Virginia is for retreads

Toward the end of a rather jaded Sunday sermon in which he recounts the debate between George Allen and Tim Kaine, the RTD’s Jeff Schapiro blunders across a larger truth:

At the back of the room, the candidates’ cameras — lost among those of television stations and newspaper websites — recorded the 90-minute exchange, harvesting grist for commercials with two objectives: to tar-brush the other guy and to get under his skin.

Consider that scene again…a room featuring the remnants of Virginia’s press corps and a gaggle of campaign staffers.

Dante could have had a lot of fun with that set-up.

But beyond the terrifying aspects is the deeper, sadder truth that Jeff sketches, but does not see: Virginia politics is for retreads. And that should be cause for unease.

It goes beyond the George Allen and Tim Kaine, who are as familiar as Coke and Pepsi. It extends to the people in the room during the debate, too. Virginia’s political press corps was, not long ago, still formidable. But no longer. In a bid to re-assert its role as political gatekeeper, the press hosted a general election debate well in advance of either party’s primary. It established entry barriers that, if they had been applied, say, to the GOP presidential field, would have kept various frontrunners out of the room entirely — right as they were catching fire with the wider electorate.

This event was a gasp. Not the last, desperate gasp of a dying man, but awfully close.

That the two frontrunners should indulge the fading patient’s demands does not surprise. Each man came of political age when Virginia’s press was still a powerful presence. They play by the rules they know…including rolling the cameras in the debate’s background to provide ad writers with hooks and taglines that will consume the airwaves next year.

It’s all familiar — the pressies, the staffers, the candidates and their messages. It’s a showroom full of retreaded tires the salesmen tell us will work just like new, but at half the cost.

And they may be right. Up until the time those recaps fail spectacularly…

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