With Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling's announcement this week that he will not make an independent bid for governor, residents of Virginia are left to choose between Republican Ken Cuccinelli and Democrat Terry McAuliffe. Save for some Tea Party stalwarts and yellow-dog Democrats, few will cast their ballots with unbridled joy. By campaign's end, a lot of voters may think they are choosing between Sauron and SpongeBob Squarepants.
Both candidates have written a book. And while you can't judge a book by its cover, you can tell a lot about a pol by his tome.
Cuccinelli's just came out. The Last Line of Defense: The New Fight for American Liberty contains no surprises. It calls the EPA "an agency of mass destruction" and declares the Obama administration "the biggest set of lawbreakers in America." As Cuccinelli told The Times-Dispatch earlier this month, its central theme is all about "first principles" – federalism, the Constitution, the proper limits on government power.
Cuccinelli – who just gave the kickoff address at the Conservative Political Action Conference – has made himself a lightning rod in the Old Dominion by, among other things, attacking two of liberalism's most sacred cows, climate science and abortion rights; by warning that Social Security Numbers are "how they track you"; and by declaring homosexual behavior "intrinsically wrong." His book steers clear of some of those issues, but Democrats won't. (Those positions also overshadow his deviations from right-wing orthodoxy: He is wary of expanding the reasons for imposing the death penalty, and recently slammed Dominion for exploiting green-energy mandates to the detriment of utility customers.)
McAuliffe's book came out in 2007. What a Party! My Life Among Democrats regales the reader with tales of the former DNC chairman's derring-do: raising funds that seemed impossible to raise; rescuing the 2000 Democratic Convention ("the convention had been in trouble and I was brought in to save it"); and, of course, schmoozing with celebs and golfing with his good friend Bill Clinton. The narrative voice is authentically inauthentic, conveying a salesman's bombastic credulity. McAuliffe writes, for instance, that Clinton "got out of bed every morning thinking about how he could give the average Joe a shot at the American dream."
Cuccinelli's record will give McAuliffe plenty of fodder for negative ads. McAuliffe, by contrast, has little record—because he never has held public office. (When he parachuted into the Democratic gubernatorial primary four years ago, he came in a distant second out of three.) And his antic ebullience may partially disarm critics posing tough questions—some of which McAuliffe does a poor job of answering.
Most of those questions have to do with the way "The Macker" has mingled business and politics to his own great personal gain. E.g., he once made a mint off a Florida development deal in which he invested a measly hundred bucks. A union pension fund invested $40 million —and eventually drew Labor Department disapproval for having done so.
At present McAuliffe is the chairman of GreenTech Automotive, a maker of electric vehicles that is building production facilities in Mississippi. Why not in Virginia—where, McAuliffe says, he wants to create jobs? McAuliffe claims Virginia wasn't interested while Mississippi was willing to pony up. And "I have to go where, obviously, they're going to put incentives."
About that, two points. First, Virginia claims otherwise. Officials at the Virginia Economic Development Partnership tried several times to get straight answers from GreenTech and never could. "We did not receive enough information to respond to GreenTech's business proposal," says a VEDP rep.
Second: Why "obviously"? Virginia consistently ranks as the best or second-best state in the nation to do business, whereas Forbes ranks Mississippi 46th. But McAuliffe is friends with former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, a Republican, who "put the most aggressive [incentive] package on the table for us." Besides, as McAuliffe once told The Washington Post, "Who do you do business with? People you meet in life."
Such wheeling and dealing represents the sort of crony capitalism so many people on both the left and the right have come to abhor. Conservatives deplore the way it facilitates the political allocation of economic goods, to the detriment of fair and open competition in the free market. Progressives despise the privileging of powerful elites who leverage insider connections to get rich through avenues unavailable to working stiffs. Bill Clinton might have wanted to give the average Joe a shot at the American Dream, but Terry McAuliffe seems more keen to wrangle a better-than-average shot.
At one point in his book, McAuliffe says raising money for gubernatorial candidates is easy because "they have all kinds of business to hand out, road contracts, construction jobs, you name it." As Governor, whom would McAuliffe hand that business out to—the most qualified, or the most connected? The fear about a Cuccinelli administration is that it would, like Savonarola's, yield a reign of far too many principles far too stridently enforced. The fear about a McAuliffe administration is that it would yield a reign of far too few.
This article originally appeared in The Richmond Times-Dispatch.