Kaine’s Political Gamble: Voters Have the Memory of Fruit Flies

Let’s conduct a mental exercise. Let’s pretend it’s the fall of 2005, when Tim Kaine and Jerry Kilgore were running neck-and-neck in the gubernatorial polls, and let’s pretend we have no foreknowledge of events to come.

Last fall, Kaine was campaigning on a transportation platform that detailed wide-ranging reforms but made no mention of new taxes. Indeed, he specifically stated that he would not increase taxes until a Constitutional amendment protected the Transportation Trust Fund from budgetary raids — putting off any prospective tax increase for at least three years. Kaine’s campaign rhetoric cut along the same lines: Virginia can’t pave its way out of congestion, he said repeatedly. As an alternative to Business As Usual, he proposed strengthening the power of local government to block rezoning projects in the absence of adequate roads.

Now, let’s imagine that Kilgore attacked Kaine as a tax-and-spend liberal. Oh, that’s right, he did attack Kaine as a tax-and-spend liberal. And he got his butt handed to him. Kaine was indignant. Editorial writers in most of Virginia’s major dailies rushed to Kaine’s defense. How dare Kilgore run such a negative campaign — appealing to peoples’ fears? Kilgore’s charges gained no traction, and he fell behind in the polls.

Of course, even Kilgore never imagined the switcheroo that Kaine would pull. Even Kilgore could not conceive of the audacity, less than two months after winning the election, of unveiling a plan to boost taxes by $1 billion per year, and then stumping the state for a proposal he never hinted at during the campaign, and launching an expensive radio advertising blitz in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads to convince voters to support a spending program that he’d implied was unnecessary only months before.

Of course, the pundit-apologists who run Virginia’s editorial pages (outside of Richmond) all shifted direction in lock-step. Rather than castigating Kaine for breaking faith with voters in such dramatic fashion, they’re castigating House Republicans for failing to follow along.

It is interesting to note how Kaine is pursuing his P.R. campaign, however, Jeff Schapiro hit the right now in this morning’s Times-Dispatch when describing the radio ads: “Gov. Timothy M. Kaine doesn’t use the ‘t’ word in his radio commercials urging higher taxes for roads and transit.” Instead, the Governor touts the benefit of his transportation-funding plan over that of the House of Delegates, as if there were no price tag.

This is an interesting laboratory experiment in just how stupid voters are, and how short their attention spans are. Will voters follow, lemming-like, Kaine’s call for more spending without realizing that there’s a bill in the form of a $1 billion tax increase? Will they forget that only a few months before, they voted for a guy who said nothing about big spending programs and higher taxes?

Maybe Kaine’s tacticians are right. Maybe the voters are too stupid to put it all together. Maybe they do have the memories of fruit flies. With the pundit-apologists in Virginia’s editorial pages providing cover, maybe voters will suffer collective amnesia. But maybe the tacticians are wrong. Maybe, just maybe, voters will say, this isn’t what we voted for. And maybe the duplicity will boomerang.

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5 responses to “Kaine’s Political Gamble: Voters Have the Memory of Fruit Flies”

  1. James Atticus Bowden Avatar
    James Atticus Bowden

    I suspect that Kaine’s efforts will not hurt him, but that doesn’t mean the voters are stupid. The voters don’t have to go to the polls anytime soon. So, they won’t be voting on the tax increases.

    How many Virginia voters actually let their legislators know what they want – other than voting in Nov? Has there ever been a populist ground swell of political furor for the GA to do anything? What and when?

    So, if a few voters are pacified to not comment to their legislators and a few other voters are motivated to say ‘tax me please’, then Kaine wins.

    The special interests are all making their cases for more taxes.

    I would be shocked if there was a voter rebellion – now during the session – for no new taxes. I don’t think it will happen. Doesn’t mean the voters are stupid, but shows the reflection of our political culture in the Commonwealth.

    It’s up the Republican legislators to know what they stand for or what they roll over for – to protect The People from another tax increase.

  2. James Young Avatar
    James Young

    My great fear is that Kaine’s reliance upon voter stupidity/short memories is well-justified based upon historical data.

    How else does one explain turning the mechanisms of foreign policy over to a bunch of people (in 1992) who were wrong on one of the two defining foreign policy issues of the Twentieth Century?

  3. James Atticus Bowden Avatar
    James Atticus Bowden

    James Young: There was a perception that there was no threat in 92. The Wall came down and E Europe was freed in 89. The Soviet Empire crumbled in 91.

    Likewise, the US was isolationist through the 20s and 30s – until Dec 7, 1941.

    In both cases snake oil was sold and both parties (R isolationist and D ‘end of history’) were truly foolish.

  4. Ray Hyde Avatar

    Isn’t one of the purposes of this blog to change voter perceptions? Aren’t you putting down your own avocation by referring to your would be acolytes as fruit flies?

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