Story by Chris Graham
You don’t often hear the term radical associated with people in the political center.
Mark Warner wants to get you thinking of moderates as radicals anyway.
“This is driven by people who are saying, We’re tired of partisanship. We want to get things fixed. They know in their gut that we can do better than this. And I think it’s the wave that’s coming,” Warner told me yesterday after a campaign event at James Madison University in Harrisonburg.
The former governor and 2008 U.S. Senate candidate drew a capacity crowd – technically an overflow crowd, as the event had to be moved from a room with a capacity of 60 to a larger room to accommodate the 100-or-so students and others in attendance.
Warner spent close to an hour talking about his new pet issue, energy independence, and taking questions from those assembled on matters involving health care, education and two issues that I talked with him about after the soiree, the war in Iraq and immigration reform.
On immigration, I asked Warner to couch his answer in the context of one concern that I have – that a solution that involved mass extraction of those found to be here illegally could end up having dire economic consequences by also removing millions of workers from jobs in agriculture and other sectors.
“There has to be some penalty so there’s not rewards for illegal behavior,” Warner said in response to my question. “And you’ve got to strengthen security at the border. There’s been – the percentage of businesses that have been prosecuted for hiring illegals under this administration has dropped off like 70, 80 percent. So the rhetoric sounds great, but in terms of enforcing the law, they don’t do it.
“What I think is happening – this is such a hard, hard issue, because people are coming here for a better life, but you’ve got to have rules that you follow,” Warner said. “And the demonization is coming on the undocumenteds as opposed to the businesses that are breaking the rules themselves. And that’s not fair, and I don’t want us to turn into this country that’s got this kind of hateful, spiteful face to the rest of the world.”
I had asked Warner to also couch his thoughts on Iraq in the context of a concern that I have there – that no matter how sincere we might be about wanting to get our troops out of the Iraqi theater as soon as possible, the realities of the situation on the ground there might preclude us from taking that action for years, maybe even decades.
“I think we’ve been kind of stuck with the stay-the-course approach of President Bush for an unlimited period of time, or get out tomorrow. Neither one of those are going to work,” Warner answered.
“I do think the only way, though, you shock-therapy the Iraqis into something action is by starting to show you’re serious about how you’re not going to be there to simply be a referee forever,” Warner said.
Which gets us back to Warner the Radical Centrist. The idea makes sense when you consider how policy debates seem to get hijacked by the extremes in both parties to the point where nothing substantive ends up getting done.
“My fear as a Democrat is, and I hope we have a Democratic president and Democratic House and increase the numbers in the Senate, but the worst thing for the Democrats, and more importantly for the country, would be, the Democrats got control of everything, and then came in with the same kind of arrogance that the Republicans had for the first six years of this administration,” Warner said.
“Payback should not be a national goal. It should be, How do we get our country fixed? And I think there’s a lot of this that can be driven by, How do you build those relations? I’m sure I can do that,” Warner said.