In “Tear down this icon,” Rubin posits that the Republicans, licking their wounds after the 2012 elections, need to get over the memory, if not the mythology, of Ronald Reagan, who combined populism with a small government, anti-tax philosophy. Whether he actually followed this course or not — expensive defense budget buildups come to mind — is a topic for another day.
My peeve is what Rubin says about Virginia’s governor, Robert F. McDonnell, whom she identifies as one of several rising political stars who can lead the GOP to a new post-Reagan era.
Regarding Reagan’s memory and how some Republicans tend to defend it, Rubin writes: “Fortunately, not all Republicans are trapped in this time warp.”
McDonnell, a conservative favorite for the first three years in office, has been under siege in recent months for what national conservatives label heresy: a plan to solve Virginia’s historic transportation problems by, among other things, raising the sales tax. The plan and the governor remain popular in the Old Dominion. But outside Virginia, bastions of conservative orthodoxy recoiled in horror, the right-wing blog Red State dubbed him “pathetic” and “the worst kind of Republican,” and a host of others had declared that McDonnell had blown his 2016 prospects.
I would add a few caveats here:
* McDonnell’s transportation plan is a convoluted mess. The simple way to get more money for roads would have been to raise the state’s gasoline tax, which was among the lowest in the nation. Instead, he eliminated it in an elaborate scheme and raised most of the sales taxes, which impact the poor the hardest. It isn’t raising taxes such much as playing a shell game with them.
* Ending the gasoline tax removes the connection between the use of roads and paying for them, which is what high-occupancy toll lanes and other schemes are based on. It seems to work.
* McDonnell, incredibly, is charging hybrid car owners a penalty of $64 a year. You get penalized for being nice to the environment. Go figure.
* While the plan is the first real shift in Virginia’s stubborn refusal to pay for its roads needs, the McDonnell administration is pushing ahead with new superhighways of dubious value, including a new superhighway from Suffolk to Petersburg and the Coalfields Expressway near Kentucky.
* McDonnell’s other “legacy” projects such as privatizing Alcoholic Beverage Control stores and promoting offshore oil drilling went nowhere.
* McDonnell lost his bid for the vice presidential slot on Mitt Romney’s ticket most likely because of the lively protests by feminists against his staunch anti-abortion stances in the 2012 General Assembly.
* The governor is embroiled in an embarrassing scandal regarding accepting gifts to his family from an influential businessman that could affect his future.
Otherwise, Rubin has some interesting points.