While I’ve gone to great lengths to keep this website a forum for ideas, and not a personal forum, I should say something about the various stories regarding my political future in Virginia, the state that has been my primary home since late December 2010. The short of it is this: I don’t know and am nowhere near deciding. If I were to run, it would be as a Republican. And I am in the process of changing my voter registration from Alabama to Virginia, a development which likely does represent a closing of one chapter and perhaps the opening of another.
As to the horse-race question that animated parts of the blogosphere, it is true that people whose judgment I value have asked me to weigh the prospect of running in one of the Northern Virginia congressional districts in 2014 or 2016, or alternatively, for a seat in the Virginia legislature in 2015. If that sounds imprecise, it’s a function of how uncertain political opportunities can be—and if that sounds expedient, never lose sight of the fact that politics is not wishfulness, it’s the execution of a long, draining process to win votes and help and relationships while your adversaries are working just as hard to tear down the ground you build.
I by no means underestimate the difficulty of putting together a campaign again, especially in a community to which I have no long-standing ties. I have a mountain of details to learn about this northern slice of Virginia and its aspirations, and given the many times I have advised would-be candidates to have a platform and a reason for serving, as opposed to a desire to hold an office, that learning curve is one I would take seriously.
And the question of party label in what remains a two team enterprise? That, too, is no light decision on my part: cutting ties with an Alabama Democratic Party that has weakened and lost faith with more and more Alabamians every year is one thing; leaving a national party that has been the home for my political values for two decades is quite another. My personal library is still full of books on John and Robert Kennedy, and I have rarely talked about politics without trying to capture the noble things they stood for. I have also not forgotten that in my early thirties, the Democratic Party managed to engineer the last run of robust growth and expanded social mobility that we have enjoyed; and when the party was doing that work, it felt inclusive, vibrant, and open-minded.
But parties change. As I told a reporter last week, this is not Bill Clinton’s Democratic Party (and he knows that even if he can’t say it). If you have read this blog, and taken the time to look for a theme in the thousands of words (or free opposition research) contained in it, you see the imperfect musings of a voter who describes growth as a deeper problem than exaggerated inequality; who wants to radically reform the way we educate our children; who despises identity politics and the practice of speaking for groups and not one national interest; who knows that our current course on entitlements will eventually break our solvency and cause us to break promises to our most vulnerable—that is, if we don’t start the hard work of fixing it.
On the specifics, I have regularly criticized an agenda that would punish businesses and job creators with more taxes just as they are trying to thrive again. I have taken issue with an administration that has lapsed into a bloc by bloc appeal to group grievances when the country is already too fractured: frankly, the symbolism of Barack Obama winning has not given us the substance of a united country. You have also seen me write that faith institutions should not be compelled to violate their teachings because faith is a freedom, too. You’ve read that in my view, the law can’t continue to favor one race over another in offering hard-earned slots in colleges: America has changed, and we are now diverse enough that we don’t need to accommodate a racial spoils system. And you know from these pages that I still think the way we have gone about mending the flaws in our healthcare system is the wrong way—it goes further than we need and costs more than we can bear.
Taken together, these are hardly the enthusiasms of a Democrat circa 2012, and they wouldn’t be defensible in a Democratic primary. But they are the thoughts and values of ten years of learning, and seeing things I once thought were true fall into disarray. So, if I were to leave the sidelines, it would be as a member of the Republican Party that is fighting the drift in this country in a way that comes closest to my way of thinking: wearing a Democratic label no longer matches what I know about my country and its possibilities.
Full confession: you won’t find in my columns a poll tested candidate who could satisfy a litmus test. Immigration is a classic example: I wince at the Obama Administration’s efforts to tell states they can’t say the word immigration in their state laws, and find it foolish when I hear their lawyers say that a local cop can’t determine the legal status of a suspect validly in their custody. At the same time, I wince when I see Latinos who have a lawful right to be here have to dodge the glare of so-called “self-deportation laws” that look too uncomfortably like profiling. (It’s a good thing Virginia hasn’t gone that path). And while I haven’t written about the subject as much as I should have, I can’t defend every break in our tax code, or every special interest set-aside, as a necessary tool of a free market. And I can’t say every dollar spent on our weak and our marginal is a give-away: a just government is mindful of the places where prosperity never shines (and I give a lot of credit to an undisputed conservative, Mitch Daniels in Indiana, for saying so, and doing it at the nation’s leading conservative political caucus at that.)
A voter and a columnist have all the freedom in the world to say these things; perhaps a candidate does, too. Should I ever cross that bridge again, I will be trusting voters more than ever (despite having seen how wrong they can get it!) to test ability more than rigid ideology, and to accept that experience changes minds (if it is so in our lives, why shouldn’t it be so in our politics?) I might well decide that all of that is asking too much, and that party demands too much for a guy who doesn’t fit a partisan caricature. Or I might someday not so far off say, “Let the people decide.” Stay tuned.