Analysis of Creigh's "Major" Speech

Friday, August 21, 2009

This morning, I laid out the following for what I'd looking for Creigh to do today (criteria based in large part on what the campaign told us to expect). My analysis - including a letter grade - follows each point in italics.

1. Lay out a strong personal narrative for himself.
When I think of strong personal narratives, I think of people like Jim Webb ("Born Fighting") and Barack Obama ("Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance"), both with fascinating, unique and powerful stories to tell that directly tie in to their political philosophies. For Creigh, it's a bit more mundane - how he has a wife who works full time and four children getting their education, how he's a "product of Virginia schools," "grew up on a farm," "family didn’t have much" but was "fortunate enough not to know hunger." That's fine, albeit very common. More powerful to me was Creigh's anecdote about the 9-year-old boy who asked him, "You mean we eat more than once a day here?", how that opened Creigh's eyes and made him realize "that the world wasn’t perfect, that right here in Virginia there were people who were hurting and kids who went to bed hungry." Overall, I'd say the personal narrative was pretty good. I'll go with a grade of "B-/C+" (Webb and Obama each get "A+"; I'd give Tim Kaine an "A-" for the narrative he developed in 2005) on this one.

2. Lay out a strong political narrative for his candidacy.
I didn't here a super-strong narrative, but I heard some strong themes. Here are the key phrases and words I heard: "keeping Virginia moving forward" (while "he will take us back"), "reach across the aisle," "the tradition of Mark Warner and Tim Kaine," "leader in economic opportunity," "bringing economic opportunity to every corner of the Commonwealth," "jump-start our economy and create jobs," "a deep personal commitment to education," "a bipartisan approach to cutting spending and managing government," "a Virginia where progress, respect and equality prevail," and "[w]e can’t move forward when we are led by those who make division and personal crusades the priority over the common good." Overall, this was a solid restatement of Creigh's campaign themes, and also a solid restatement of the general theme Democrats have been running on in Virginia - and winning, I'd poing out - the past 8 years. sum, this was fine, albeit nothing new or particularly exciting. It's worked before, certainly in 2005, the question is whether it will work again this year. Overall, I'd give Creigh a "B-" on this one; solid if unoriginal and not particularly scintillating.

3. Connect the strong personal narrative to the strong political narrative in a way that makes it clear how the one flows right into the other.
I'm not sure I really heard that happen in this speech. I'm still curious how the values Creigh learned growing up in Bath County directly and SPECIFICALLY translate into his political philosophy, especially given that his political philosophy sounds like many other statewide Virginia Democrats - people coming from all different personal backgrounds - I've heard since 2005. I'd give this one an "I" for incomplete.

4. Explain his vision for Virginia, being as specific (e.g., not vague) as possible.
In the section of the speech that began, "Here's my vision," I see three paragraphs with three worthy aspirational goals for Virginia: a) "I want a Virginia that is the nation’s leader in economic opportunity;" b) "I want a Virginia where every child can grow up healthy and young people can receive the best possible education at a public school;" and c) "I want a Virginia where progress, respect and equality prevail, not one separated by politicians with narrow social agendas." Under "economic opportunity," I heard "clean energy, medical research and cutting edge technology" mentioned specifically. Also in the speech, I heard the aspirational goal of "break[ing] the legislative logjam and pass a plan to fund transportation." Again, these are all worthy goals. What I wonder is whether they add up to a coherent "vision" and also what the specifics are. Right now, I'm not really hearing them. I'd give this one a grade of "C" - I think I get where Creigh's coming from overall, but I'd like to hear more specifics rather than general rhetoric, for instance on exactly how we're going to pay for transportation improvements without raising the general fund (a hike in the gas tax, I presume?); how we're going to transition our energy economy in the next 10-20 years; where the money's going to come from to pay our teachers what they deserve; etc.

5. Forcefully lay out why Bob McDonnell is not a moderate and in fact is a right-wing extremist who wants to take the Commonwealth back to the days of Jim Gilmore and George W. Bush.
I think Creigh did a pretty good job of tying McDonnell to Bush economic policies and to placing his "social agenda...before sound public policy." I liked the specific examples of how McDonnell pushed that agenda: "sponsored 35 bills in the General Assembly to restrict a woman’s right to choose;" "supported legislation allowing a pharmacist to refuse to fill birth control prescription;" "opposes stem cell research and believes that government should interfere in a family’s most personal decisions like those of Terri Schiavo and Hugh Finn." Obviously, Creigh could go even further, for instance, calling out McDonnell for his close ties to Pat Robertson. We'll see if he does that going forward. For now, though, I'd give Creigh a "B/B-" on this one.

6. Make crystal clear what's at stake in this election, why it matters, what the differences are between McDonnell and Deeds.
I think I've largely covered this above. I'd give Creigh a B-/C+ on this one...still need to do a lot more to counter this "moderate" image that McDonnell has fabricated for himself.

7. Speak from the heart and connect with people in NOVA and throughout Virginia on what makes Deeds the right man at the right time to be the next governor of Virginia.
I heard some of this today, but I think there's a long way to go. Simply saying that he'll continue the Warner/Kaine model is almost certainly not sufficient given how many people are dissatisfied with the way things are going right now. Also, I didn't hear much today that would appeal specifically about NOVA - or to the "urban crescent" more broadly - so more work to do there as well. Overall, I'd give this one an "I" for incomplete.

8. Talk specifically about how he'll "grow the economy" and fix the transportation mess.
I'm not really hearing the specifics here. Economic incentives and tax credits are fine, for instance, but where's the money going to come from given that Virginia is about to cut another $1.5 billion? I'd give this one an "I" for incomplete.

9. Personally, I'd like to hear Deeds strongly endorse a strong public option for health care, given that - as Ben Tribbett pointed out yesterday on the Deeds campaign blogger conference call - Medicaid is a huge expense for state governments and the public option will provide strong competitive pressure to help bend that cost curve down.
I heard nothing on this at all. "I" for incomplete.

10. I'd also like to hear Deeds talk about the crucial importance of revamping our energy economy, jumpstarting a "clean tech" revolution, and dealing with the dire threat of global warming.
I heard a bit about this in today's speech, mainly a phrase about how "Virginia can become the national leader in clean energy." What I really want to hear is some sense of urgency, as well as specifics such as: mandatory Renewable Portfolio Standards, decoupling Dominion Power, not taking any campaign contributions from Dominion Power until the company starts to change its ways, an end to the abomination known as "mountaintop removal coal mining," a moratorium on new coal-fired power plants in Virginia; etc. I'd give this one a "D" for "disappointing."

So...on the 10 rating factors I listed prior to the speech, Creigh gets: 4 "I"s, 2 B-/C+s, 1 B/B-, 1 B-, 1 C and 1 D. As to this being a "major" speech, which is how the campaign billed it, I'm not sure I see that particularly. Delivery of the speech was ok, not sure I would have done it on a Friday, probably would have shot for the beginning of the week). My bottom line? Overall, the speech was ok, nothing new (same ol' same ol') but not bad, Grade: about a C/C+.

UPDATE: The Washington Post's Rosalind Helderman writes:
The speech contained little that's new in the way of policy proposals -- Deeds said as much to reporters afterward. But he did attempt to sharpen the message he will present throughout the fall. And what's that message? It's all about backwards-forwards. Republican Bob McDonnell will take the state back, Deeds will take it forward.
I agree, McDonnell will definitely move the Commonwealth backwards; Deeds will move it forward (or at least prevent it from going backwards). For that reason alone, everyone should vote for Creigh Deeds in November.