Saturday, April 08, 2006

Gov. Mark Warner at Harvard

On Thursday, I was invited to go to the Harvard Democrats Leadership Award Dinner by the Harvard Dems and former Virginia Governor Mark Warner's Forward Together PAC. Warner was receiving the Leadership Award, and would be the keynote speaker there. Not wanting to turn down a free dinner and a chance to see a potential 2008 presidential candidate, I gladly accepted. The evening was liveblogged by the Harvard Democrats, and another blogger I met there has already posted his thoughts.

I thought Warner did pretty well. I don't think he struck any new ground in his speech, but I did like his style. When speaking, he seemed to find that middle ground that was neither too polished nor too stilted. For some reason I'm always surprised when a politician ends up sounding like a normal person. Maybe I should be more surprised when people who have been in politics their whole lives can't.

Anyway, Governor Warner started off very strong, noting that the Democratic party can and must be competitive in every state in America. We do our party and country a disservice when we don't compete for every vote. I thought this was very encouraging; a ringing endorsement of the Democrats' 50 State Strategy, which is slowly but surely becoming conventional wisdom.

How do we compete for every vote? Warner says it's by changing the debate. Don't talk about red vs. blue or liberal vs. conservative, but talk about the future vs. the past. Democrats do best when talking about the future. What's the next challenge we're going to face? I like that paradigm, and it reminded me of the saying I picked up somewhere: "Politics is like driving, D to go forward, R to go backward." It's too bad that Warner did not use this theme throughout his speech. While he did talk about the challenges we'll face in the near future, he did not do as great a job linking current policies to the past. That's one of my pet peeves about politicians. Rather than talk about how we need to change the debate, he should have used his speech to start changing the debate.

Warner also spoke a lot about the American Dream, and how he was worried that it was becoming inaccessible to many, due in part to administration policies. America strives to be a place where everyone has a chance to succeed, and while we have not always lived up to that ideal, we usually move closer to it, rather than away from it. The fair shot for everyone is disappearing and if don't address this, past divisions will pale in comparison to what we'll face as people get left behind. Warner spoke of the danger of becoming a collection of gated communities with rural and inner city areas left out of the prosperity.

He also resents the fact that the first thing the GOP did after 9/11 was to try to figure out how they could use it for political gain. He was in the middle of his campaign for governor at the time, and was only a few miles away from the Pentagon when it was hit. Even after 9/11 we still don't inspect our ports and do a terrible job in other areas of security. In Virginia, they stopped waiting for federal action and Warner made sure that first responders had an interoperable radio system so they could communicate in emergencies. He also talked about how real security comes from policies that unite our friends and divide our enemies, and not -- as the current administration has done -- the reverse.

Warner identified a number of areas where we face challenges, but the most important was innovation. Intellectual capital has never been more important, and innovation is what we do best. Unfortunately, we are falling behind other countries in areas like research and development. To be successful, we need not only to invest in education, but also to be sure that we're attracting the best in the world.

Luckily for you all, you don't have to rely on my notes alone. The Forward Together PAC gave me permission to post the full audio of the speech. The speech is just under forty minutes long and the sound quality is pretty poor due to the clinking glasses and my distance from the podium. If you are interested in listening, I'd appreciate it if you saved it on your own computer rather than running it off the server, to save my bandwidth.