Mark of Distinction
What the Democratic field can learn from Mark Warner.
Doppelgänger Schadenfreude: Last we'd heard of my evil twin Ralph Reed, he had just lost the Georgia primary for lieutenant governor. In an ironic twist worthy of O. Henry, Ralph was undone by the immorality of the very Congress and administration he had built a moral majority to elect. Leading up to the primary, Ralph Reed seemed poised to move two heartbeats away from the presidency. The day after, he looked like just another has-been.
Yet this week, as suddenly as he disappeared, Ralph is back. On Monday, he started going soul to soul with Rev. Jim Wallis, shepherd of the religious center-left, in a week-long diablogue on Beliefnet. On Wednesday, Secret Service logs revealed that Ralph and fellow Abramoff profiteer Grover Norquist have been to more than 100 meetings in the Bush White House, including some with the president himself.
Naturally, my initial reaction to Ralph's reemergence was sheer panic. I've known all along that Ralph would rise again, but when that hand suddenly reaches up from the grave, it's hard not to scream even if you see it coming.
In the Beliefnet photo, Ralph is smiling as if those stunning setbacks never happened. If a crushing defeat and national scandal don't break his stride, what kind of life form might we be dealing with?
Once the shock faded, however, I realized that this was no comeback. The White House logs can only mean that Ralph's defense team will pocket more of his ill-begotten gains. Blogging about "what values voters should value most" is another painful reminder of how Ralph lost his primary. The Christian Coalition, once his stock in trade, ran away when they saw the rest of his portfolio.
So Ralph is back, but on the road to perdition, not redemption. The right won't forgive him. The center and left never liked him. His electoral future is grim enough that for the next decade, at least, I can stop worrying that I'm about to be a dead ringer for a bad president.
Now that my look-alike is no longer a threat to ruin my life, I've decided to turn the other cheek. Instead of praying he won't succeed, I have devised the perfect plan for Ralph Reed's resurrection.
Why save a man whose face has haunted me for more than a decade? Because that's the kind of thing evil twins do for each other.
The plan is so devious and cunning, I'm surprised Ralph hasn't figured it out already. It's devilishly simple: suffer like a sinner, apologize like a pope, and sing like a jailbird.
First, the suffering. Ralph has always campaigned on Church Lady sanctimony, while behind closed doors, his e-mails spewed cynical, cold-hearted strategery. Let's face it: America loves sinners, not paper saints. Instead of smiling like an idiot, Ralph should put on a hairshirt and show us how much it pains him to have been the Right Hand of God who grabbed that dirty money.
Second, the apology. Lawyers always want their clients to say they did nothing wrong, but voters—especially values voters—want contrition, not legalism. We know Ralph must be sorry—he gave up mighty dreams for filthy lucre. He should say so. Instead of the hollow regrets that doomed his campaign ("Nevertheless, had I known then what I know now, I would not have undertaken that work"), he should bare his soul and say the devil made him do it. Ralph ought to confess to avarice, condemn Washington as a den of iniquity, come clean about his lifelong lust for power, then thank the people of Georgia for voting against him so he can mend his ways before the Day of Reckoning, the only election day that matters.
Bruce Reed, who was President Clinton's domestic policy adviser, is CEO of the Democratic Leadership Council and co-author with Rahm Emanuel of The Plan: Big Ideas for Change in America.E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his disclosure here.
Photographs of: George Bush on the Slate home page by Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images; power station on Slate's home page by Digital Vision; the Eiffel Tower on Slate's home page by Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty Images; Karl Rove on Slate's home page by David McNew/Getty Images.