How Virginia May be a Model for Obama

Virginia is one of the models of economic success that presumed Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama may be using in his campaign, according to an upcoming New York Times magazine article.

I found the story by Times economics columnist David Leonhardt while scrolling around the Web today and thought it might be useful for Baconauts everywhere. The piece comes out this Sunday just for the Dem confab in Denver.

It shows how the Democrats are considering modern economic revival models as keys to the nation’s future and how Gov. Tim Kaine, still a possible Obama VP candidate, has influenced thinking. Here’s a quote form the upcoming Times magazine piece:

“I came to think of this part of Obama’s agenda as the Virginia model, thanks to Tim Kaine, Virginia’s governor, who was one of the first Democrats to endorse Obama. Last year, Kaine began making the case to (Obama economic adviser Austan) Goolsbee that the campaign should view Virginia as a model for the rest of the country. In just a few decades, the state has managed to transform itself in precisely the way that economists think the United States now must — to a higher-wage economy with a more-educated population, a place that has prospered even while losing many of its old-line manufacturing jobs. And it did so with a crucial shove from the government.

“For much of the 20th century, Virginia was a poor state, but after World War II, with the cold war under way and the military growing, well-paying defense contractors began to sprout up around the Pentagon, in northern Virginia. By the 1970s, Darpa, the Pentagon’s research arm, began working on a computer network, which soon spawned a new form of communication: electronic mail. That computer system eventually became the Internet, and Northern Virginia suddenly had the beginnings of a brand-new industry. In recent decades, Virginia has also invested money in the port near Norfolk and has vastly expanded its colleges and universities. Today the state’s per-capita income is 7 percent higher than the national average.

The trick for someone trying to replicate Virginia’s success is figuring out which investments to make. As any Chicago School economist would remind you, the federal government has made its share of mistakes in this area, a recent example being subsidies for ethanol, which Obama, a farm-state senator, has championed and McCain has opposed. But Obama at least seems to have learned one lesson from the experience: His proposed new infrastructure spending would be overseen by a bipartisan board of unelected officials, rather than members of Congress. “

Obama’s platform calls for a $50 billion fund to improve infrastructure such as roads and bridges and boost scientific R&D.

Virginia is getting mentionned, obviously, because it is an important swing state. But it also shows how Virginia is becoming bluer by the day. The Good Ole Days of Republican dominance are past. There’s a new Old Dominion afoot and it’s getting noticed.

Peter Galuszka

Share this article


(comments below)


(comments below)


21 responses to “How Virginia May be a Model for Obama”

  1. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    One would think that the areas that would tend “blue” would be where working-class folks are hurting and feeling like they have been left behind by the multi-national economy…

    … but that certainly does not describe the “bluest” parts of Virginia..

    …or does it…??

    Why did Obama go to Martinsville?

    Is it because he thinks he’s already got NoVa locked up and now he’s on the hunt for the votes that will put him over the top?

  2. Kathleen Avatar

    Virginia is a good model and it is great that Obama is interested in our state.

    I am upset though, with the lack of coverage on McCain’s lack of character:

    Regarding Saddleback: It is very clear from his replies that John McCain was not in a cone of silence. He was in his limo listening and that gave him an unfair advantage over Obama.
    His answers were quick and decisive which is unusual for him. Despite protests to the contrary, John McCain is a cheater and this is a reflection on his character.

    It is outrageous that the media has not brought out McCain’s lies and adultery while married to his first wife, Carol. While she was sick and in need of tender loving care from multiple operations from a major car accident, he had an affair with Cindy and then left her. To me, this is a man of dubious character who thinks only of himself.

    He committed adultery, and, in fact, got his marriage license with Cindy before he was divorced from Carol. His first wife, Carol, did all she could to help when he was a prisoner of war. Yet this is how he thanked her when he returned from the war and found that she had lost her model looks? I don’t think this is the kind of man we want as President.
    For more details, see:,0,7979459.story McCain_s_Broken_Marriage_Fractured_Relationship_with_Re agans

  3. Wonderful.

    Kaine is praised in Bacon’s rebellion, and is being trashed by Democratic blogs.

