I’ve been trying to figure out why I’ve not been posting much recently. Sure, I can complain as much as the next guy about being busy, but the fact of the matter is that there’s not much to get excited about in the news lately, except for the self-destruction the GOP national leadership is going through with the Schaivo case, the Social Security non-starter and Tom Delay’s antics.

But what, if any, impact will national politics have on Virginia politics?

Perhaps none. Some folks think the campaigns are all about taxes, the death penalty and abortion.

I doubt it.

The competing tax plans will, unless more details are forthcoming, cancel each other out by election day. Knowing that Jerry Kilgore, who has anti-tax DNA, would come up with something, Kaine was smart to at least neutralize the issue with his own plan. Alas, neither plan is realistic, but Kaine’s has the benefit of at least being positioned as empowering local communities, whereas Kilgore’s plan invests power in the state and limits even further what localities can do in a Dillon Rule state. But both plans can’t be implemented without a constitutional amendment that will take at least three years to effectiveness, so neither candidate will bear the responsibility of the consequences until their term is almost over. Voters will probably just sigh by election day and vote on other issues — and values.

Kaine is trying with only some degree of effectiveness to neutralize the death penalty and abortion issues. For those folks who support the former and oppose the latter, he’ll never get their votes; he’s hoping only to have a chance with voters who consider the issues secondary or even tertiary, of which I suspect there are many.

But what if GOP leadership becomes the issue, as in “Is it effective?” and “What price must we pay?”

The Schaivo case has exposed the GOP to charges of overreaching, and now both Del. Dick Black of Loudoun and Del. Bob Marshall of Prince William (both Republicans) have jumped in the fray.

Black added: “It would probably be good to clarify the issue of living wills. My guess is that very few people who make those out anticipate that they will be made to die of thirst.”

How Black knows this no one knows. And when he says “clarify the issue” he probably means imposing a layer government on these private, family issues. But he and Marshall are willing to bet it’s an election-year winner. Will Democrats bet it isn’t and simply, as they did while GOP Congressional leaders were deciding to step in, be silent?

The conventional wisdom is that local House and Senate races are just that — local. But I’m not sure conventional wisdom is right here. After all, conventional wisdom said a president with such a negative approval rating and a poor economy couldn’t be re-elected. Conventional wisdom said that if the Democrats could just stay with the GOP financially, they could win. CW also said a veteran would trump a draft-dodger.

People are much more aware of the Schaivo case and Social Security (and to a lesser extent the DeLay shenanigans) than they are of what happens in Richmond. Is it time for Democrats to make those issues the reasons to turn out Republicans?

Most conservative Republicans in the Virginia House and Senate have probably taken votes that can be painted as part of the GOP intrusion into private matters.

Restricting marriages, adoptions, family planning and school plays are evidence of a big government fiddling while the state burns. Democracy for Virginia has a post of how one candidate is using the effectiveness issue.

While we can say education is a “family value,” Democrats need to make the connection clearer. I think Kaine talking about his religion is a good first step. After all, conservatives need to know at the very least Democrats do go to church, I’m not sure it wins him that many votes. Larry Sabato thinks it’s a tough slog.

“I’m Roman Catholic, I know there is a prejudice against Roman Catholics. There has never been a Roman Catholic governor of Virginia,” Sabato said. “It’s rare, and it’s rare for a reason. The parties haven’t nominated many. Why haven’t they nominated many? Well, there may well be some anti-Catholic prejudice. It’s not as big as it was 30 or 40 years ago, but it does still matter in some places. This is a heavily Protestant state. There are still people who think Catholics call in regularly to the Vatican.”

Sabato said it’s smart politics to take attributes the public might see as negative–such as opposing the death penalty–and trying to turn them into positives.

“He read the same analyses after November. He decided to take a legitimate part of his resume and connect it to the values debate,” Sabato said. “Were he conservative Christian and pro-death penalty and anti-abortion, he might do better than being Catholic, questioning about the death penalty and pro-choice on abortion. But he’s doing the best he can with the positions and religion he has. So that’s a good thing for him. I just don’t think it’s an unalloyed plus, given some of his positions and the fact that he is Catholic.”

(Still, given the late Pope John Paul’s popularity, I wonder if Kaine thought to ask for a letter of recommendation before the pontiff passed away. Maybe if Kaine paints himself as persecuted because of his religion he might pick up votes from conservatives of all religions.)

Mike Shear of The Washington Post has a column this morning about the values issue. I’m willing to overlook the condescending lead to the piece.

The first radio ad of Virginia’s 2005 gubernatorial campaign was not about taxes. It had nothing to do with the death penalty, abortion or gun control. The state’s transportation crisis was not mentioned, and neither was the quality of its schools.

The ad was about religion.

Can you imagine a reporter writing such a lead to story about an ad Bush would run. Of course not. But the rest of the column is pretty balanced.

Except that I can’t understand the last line:

It’s unclear whether Kaine’s profession of faith will earn him many votes in Virginia’s heartland, where Kilgore was born and reared. If it does and Kaine wins, it could prove a model for Democrats in Virginia and across the country.

If he loses, some might point to the prominent mention of his religion as a key reason.

Those who do such pointing need to be locked up for their own protection. How can it hurt him? Shear has no evidence or even “usual suspect” opinion to back up that contention. Kaine’s talking about his faith might not work, but how can it hurt him? The guy spent a year as a missionary for God’s sakes. He’s not pandering to anyone. He obviously backs up his discussion of religion with action. Which is much more than you can say about the rarely-seen-in-church Bush.

But there are more than religious values. There are American cultural, political and social values. There are values like looking out for our neighbors. Justice. Equality. Freedom from hunger. Help for the less fortunate.

I’m under no illusion that somehow those values have been lost just under the W administration. Those values have always resonated with both Democrats and Republicans. They’re not partisan issues. One need only compare Rockefeller Republicans with southern Democrats of a generation ago.

And the role of government is clearly an issue that is non-partisan. For years, Democrats wanted the federal government everywhere from the doors of the University of Alabama to the doors of every housing project for the poor.

So the question is the proper balance of government intrusion. Pendulums by definition swing. Can Democrats make a case for a return to a proper role of government? Or more importantly, the slippery slope of the improper role of government?

If homosexuals can’t marry, can prostitutes? Can sexual offenders? Can the mentally retarded? Can transvestites? Can swingers? Can people with mutant genes?

If pharmacists can deny people their prescriptions, can doctors refuse to treat someone with a self-inflicted disease or wound? Can prison guards refuse to protect the beating of inmates by inmates? Can police refuse to protect the homeless with drug dependencies or mental illnesses? Can teachers refuse to teach evolution?

Why are we so concerned with welfare moms and so blasé about Ken Lay and Bernie Ebbers?

Democrats can make a case for the return to government that promotes American values. But first they need to make the case that the more reactionary GOP lawmakers in Virginia don’t, and that in their zeal to promote their values, they trampled our most precious ones.

Democrats need to take the lead from Bush’s strategy about so many issues. Stick to the message and say it over and over and over again. It will eventually resonate.

Believe me, Mike Shear, it can’t hurt them.