“It is in vain to say that enlightened statesmen will be able to adjust these clashing interests, and render them all subservient…or if such a common motive exists, it will be more difficult for all who feel it…to act in unison with each other. Besides other impediments, it may be remarked that, where there is a consciousness of unjust or dishonorable purposes, communication is always checked by distrust in proportion to the number whose concurrence is necessary.” –James Madison, Federalist No. 10
I got a mailer from Americans for Tax Reform the other day. They wanted to make sure I knew that our Democratic U.S. Senate candidate, Tim Kaine, had not only raised taxes as governor but also proposed to cut $120 million from Northern Virginia schools. But the real kicker was that he intended to send that money to, wait for it, “downstate schools.” (Note the emphasis.)
At the risk of sounding persnickety, “downstate” is a part of Illinois, New York, or even South Carolina. You may see it in print on occasion, and folks will probably gather what you mean, but the word doesn’t animate in the Commonwealth like it might in Chicago. (And yes, we do say, “Commonwealth”, as in Virginia Commonwealth University and the Commonwealth’s Attorney.) Of course, local favorites like “the rest of Virginia”, “Hicksville”, or “Real Virginia” might not properly sublimate the regional antagonisms along the demographic, cultural, and economic fault lines here in the South Mid-Atlantic. In short, while many in Northern Virginia do say “y’all” (and there is at least one Waffle House), this (generally) ain’t Dixie. That starts somewhere in Area Code 540, and many avowed Northerners, afflicted by politically exploitable negative perceptions, would rather not go down there.
But Kaine’s Republican opponent George Allen (whose daughter went to high school with me) is a Northern Virginian who will need strong support among cultural Southerners “downstate” in order to retake his former Senate seat in November. It might be rather inconvenient if non-Northern Virginians thought his campaign was antagonizing them, implying their schools are overfunded. After all, as many as 400,000 Virginians a year move elsewhere in the Commonwealth, with the D.C. suburbs expanding as many Southside towns lose residents. What will those Southern expats in the Northern region think of such a mailer about their old schools? Will they turn out for the candidate behind it?
Of course, candidate Allen isn’t responsible for that ad, nor even mentioned in it. Americans for Tax Reform is an independent D.C.-based entity that doesn’t coordinate with candidates (and probably staffs too few Virginians). And therein lies the rub. In politics, as Joe Biden reminds us, your friends can be as helpful as your opponents.
Prolific outside spending in campaigns is a curious development. On the surface of it, we’re supposed to think that corporations, unions, Super PACs, and chronically agitated billionaires have been unleashed to transmogrify once-mortal politicians and fringe interests into hydra-like machines united by clarity of malice against the infinitesimal resistance of the little guy. In truth, however, there are as many agendas afoot as there are funding sources. Even when a number of them support the same issue or candidate, their moneyed song is given as much to harmony as to discord. And even the mightiest of them are still subject to public reckoning.
The proliferation of money is arguably akin to the outgrowth of factions that Virginia scion James Madison predicted in Federalist 10. There are so many players with so many ends, that it will always be conceivably possible to pit one interest against another, and you can never assume full concordance among even the closest allies. Thus, Americans for Prosperity lost the fight over Metro expansion to Loudoun County’s all-Republican Board. Credit and debit card fees split support for free markets between merchants and banks. The Keystone pipeline pits unions and Big Oil against other unions and environmental groups. Teachers unions fight desperately against Democrats and seek allies in the GOP. And some influential billionaires champion causes that are more or less bipartisan. Thus are life and politics in the Republic.
But as for the ads: whether ATR wins a single vote for either former governor, or Michelle Rhee and Rahm Emanuel ever save our children from the leviathan, I’m glad to know what interests are out there and what people are thinking.
Democracy is noisy. But the best usually parties are.
Virginia scion James Madison