    Dear Mr. Obama: Tim Kaine is blowing wet kisses on your behind. He’s a fool and don’t listen to him. Virginia isn’t likely to vote for you, and while we appreciate the attention, concentrate on some of the real swing states that you are losing right now.

    P.S. If you took the federal government away from DC, and the Navy away from Norfolk, Virginia would look like a combination of Baltimore and West Virginia, with Richmond as a nice little tobacco city. Some of our governors have done a good job in taking advantage of the federal government and making the state on a whole richer, but Tim Kaine ain’t one of them. Instead of using his political influence to get federal money, he blows it all on becoming VP.

  4. Adam Sharp Avatar
    Adam Sharp

    “For much of the 20th century, Virginia was a poor state, but after World War II, with the cold war under way and the military growing, well-paying defense contractors began to sprout up around the Pentagon, in northern Virginia. By the 1970s, Darpa, the Pentagon’s research arm, began working on a computer network, which soon spawned a new form of communication: electronic mail. That computer system eventually became the Internet, and Northern Virginia suddenly had the beginnings of a brand-new industry.”

    So the Virginia way is … laissez-faire? Qué será, será?

    Virginia’s leaders have coasted on federal investment. The only foresight I can think of before the ’90s was the creation of the community college system. Since then we’ve had corporate welfare.

    Is that the Virginia way? To throw ourselves on the whims of outside forces and hope for the best? That sounds like U.S. macroeconomic policy for a few decades. And what do you know, the U.S. looks like Virginia: some people doing really well, most of the rest hanging on.

    What Virginia needs to do is corner a market, like education, and then deliver a better product than any other state in the country, and better than most or all countries in the world. That’s the model for how to grow an economy, not just hoping the feds continue to throw billions of dollars into NOVA.

  5. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Zinger of the day:

    “Virginia would look like a combination of Baltimore and West Virginia, with Richmond as a nice little tobacco city.”


    is that steam coming out of Groveton’s ears?

  6. Anonymous Avatar

    The problem with government investments is that they too often are made, not based on the merits of the project, but rather on who has the best lobbyists. To wit: $5 billion plus for the Tysons Detour on Dulles Rail.

    What if the next president and congress simply held the line or even reduced government spending (won’t happen)? What would be Virginia’s strong suit without access to federal taxpayer money? What could Fairfax County’s backslappers say if the feeding trough was not filled by Uncle Sam?

    It’s often hard when an economy changes or desired skills and experience is no longer needed to the same degree. What would Virginia do without Uncle Sam? What can we bring to the table?

    The next governor ought to be thinking about this, even if Uncle Sam keeps spending in the Old Dominion.


  7. James Atticus Bowden Avatar
    James Atticus Bowden

    The Virginia model?

    Like a trust fund kid, being born to the right parents. Choose your parents. So, other states, if they want to be like Virginia should choose to be next to New Rome, have one of the world’s greatest natural ports and the largest naval base in the Free World.

    Federal money fuels our economy. The other sectors benefit from a business friendly environment. But, the other sectors couldn’t create the wealth the federal dollars dumped here do.

  8. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    Yes, the United States (and its constituent states) do need to make strategic public investments. But, as Peter rightly points out, “The trick for someone trying to replicate Virginia’s success is figuring out which investments to make.”

    I would add that the trick for Virginia, too, is what investments to make. It also matters *how* we make those investments.

    The momentous question of the day in Virginia is this: Now that energy prices have risen to a new, higher plateau, is the transportation system we devised in a cheap-energy era still appropriate? Does it make sense to raise taxes in order to pour billions of dollars more into a system centered on the automobile? If not, what are the alternatives? Do we blindly dump money into mass transportation projects, with no assurance that those projects will be any more economically efficient than road projects (even when environmental externalities are taken into account?) Can we afford to continue “investing” in transportation infrastructure without regard to the human settlement patterns they are designed to serve?

    The other area where Virginia clearly needs to invest more is in education. That’s fine to say, but we cannot afford to write a blank check for public schools and the higher education system. “Investing” more money without accountability simply perpetuates the status quo. Rather than investing in a flawed (some might say failed) K-12 system, should we not seek ways to deliver educational services more efficiently? Should we not be following Del. Chris Saxman’s lead in promoting school choice? Indeed, should we not be questioning the premise that education is best provided in institutions called “schools” in which children move in lockstep through “grades”?

