Why Dave Weigel Got it Wrong on Today’s Debate

By Mo Elleithee

The debate just ended, and we are pumped.

During the hour-long televised debate, Virginians were able to see a really clear difference between Tim and George Allen on a host of issues:

•  Tim Kaine was the only candidate on the stage to outline a concrete plan to avoid sequestration cuts.
•  While George Allen dismissed women's health and economic issues as "social issues" that people didn't care about, Tim Kaine made a strong and forceful case that they were family and economic issues that impact all Virginians.
•  George Allen showed once again his unwillingness to find middle ground, while Tim Kaine demonstrated once again that he was the candidate in this race best suited to tackle the gridlock in Washington that's blocking full economic recovery and our ability to get the nation's fiscal house back in order.

So, it was with some surprise when I got back to my computer after the debate to read a piece by Slate's Dave Weigel in which he questions Tim's answer on taxes.  With all due respect to a reporter I have tremendous respect for, Dave completely missed the point.

Let's start with some perspective.  David Gregory, the debate's moderator, kicked things off with a question to George Allen about whether or not he agreed with Mitt Romney's now-infamous 47% comments.  Senator Allen kept trying to go back to his own talking points, but never answered the question as to whether or not he shared Mitt Romney's view of "the 47%."

Tim Kaine took a different tack, answering with a clear and forceful, "no."  Tim pointed out that the problem with Governor Romney's comments were that they were meant to divide us as a nation and indicated a willingness to write-off half the country, rather than unite us.  There's too much division in our nation today, Tim argued (as he does so often), and people are looking for leaders who are more interested in bringing us together.

Tim then went on to outline the tax proposal that he's been advocating for more than a year — that we should roll back the Bush tax cuts on the highest earners.  He outlined his common-sense, middle-ground proposal — that while President Obama wants to roll them back for those making over $250,000 and George Allen wants to keep them all permanent, we can find a middle ground that rolls them back for those making over $500,000.  That will reduce the deficit, avoid devastating cuts to defense and education, and save jobs.  (You can see more about Tim's plan here:  "Middle Ground.")

That's Tim's approach to taxes — a plan that he's been talking about throughout this entire campaign, and one that’s been endorsed by folks across the ideological spectrum.  Even The Richmond Times Dispatch editorial board has praised Tim's plan, saying that when it comes to taxes, "Tim Kaine is right."  (Read their editorial here.)

(And remember, Tim has a record as Governor.  During his time in Richmond, he lowered the threshold for lower-income Virginians paying income tax, removing tens of thousands of people from the tax rolls.  AND at the end of his term, the overall tax burden on Virginians was lower than it was under George Allen.)

David Gregory then followed-up by asking Tim if believed that everyone should pay some level of federal income tax.  Tim began by saying that everyone does pay some level of taxes.  But when pressed by David on whether or not he'd be willing to consider a proposal to make everyone pay income tax, Tim said he'd be open to considering a proposal.

Before the debate even ended, Dave Weigel had a post up saying that Tim got "tripped up."

With all due respect to Dave, I think he underestimates what Virginians are looking for in their next Senator.

Tim Kaine told Virginians today that he disagrees with Mitt Romney's 47% comments because they divide the nation.  He went on to explain to people his widely praised proposal to find a middle ground that could break the stalemate in Washington by rolling back the Bush tax cuts for those making over $500,000.

And when Tim was asked if he'd be open to other proposals, he said he'd be open to talking.

Isn't that what we need more of in Washington?

Too many political leaders draw lines in the sand before even taking their oaths of office.  They refuse to listen to the other side or work to find any common ground.  Virginians are tired of that approach.  If our leaders aren't even willing to hear each other out, even when they might disagree, what hope is there that we'll ever break the gridlock in Washington?

Tim Kaine gets that.  And he showed Virginians that, like Mark Warner, he'll be a different kind of leader.

But don’t just take my word for it.  Read what Tim told a reporter who asked him about this after the debate:

David [Gregory] asked me a question which is would I be open to a discussion about something broader like that and I said sure I’d be open to. Shouldn’t be news that somebody wants to go into the Senate as willing to start from a position of openness and a dialogue. I’ve got a track record. When I was governor we raised the thresholds and took tens of thousands off Virginians, low income Virginians, off the tax rolls and that was the right thing to do under those circumstances but we can’t start with non-negotiables. So when my opponent says we have to solve our problems but we can never consider any new revenue even one dollar for every ten dollars of cuts, or we could never find one dollar of savings on the defense side, you’ve got to start with an openness and not with non negotiable positions.


What Tim Kaine did today was outline a concrete middle-ground proposal to break the stalemate on taxes.  George Allen has no plan, other than to retreat to the same old ideological battle lines that got us into this mess in the first place.

And while Tim Kaine outlined the specific steps HE would take to avoid sequestration and deal with revenue, he also told Virginians that he would sit down and talk with ANY Senator about their ideas in an effort break through the gridlock and find common ground.

Dave Weigel missed the boat on this.  He thinks it's an "obvious unforced error."  I think it's the kind of leader Virginians are looking for.  And I think it's the kind of leader Washington needs more of.

Thanks to all your continued support, and we're looking forward to the next debate on October 8!



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