The ideas candidate

Do ideas matter in presidential politics?

If they do, then Mark Warner, former governor of Virginia, is well positioned for the 2008 campaign should he decide to run (which most observers feel is a foregone conclusion).

In an appearance Monday night at the John F. Kennedy, Jr. forum at Harvard University's Institute of Politics (available in video and podcast here), Warner's visionary approach was on full display. It was fascinating to see how the Democrat dubbed the "anti-Hillary" thinks about the challenges of the day.

Warner thinks big: how to fashion a winning Democratic majority that can govern (not just recapture the White House); how to create jobs in rural America (broadband access and training); how to maintain American competitiveness in a flattened global economy; how to build the capability for a rapid response to rebuild infrastructure after disasters and after American military interventions.

And Warner makes it clear that he wants to transform those ideas into action, as, he suggests, he did in Virginia where he turned around the state's dismal financial situation through tax reform and good government practices.

Warner brings other strengths to the national scene. He offers an attractive resume that includes real world business success (co-founder of what became Nextel) and a proven ability to relate to socially-conservative Red Staters (winning in heavily Republican Virginia).

Yet he faces an uphill climb in the Democratic primaries where liberals, union-members and single-issue voters predominate. Warner distanced himself from Bush-bashing Monday, arguing that Democrats should be known for what they are for, not what they are against. That may not play well with the angry Left.

His comments on the war in Iraq were cautious and conventional (in sharp contrast to his Big Ideas for domestic policy); it was clear that Warner is educating himself on the issues (he mentioned discussions he was having with foreign policy experts), but he also make an interesting point–that the Bush Administration's unilateral focus on Iraq had left numerous domestic and foreign issues unaddressed.

Warner's positions on gun control, nuclear power, abortion rights, the death penalty and free trade will not endear him to the Howard Dean wing of the Democratic Party. Warner confronted the question directly on Monday, saying that if Democrats "want somebody who is going to check every box in terms of traditional Democratic orthodoxy, I’m not the guy."

If Senator Clinton runs, it is hard to see how Warner can capture the nomination in 2008. There are other scenarios to consider, however. A Clinton-Warner ticket would put Virginia's electoral votes in play (Warner has stratospheric approval ratings in the state) and would signal NASCAR voters that they weren't being written off.

End Game

So the Duke University lacrosse program, expected to contend for a national title in 2006, has melted down in the wake of allegations that three of its players raped an exotic dancer at an off-campus party. Today's resignation by head coach Mike Pressler, and the announcement by Duke President Richard Brodhead that the rest of the season has been cancelled, suggests that the scandal, which has ugly racial overtones, is far from over.

Team captains and attorneys for members of the team have insisted no crimes were committed at the party, yet the local district attorney says he is "pretty confident" that a rape occurred. The truth of the matter will be resolved by the criminal justice system.

What is clear, however, from much of the on-the-scene reportage is that Duke lacrosse players had a sense of entitlement, that there had been incidents with the police in the past, and that the team was infected with the worst of Alpha male jock culture.

There can be no doubt that President Brodhead must act decisively to root out that culture. Duke's reputation hangs in the balance. Every University president and athletic director in the country should be paying attention to the consequences of lax oversight.

The sport of lacrosse has suffered as well, with some of the media coverage suggesting that it is an elitist game played only by rich, white preppies from the Northeast. That's just not the case. Most of the game's greatest players have been ethnic working class kids from Canada, upstate New York, Long Island, New Jersey and Maryland. And as it happens, the men's winner of 2005's Tewaaraton award (for the best player in college lacrosse) was an African-American, Kyle Harrison of Johns Hopkins University.

Copyright © 2006 Jefferson Flanders
All rights reserved

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