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GEORGE ALLEN (R) accomplished
Mr. Kaine? He followed fellow Democrat Mark Warner into the Governor's Mansion with the obvious task to finish the work Mr. Warner had started. Mr. Warner, helped by a centrist state Senate, had wrested tax increases from a balky General Assembly for education, public safety, and other high purposes. The one missing piece was transportation. Mr. Kaine couldn't get it done. After initial resistance, he accepted a hodgepodge plan by House Speaker Bill Howell (R-Stafford) that soon fell apart like Humpty Dumpty. Virginia's mobility needs remain acute.
But that is not the end of the story. In 2000, the highly popular Mr. Allen was elected to the U.S. Senate. Six years later, defending his seat in an apparent cakewalk, he ran a campaign of textbook sloppiness and hubris (the most memorable unforced error was his "Macaca" slur of an Indian-American), proving again that pride goeth before a fall. Jim Webb (D) won a narrow upset victory. A defeated Mr. Allen left Washington in the same high spirits in which Napoleon retreated from Moscow.
In six years, Mr. Allen has doubtless thought a lot about how to reclaim his Senate seat. Alas, he has not thought about other things. For while he apologized for his impromptu insult of S.I. Sidarth, he has yet to beg the pardon of Mr. Webb, whom with cold calculation he all but called a sexual pervert on the basis of passages desperately pulled from the Marine hero's acclaimed novels about the Vietnam War. No less an icon of the right than William F. Buckley Jr. rebuked Mr. Allen for his slimework against a man who helped interpret the agonies of the Vietnam grunt to an uncomprehending public--loftier work than anything George Allen wrought in six lackluster years in the Senate.
Mr. Kaine, meanwhile, was busy in Richmond, perhaps not making seismic changes in criminal justice, welfare, and education, but doing the unglamorous, crucial work of balancing the state's budget during the Great Recession--work that kept police on the streets, teachers in the classroom, and food in the bellies of poor kids, even as it kept Virginia's business climate hale and its citizens buffered from the worst of the downturn.
A CIVIL TONE
He did this in a spirit of civility and cooperation (he and Mr. Howell teamed up again more productively to ban smoking in Virginia restaurants), the lack of which virtues, 100 miles to the north, placed the abyss of sequestration under the fragile footbridge of America's recovery. What the U.S. Senate needs from Virginia is a de facto legislator who can give and take, not a miscast executive of ideological rigidity, pat answers, and pugnacious instinct--attributes that guarantee further gridlock.
The temperamental difference between Mr. Kaine and Mr. Allen is not merely abstract: The gentlemen have been good enough to model their personality apparel during the campaign. In a September debate at which the subject arose of Mitt Romney's "47 percent" comment, Mr. Kaine said that he would be "open [italics ours] to a proposal that would have some minimum tax level for everyone." A common Republican gripe is that too many Americans pay no income tax (there are in fact usually good reasons for this), and Mr. Kaine's remark, while unartful, represented an admirable willingness to at least hear the R's out on the subject.
But faster than "Shazam!" turns Billy Batson into Captain Marvel, Mr. Allen had a TV spot out chastising his opponent for wanting to tax "anyone earning as little as $17,000 a year. Tim Kaine: raising taxes on everyone."
"Gotcha" is not the key to what ails us as a nation.
It may also be said of Mr. Kaine that he embodies the personal decency that is a proud Virginia trait. His principles, which are quietly faith-based, preclude the meanness that nowadays poisons our politics. As the courteous chairman of the Democratic National Committee he made this evident through contrast: He succeeded the memorably acerbic Howard Dean. There are things bigger and better to him than elections.
Which is why The Free Lance-Star happily endorses him in this one.