Fred Barnes on the Budget Clash
Thursday, June 29, 2006 :::
The Weekly Standard's Fred Barnes takes to the pages of the Wall Street Journal this morning to recount Virginia's budget struggle, and the failings of Gov. Kaine, for a national audience.
As is usual with most pieces Barnes writes, however, we learn more about the author than we do the subject. For example...
The tone of the piece suggests Fred needed a primer on what's happened south of his digs in NoVa, so he called someone who might know. And, of course, that someone is Larry Sabato. Not surprisingly, the professor comes up with a pithy remark that reframes the entire multi-month budget tussle:
The lessons from the Virginia tax fight aren't as obvious as you might think. One is that it's easier to block tax increases than is generally supposed. "I call it the rediscovery of the bicameral system," said Mr. Sabato. "If only one house says no, a tax hike is dead." In Virginia, "they can hardly believe it."
Who "they" are, exactly, is a mystery. But it's a refreshing perspective from the flaccid "anti-tax House v. moderate/centrist Senate" trope that's a favorite of the easily bored Richmond press corps.
We also learn from the piece, very early, that one of its stars (and primary sources) is Speaker Bill Howell. The Speaker gains a number of valuable column inches in praise of his leadership qualities -- the same qualities that, until very recently, were still in question.
But then we come across a few items that strike me as rather odd. Like this contrast between Tim Kaine and Mark Warner:
Mr. Kaine lacked the political skills that Mr. Warner had deployed in attracting Republican support. Mr. Warner, a cell-phone mogul in Alexandria before winning the governorship, often ate lunch with Republican delegates. He invited them to dinner. He occasionally played basketball with them. Mr. Kaine is a bit stiffer and less social than Mr. Warner, and certainly not as politically adept.
Mr. Warner also had -- and made -- a better case for a tax increase than Mr. Kaine did. Mr. Warner insisted he had been surprised to discover a terrible fiscal situation from his predecessor that required "a fundamental rebalancing" of taxes and spending. He also had imposed serious spending cuts before turning, in his third year as governor, to raising taxes.
Those who have had dealings with the infamously thin-skinned Warner might wonder at this characterization of his people skills. Not that he lacks persuasive power. Hardly. But recall that this is the same Mark Warner who, until the 2004 tax fight, was dismissed as a failed politician, or worse, an overmatched dilettante.
In the main, it's a useful article for Howell. But it's an even more useful article for understanding Fred Barnes...and what results from a national opinion columnist parachuting into largely unknown territory in search of a story.
::: posted by Norman Leahy at 6/29/2006