Other than the eyebrow, how do you think he did?
Let's get the eyebrow out the way. Yes, it has a life of its own. Yes, it seems to be controlled from above Tim Kaine's head from an unseen puppeteer. But these are trivialities. How did you feel about Kaine's performance last night in delivering the Democratic response to the president's State of the Union address? I hope that all Virginians were pulling for the guy, inasmuch as he represents all of us, whether you voted for him or not. The last thing any of us would want is some goofball who would embarrass himself and, by extension, us. Clearly, that didn't happen.
Kaine seemed mostly comfortable but his overly hurried cadence at times -- sort of rushing into that "there's a better way" mantra -- made him sound almost a little like an infomercial salesman. Overall, though, on the superficialities I think Kaine did just fine.
Now to the substance. Kaine managed to challenge the Bush administration on every major issue without sounding like a partisan hack, which was a delicate line to walk. On the economy Kaine scored when he compared Bush's fiscal policies to asking our children to pay our mortgage. "Why should we allow this administration to pass down the bill for its reckless spending to our children and grandchildren?" He talked about the flipside of No Child Left Behind -- arguing that the lack of funding is "wreaking havoc" on local school districts, though the "better way" he described didn't seem to address that specific criticism.
I thought perhaps his strongest moment came, surprisingly, in taking Bush on where he is strongest -- the war on terror.
"The president called again tonight for our commitment to win the war on terror and to support our troops. All Americans embrace those goals. We can, and we must, defeat those who attack and kill innocent people. While the images of the World Trade Center are seared in the minds of all Americans, so too are the memories of those who died on sacred ground in Virginia in the attack on the Pentagon. Our commitment to winning the war on terrorism compels us to ask this question: Are the president's policies the best way to win this war?"
It's no secret that the Bush administration has tried to paint any criticism of its policies and tactics in Iraq as unpatriotic and I think Kaine managed to open the door to the idea that there might be other ways to fight the war on terror -- that's it's not "Yer with us or again' us." And that we can disagree about tactics and policies while agreeing on the overarching goals.
Finally, I think Kaine said something so old and basic it almost sounded fresh: It was the idea that government should serve the people. He said that government works when it focuses on service. "It's about measuring what we do in terms of real results for real people." He criticized the Bush administration for falling short of its responsibility to serve the people in almost every area of life -- from the victims of Hurricane Katrina to the unemployed to the troops serving in Iraq as well as the environment, family farms, health care and safety in the workplace. It came dangerously close to sounding like the people should look to government to solve every last one of their problems but it also sounded refreshingly noble and selfless in the face of ongoing charges of corruption, cronyism and ethics violations in Washington.
Kaine's performance seemed to get some decent reviews. The New York Times called it the "coming-out party for a new Democratic star." The Indianapolis Star called Kaine a "rising star" of the party.
Not every one was happy. Commenting at Hamptonroads.com, George Blair of Suffolk had this to say:
"For the first time since I was a teenager in the 50's, I was ashamed of the
Governor of my state. Gov. Kaine allowed himself to be trotted out like a new
puppy dog to espouse the political hetoric of Teddy Kennedy, John Kerry and John Dean*. If this speech had been made prior to November's election, I doubt Kaine would be in the executive mansion. Has he been masquerading as a "new Democrat"? After only a few weeks as Governor, does he have his sights set on a national stage. It would have been far better to leave off the tired old criticism and stay with suggesting ways to improve our nation and national politics. This would be more in the tradition of Virginia Statesmanship."
*One presumes he means Howard Dean.
George S. of Norfolk said, "Governor Kaine on the other hand blew Bush out of the office. Way to go Kaine, we are so proud to have your honest out spoken opinion of this arrogant speech and disgusting President."
Voters at the website's poll (at that point with 459 votes) rated Kaine's performance this way:
Excellent -- 30%
Good -- 11%
Fair -- 13%
Poor -- 39%
it -- 5%
Which brings me to the people I care to hear from -- you. Your thoughts on the job Kaine did last night?
Postscript: Did you realize that if a tornado had blown the Capitol building away last night, Eric Cantor would be president today?