The election game: can I buy some values?

Posted: Nov 06, 2005 12:05 AM

An editorial in yesterday's New York Times bemoaned the number of citizen initiatives that will be on state ballots this Tuesday. The Times fears that all this decision-making will leave "poor" voters "overwhelmed."

Aw shucks, what voters in my state of Virginia wouldn't give to be overwhelmed by real policy matters rather than under-whelmed by the primped-up mannequins on the ballot for governor!

Last year's election brought us the term "values voters." So this year, politicians are trying to fake like they have values, oh-so-sincerely. But all the fakery proves only one value for certain: power — theirs.

The Republican and Democratic candidates for governor of Virginia are working feverishly to show that their religious and social values match those held by most voters. But just watch: when their deeply held values don't quite match up to an electoral majority, these oleaginous leaders throw those particular values overboard in a New York minute. So each charges the other for being a two-faced, lying hypocrite. (Finally, they stumble on the truth.)

Attorney General Jerry Kilgore, the Republican candidate, began an advertising campaign featuring the relatives of murder victims charging that his Democratic opponent, Lt. Governor Tim Kaine, an attorney, actually once defended a murderer. And that Kaine opposes the death penalty. The ads carry an emotional punch and make it sound a bit like Kaine is, well, for murder.

Then Mr. Kaine responded. In his own TV ad, Kaine looks directly at viewers and tells us that though he has a deeply felt religious belief that life is sacred and that capital punishment is wrong, he is totally committed — if we'll just vote for him to be our next governor — to carry out the very death sentences he believes to be wrong.

Give him credit: Kaine has values. But for us, he'll ignore them.

"I have a religious belief that I am not going to apologize for," Kaine told reporters.

Apparently, jettisoning any responsibility to abide by one's beliefs ends the political need to apologize for them.

Kaine's ads then hit Kilgore for negative campaigning. Good point, except that Kaine had struck first with a television ad charging that Kilgore was gleefully planning to cut education funding. I only wish Kilgore were committed to more accountable education spending. He's not. Few politicians of any stripe are.

Both candidates have nuanced positions on abortion. Kaine, as with his "stand" on capital punishment, finds abortion to be murder. And, just as with capital punishment, he apparently doesn't get very upset about murder or death or that sort of thing, which, for the record, he opposes. That may seem inconsistent — but consistently so.

Kilgore is arguably more consistent, if only because it is hard to contradict one's self while dodging and weaving and refusing to answer questions. When the Virginia Society for Human Life sent out a mailer stating that Kilgore "opposes the 1973 decision that legalized abortion on demand," a Richmond Times-Dispatch reporter asked the Kilgore campaign to confirm that position. Instead of confirmation, the campaign's spokesman said Kilgore "is pro-life" and added, "He also recognizes that Roe vs. Wade is the law of the land."

Then there is the issue of guns and the Second Amendment. Kaine's campaign material states that he "strongly supports the Second Amendment." But when asked whether he would rather have the support of the NRA or the Brady Campaign to End Gun Violence, he replied, "You know, I want everybody's support."

When asked on a Lynchburg radio station whether he supported the Million Mom March against gun violence (well, just against guns, period), Kaine offered that: "The Million Mom March was not my issue. I didn't go. That's not my thing. But I did support the citizens who had been through a hard time by having them go up there. But I've never done anything to oppose the Second Amendment."

Odd. In 2001, Kaine not only said of the march, "I can't think of an issue I'd rather be aligned with than this," he also spent thousands of tax dollars busing people to the event.

Let's not forget taxes. It is usually a bread-n-butter issue for Republicans. And Kilgore is running ads charging that Kaine favors all kinds of tax increases. There is ample truth in his charges. Kaine did indeed favor the largest tax increase in Virginia history, passed in 2002. And he promotes himself as part of the Mark Warner administration, which created "progress" in Virginia. Progress is a euphemism for the tax increase. Because Kilgore opposed the largest tax increase in history, he opposes "our progress."

But as Kilgore rips Kaine on taxes, he nevertheless refuses to take the Taxpayer Protection Pledge not to raise taxes. The Virginia Club for Growth, a free-market group, blasted Kilgore for his weak position. Kaine then used their attack on Kilgore to pretend he was the anti-tax candidate. The group turned its guns (which Kaine supports) on Kaine: "It goes to show that Tim Kaine cannot be trusted to run an honest campaign and he certainly cannot be trusted on the issue of taxes."

Yet, on taxes, hidden behind all their fidgety equivocations and perfidious attacks, you'll find the best issue of the entire campaign. Kilgore advocates a state constitutional amendment that would give voters an up-or-down vote on any increase in income, sales and gas taxes. This sort of citizen involvement, rather than trying to decipher the relative honesty of incredibly slippery-tongued politicians, is the answer to reforming our government.

Still, with this one exception, Virginia's gubernatorial election symbolizes all that's wrong with politics today: politicians will say and do anything to wield power.

There is an alternative, kinda, almost, well — not really. State Senator Russell Potts is running for governor as an independent. Potts's big claim is that he — unlike both Kaine and Kilgore — is a straight shooter. He loves raising taxes. Just can't raise them enough. Very honest about it.

Of course, Potts has no chance to win — thank goodness — polling at only four percent. Why does he run? Perhaps because he barely won re-election to the legislature in 2003, even as a longtime incumbent, and would unlikely survive another challenge.

Yes, Potts would be a disaster, but at least he's honest about it. Which is a breath of fresh air compared to the wishy-washy, self-absorbed, slippery-tongued, power-grubbing politicians who try to buy their values with the ease of conscience of a contestant on Wheel of Fortune buying a vowel.

Kaine and Kilgore and the vast majority of our politicians offer so meaningless a choice as to give elections a bad name.

Only the citizen-initiated ballot measures — yup, those very ones decried by the exalted New York Times for overwhelming we dull common folk — give voters an opportunity to reform government, rather than simply choose our new ruler off a list containing only Tweedle-Dee, Tweedle-Dum and Tweedle-Dumber.

Overwhelm us. Please.