  9. Anonymous Avatar

    I didn’t make the point about figuring out what investments to make — David Leonhardt of the NYT did.

    Peter Galuszka

  10. Anonymous Avatar

    But Katie and Sabrina Lewis’ veggie stand, in the town of Clayton, Calif., where they sold homegrown watermelons for $1, has been shuttered by town officials who told the girls’ parents that their daughters’ venture violated local zoning ordinances.

    Katie, now assisted by 3-year-old Sabrina, operated her stand on weekends, maybe 20 or so times during the year. They’d bring in about $10 to $20 a week.

    “I take it and once I’ve got about $20 to $30, I’ll bring it to the bank and put it in my bank account for college,” Katie told


    California, here we come.


  11. Groveton Avatar

    No steam coming from my ears. Every government in every nation in the world has employees. Every government in every nation in the world spends money on various things within their country. The federal government isn’t paying the people of NoVA (or Tidewater) to sit at home and collect benefits they did not earn – they are paying people to do jobs that the government wants done.

    Which brings us to the next chapter in the Larry Gross Glossary of Delusion – the location of DC was an accident. Larry always manages to bungle this one. If Bacon wants I may write a column going through the history of the decision to put DC where it is today. Essentially, DC sits where it does today because a couple of local politicians – namely Washington and Jefferson – lobbied like crazy to get the seat of government where it is. It was an early economic development program which was more effective than every economic development program ever run by the “Richmond elite” ever since. As far as I know the founding fathers did not suggest that the capital be in Richmond. I personally believe this was part of a rift between the leaders of Virginia with the traditionalists in Richmond and Norfolk battling the founders from the hinterlands. But, that’s just my opinion.

    So, the founding fathers from Virginia engaged in a brilliant economic development program. At first the federal government was pretty small. In fact, as correctly noted, it was pretty small right up to WWII. Then – it exploded. The federal government grew and money and jobs spilled over from DC to Northern Virginia. It should probably be noted here that the location of much of that lagrasse was land that the founding fathers donated from Virginia to the federal government as part of DC. However, local residents petitioned the federal government to have the land returned to Virginia in the 1840s. In so doing, the local residents were tacitly supporting the abomination of slavery. You see, the city of Alexandria (which was originally part of the land ceded to teh federal government for DC was home to a busy slave market). In accepting the petition the federal government was practicing what would be an oft – repeated art, failing to see the future with any clarity whatsoever. Immorality colluded with incompetence and Virginia’s donation to DC became part of Virginia again. Continuing the interesting twists and turns of fate, the retrocession of Virginia’s donation to DC might have been just enough to tip the balance of Virginia in favor of the Confederacy. The Virginia of the day (including what is now West Virginia) was actually a pretty close call on the matter of succession. The retrocession of land, people and representatives from what is now Alexandria and Arlington added representatives who would vote for succession. There is some chance that Virginia would have been a border state like Kentucky during the Civil War if Arlington and Alexandria has stayed as part of DC. This would have nixed Richmond as the capital of the Confederacy, spared Virginia the widespread devastation caused by the long siege of Richmond and resulted in West Virginia remianing as part of the Old Dominion. The American flag today would have 49 stars, presumably arranged into a neat box of 7 rows with 7 stars in each row. Virginia, presumably, would have emerged from the Civil War unscathed and might not have become the center of postbellum racism that it became.

    The Virginia model?

    Have competent leadership through 1820 os so. Then, screw up virtually every decision while staying afloat based on the foresight of those who rebelled both against the crown and against The Descendants.

  12. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    Groveton, By all means, write a column. I’ll be happy to run it.

  13. Adam Sharp Avatar
    Adam Sharp

    @Jim Bacon … I don't define "investment" as a "blank check". Investors get to have a say in the companies in which they invest, and they have every right to demand a return on their investment. If government invests, government should be able to hold the recipient of taxpayer funds (public entity OR private industry) accountable for the use of those funds. (Radical concept, I know.)

