A Conversation with Shaun

I recently posted on Senator Ken Cuccinelli’s reaction to the concept of compromising on taxes. I suggested that the GOP needed was a better explanation of why taxes were not needed and a vision that voters could relate to.

The exceptionally erudite Shaun Kenney offered comments at his joint. As always, his comments are worth reading…even though he seems have a fundamental difference of opinion with me.

Shaun’s post is well worth reading. It offers a very clear exposition of his political views and of one stream of GOP thinking, and his offer of political vision:

Families first, not government first.

There’s your conservative vision for Virginia. Many, many organizations have spearheaded initiatives to make that vision work. The Freedom and Prosperity Agenda is one such solution that has been granted mere lip-service. But it’s a vision rooted in principle, which makes some who are not conservatives blanche at the idea.


1. Pass a Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights
2. Rein in skyrocketing real estate taxes by basing them on the acquisition value of property
3. Eliminate the car tax
4. Eliminate Virginia’s death tax
5. Strictly limit the public uses for which private property may be confiscated from private citizens
6. Allow parental choice in education
7. Create freedom and fiscal accountability for Virginia’s public colleges and universities
8. Protect Transportation Trust Fund money from being used for any other purpose
9. Eliminate the War of 1812 tax (BPOL tax)
10. Require expiration dates for all new taxes and all tax increases
11. Eliminate the prepayment of the sales and use tax

That’s a vision that deserves support, and one that not many people are aware is floating around. Now the question that needs to be raised is very simple: how do the priorities of government rise above these priorities that are clearly rooted in helping families, small businesses, and individuals?

Government priorities should not rise above those of the individual.  But if you don’t effectively communicate that message, you lose elections.

I imagine where we part ways in looking at this is a matter of perspective.  Shaun writes from an issues orientation, and considers this to an adequatley articulated vision.  My original suggestion was simply intended as a practical suggestion and encouragement to take the GOP issues and the positions and create a vision the state GOP can take into combat.  I don’t think we are that too far apart. 

However, I don’t consider the above to be a vistion statement, etc.  “Families First, not government” is not really a vision. That’s a slogan, not a vision.  This position list is an excellent legislative agenda. But it is a laundry list, not a vision.

Vision is more than a road map. The vision is what will be accomplished, and how families will benefit, and delivered in a way that brings folks along with you. Vision is the destination.  When I think of vision, I think of Ronald Reagan talking about how he sees Americans, and of what Americans can accomplish, and how together we can do that.I have not heard that kind of talk from GOP leaders. I think articulating what we stand for is part and parcel of the vision, one and inseparable. That is the message that brings people into the big tent, and keeps them there.  Vision can have an almost visceral impact, and an appropriately articualted vision will mean the same thing to everyone who sees it. 

But more about that later.

Shaun poses a reasonable reply to my question to Senator C:

Bwana- Within the current budget, how would [Senator Cuccinelli] fix transportation?
Shaun-I can’t answer this question for him, but I would flip the question around: What problems at VDOT are going to be solved with more tax dollars? For what projects? Where?

Until taxpayers get that answer, why should we raise taxes?:

I am not in favor of more taxes.I don’t think anyone wants to pay higher taxes.However, with so many pressing needs-especially in transportation-people are willing to consider them unless a clearly understood alternative is offered. 

As far as your question goes, I suggest that in Northern Virginia traffic congestion is getting worse daily. I imagine the same is true in many other parts of the state. Voters want a solution they can understand and support. Voters can instinctively understand how spending more money might fix the problem. If GOP does not offer a clear and understandable plan telling voters how they will fix things without raising taxes, then they lose. Craddock, Golden, and others are testimony to that.

One might ask why must the obvious be explained? It could be many things. Perhaps our society is too affluent and too quick to spend; perhaps we are not as thoughtful as we might be. People are too desirous of quick solutions. However, you fight a campaign with the constituency you have, not the constituency you wish you had. People want to get things working, and are desperate enough that they may not look harshly at a tax increase…and if they are not given a reason

Back to your slogan. You say the suggested GOP vision is “Families First,  not Government First”. I suggest this slogan is scant solace to the parents who have to spend 2 1/2 hours a day, 12+ hours a week stuck in commuter traffic-time they cannot spend with their families. I don’t know that this slogan has the intended meaning to a father or mother who has to leave work an hour or more early to be home for a 6PM soccer game because they cannot be sure how traffic is going to run-and all it takes is one accident at the right spot up in NoVA to seriously impact traffic throughout the region. 

I don’t think “Families First…”is going to resonate to everyone the same way, and a diffused message may be as bad as no message, especially if one is trying to avoid compromise.

I don’t think folks see transportation as a “government first” issue…they see it as a quality of life issue, and will until they are given additional information or a different context by which to evaluate the situation. If taxes get cut, but you are still having to pay more $$ for gas because of the distance you are commuting-and losing that time as well-then maybe folks will not respond energetically.

But ultimately the bottom line why the GOP must build a vision to offer to the Commonwealth rather than rely on slogans is simple reality. The issues offered to the public and the explanation of same have not gotten the attention of the voters…perhaps because they need more information about how these things will better their lives. A vision allows disparate elements to work together toward a common goal rather than using single issues to justify defection or inaction…in fact, sometimes it gets folks working together who may not have realized they have anything in common. 

Virginia GOP candidates have taken some losses in the last few years, especially in the top of the ticket races.  The same is true at the national level.  I suggest that either the GOP does not have a vision, or else it is a vision that is poorly articulated.  The vision says here is where we are going…and if voters don’t know where we are going, why will they follow?  If they don’t reasonably understand how they are going to get there, isn’t it a distinct possibility they will follow a course they do understand…even if it might not be the best one.

That is what it gets down to.  Tell the voters in crystal clear language where you want to go, how you are going to get there, and why your path is better.  That is the first step to winning elections.


2 thoughts on “A Conversation with Shaun

  1. I have said it before and I will say it again, The Cooch and his minions are the problem in the Va GOP. They are not the solution because they offer no solutions and no vision. Instead they give you a laundry list of items with no practical way to accomplish the list. Cooch needs to go and maybe 2007 will be the year that the people of that Senate district who are tired of spending 2 to 3 hours of “family time” stuck in the worsening gridlock, will finally make a change. For many peoples sake I hope they are!

    Bwana Fan In Vienna

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s