demonstrated the ability to lead, grow and benefit from businesses more than any one else, he has been blasted by the media and the Republicans over the years, and come out clean - so there is nothing really nasty to discover about him.

I was a Moran supporter and contributed to his campaign before most people who support him today. I never met Deeds, otherwise I am sure I would have supported him, as he is certainly a better candidate. Last year, I met McAuliffe and over the months have been watching him and decisively concluded that he is the best qualified candidate to be the next Governor of Virginia.

That is why I support his candidacy and volunteer for his campaign.

Anonymous said...

It is OK to disagree about candidates within your own party, but as usual, all Moran and his backers go negative all the time. It is getting boring and does the party and the Commonwealth absolutely no good.
From the JJ Dinner in Richmond, Moran has not run on his record, rather he has run against McAuliffe. That is truly sad. He has a record in the House of Delegates, we should hear about it, but unfortunately, all we hear is what we should worry about WHEN Terry McAuliffe is elected.
Here is what we should worry about: How are we going to defeat the republican machine which is going to be unleashed against our candidate. Who can fight back from an even playing filed? McAuliffe. He has the ideas, the plan, and the energy to move Virginia forward. The latest polling demonstrates that people are more comfortable with Terry than the other two candidates. Why, because Terry is positive and positively committed to WORKING and LEADING once elected.
On day one, Terry will get to work. Fortunately, with the campaign infrastructure he is putting in place, he will probably have a Democratic majority in BOTH the Senate and the House. then he can manage and lead the Virginia back to sound economic footing.
So he has not held elective office in the past. I say GREAT. New blood, new ideas and no long list of debts to pay off to the same old faces. What a great start.
Terry has made business work by leading, he has made the Democratic Party work by leading it, he has made his campaign work by leading, and he will make Virginia work by leading it back!
The good old boy network has to come to an end. It is time to shake things up around here. It is time to shed the old ideas and the old ideas of "succession" in politics, it is time for new energy and new ideas.

msk08 said...

I have seen Deeds speak; I have only read about/watched online clips of Moran and McAuliffe. Since they have pretty similar agendas, it's important to focus on governing style and personality. One of the things we have to keep in mind is to figure out which primary candidate not only has a plan for economic success, but who will also have the political acumen to implement it?

I mean, to get realistic, the Democrats have slim chance of gaining the House of Delegates and whether they can maintain their hold on the Senate is uncertain. So in the worst case scenario, the candidate will have to be able to work with two Republican-controlled chambers. Mark Warner was able to fix the budget shortfall with the help of the legislature. Tim Kaine has had a rougher time.

To me, Deeds comes across as too meek, McAuliffe as too antagonistic (though I'm probably not giving their political smarts enough credit) and Moran seems to be someone who can work with his former colleagues while not letting them stonewall him on every proposal.

It'll be an interesting primary and I will support whoever wins. If the recession improves, I think that will make a strong case for the Democratic ticket in November.