    So I neither support throwing more money at public education, nor handing checks to private education without testing, oversight, etc. I don't know if Del. Saxman has gov. oversight in mind when he advocates for school choice.

    I would like to see Virginia invest in post-secondary education, building a string of small public colleges (>5,000 students) across the Commonwealth in areas without big schools (Southside, for example). In-state tuition would be capped with CoL increases, out of state tuition can float.

    Each college would have a general studies program and a specialty (medicine, business, technology, social sciences, hard sciences, etc.). Students who complete a year in good standing at one college would be able (and encouraged) to easily transfer to another – all gen ed. courses would be standardized, and credits would transfer automatically. No athletics programs competing with the big schools, and the major universities would be encouraged to allow transfers to and from.

    The goal is to break away from "all things to all people" universities who have a brand and can raise tuition at will, and move toward a decentralized system where programs are spread out across the Commonwealth. Imagine UVA with 6 campuses in Central VA, JMU with 5 campuses in the valley, Tech with 7-8 campuses across SWVA and Southside, ODU with 5 campuses in Southeast (for example).

    Now imagine 15-20 new colleges across the Commonwealth, providing accessible education to nearly everyone, and increasing the number of students VA can serve. Small communities would benefit from the economic activity, VA students would have more options, and VA could bring in more out-of-state and foreign students, who would pay market rates.

    Other benefits would be the promotion of a "Virginia" brand ofeducation. If students studied for a year in Southside, a year in the northern Valley, a year in Southwest and a year in the Northern Neck, they would understand the Commonwealth much better … and they wouldn't say they go to "X" college, but they go to school "in Virginia."

    It's a new model for post-secondary education. There will always be a market for the "big school" experience, and athletics will ensure big schools dominate. But for the students who want a degree without going into massive debt, the students who want smaller classes and non-celebrity professors, and the students who want to experience more than one town's restaurants and nightlife, Virginia could be the answer.

    That's what I'd like the "Virginia model" to be.

    (Thanks to Rick Gray of Chesterfield who first gave me this idea.)

  14. Anonymous Avatar

    Sounds a lot like the Medical college of the Caribbean – Separae specialties on each island.


    “According to a 2004 University of Pennsylvania study, prestigious degrees aren’t as valuable at major corporations as they were a generation ago.

    The study looked at the top executives at Fortune 100 companies in 1980 and 2001. During that time the percentage of top guns with Ivy League undergraduate degrees dropped by nearly a third, from 14% to 10%, while the percentage who attended other highly ranked schools, such as Williams or Notre Dame, fell from 54% to 42%.

    Meanwhile, public university graduates soared to nearly 50% from 32%. Meritocracy in corporate America is a good thing, but it doesn’t support the notion that whatever you pay for an elite education is worth it.”


  15. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: “So I neither support throwing more money at public education, nor handing checks to private education without testing, oversight, etc.”


    I’d like to see a competitive environment for providers of education but I’m not about to sign off on giving unrestricted vouchers to private providers – “on the theory” that just because it is private sector that they’ll do better than public sector for the same money.

    We might argue about “teaching to the test” and programs so focused on academics than they are neither fun nor creative but I ain’t buying the idea that we don’t need performance based metrics and other measures that assure some minimum level of cost effectiveness.

    So.. for instance, I’d support vouchers – based on performance.

    The private providers get their money – based on how well they meet both individual and whole school metrics such as SOLs or NLCB or NAEP.

    And they cannot cherry-pick – they have to take all comers…

    and for higher education – two things:

    any Virginia kid who maintains a “B” or above is guaranteed admission to a public college in Virginia.

    That Virginia focus more on Certification than generic major based degrees.

    You get Certified in an actual marketable skill like Accounting or Computer Networking or Engineering, etc….and those certifications set by the Industry so that it is actually worth something in the real world…

  16. Anonymous Avatar

    “And they cannot cherry-pick – they have to take all comers…”

    But Cherry picking is OK for health insurance?


  17. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: cherry picking for health care?

    Absolutely not.

    Our health care policy is one of the dumbest and most expensive in the world – for what we get.

    We DO have the best medical care in the world – for those than can afford it.

    It is unconscionable for us to not have universal access to health care.

    Folks that want to pay more for better – still can – but there is no excuse for not having a system like Social Security or Medicare.

    and the folks opposed to it that say they are pro-business and that universal health care will hurt business are liars.

    No business is hurt more in the US because of health-care than small businesses.

    The lack of it stifles innovation and entrepreneurship because folks simply cannot risk doing what they really want to do if one illness can destroy them financially.

    Federal Employees have a choice of at least 10 different companies and each of the offers several low and high option plans but none of them can participate unless they accept all Fed employees who sign up.

    The same Congressmen who say that Universal Coverage is wrong…and “welfare” virtually all of them – even those with “pre-existing” conditions have Federal Health Care Insurance.

    What a bunch of hypocrites.

    I’d say for every one of them who is opposed to universal coverage – kick them out of the Federal Health Care System and let them buy their insurance like the same way they tell others to….

  18. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: health care


    1. – every health care provider must post their fee schedules for all services.

    2. – no health care provider can charge different folks different rates – for any reason including what method of payment.

    3. – every health care provider MUST use patient-specific integrated electronic health care records that go with the patient no matter where they obtain care throughout their life.

    If we can do online banking securely, or book airline tickets or dozens of other secure online transactions, we sure as h_ll can do online health records securely.

    What we have in this county with Health Care is a cabal of special interests who are (not surprisingly) more interested in furthering their own bottom lines rather than giving the best, affordable, quality medical care in a competitive environment.

    and this goes back to the fact that special interests and special interest money has infested our political process and subverted the interests of citizens.. indeed some of the most important tenants of Democracy because citizens cannot easily change the current bogus system by picking Dems or Republicans as both of them take essentially bribes…from these special interests.

    .. all perfectly legal of course and of course none of this money has the slightest impact on their consideration of laws that affect the industries where the money came from. (sic)

  19. charlie Avatar

    Groveton: Yes, the location of DC was a political decision. But it was also a strategic mistake.

    The founders wanted a way to access the West. Virginia, with the Potomac, was thought to be the easiest way to build a canal to the West. That would be the basis of a great new federal city.

    It turned out that New York, through crooked finance, found it easier to build a canal to Lake Erie; and Baltimore invented the railroad and built the B&O.

    Early 18th century bad bet on technology.

  20. Groveton Avatar


    Not really. The man who never told a lie told a pretty big one when he claimed that the Potomac was navigable through to the West. He had peronally surveyed much of that land. He saw the size of the Potomac shrinking fast as you head north and west of Great Falls. He knew. He may have thought that other, bigger rivers must exist but he knew the Potomac would not be the answer.

  21. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Curious things happen…sometimes…

    if you believe the Lewis and Clark story – they went up the Missouri and then OVER the Rocky Mountains to get to the Pacific

    .. when if you look at a map…. going up the Yellowstone ..and crossing over a relatively minor height of land (compared to the Rockies).. they would have dropped into the Snake Watershed which hen runs right to the Columbia…

    .. and they had Sacagawea who was a Shoshone – a tribe that lived in the Snake Watershed, in fact some were actually known as Snake River Shoshone.

    so why did Lewis & Clark go OVER the Rockies in search of a westward passage?

    Wouldn't you think that when they reached the Rockies and saw the size of the mountains that they should have looked for another way?

    Also.. remember Groveton – canals were proposed and executed for the Rappahanock and James Rivers and thing about this….

    The James goes west ACROSS I-81 – the Great Shenandoah Valley…

    if you head South from the James in that Valley.. you run into the New River – the New River flows WEST through West Virginia to become the Kanahwa River… which flows into the Ohio thence the Mississippi…

    you may have heard of this proposed canal – the James River and Kanawha Canal – also proposed by GW.. so Richmond could have been the Nations Capitol…


    okay.. so check your timeline with respect to Washington and the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal… I don't think the two are tightly connected….

    Remember.. also other cities like Philadelphia started out as the Capital… and there's another river.. called the Susquehanna that goes all the way across the state – almost to Pittsburgh where the Ohio is formed….

    Groveton – the more I think of your explanation .. the more the phrase "fairy tale" comes to mind…


Leave a Reply