Tom Vilsack has long perplexed me. He's a talented politician who pulled off a couple of impressive election victories–especially 2002, when he had a moderate opponent in a terrible year for Democrats nationwide. What's more, he's an incredibly smart, hard-working guy. But I never could figure out his priorities as governor.
Why did he go to the mat for the “Values Fund,” corporate welfare masquerading as an economic development plan? Why did he not do more for the environment? And in particular, why was he always pushing biotech and “pharma-crops” that could contaminate food grown in Iowa and destroy the markets that Iowa farmers depend on? Why was he nowhere on any of the policies sustainable agriculture advocates have been calling for, which would be great for local economies and family farmers, as well as easier on the land?
I just didn't get it.
Then he started running for president. I took his candidacy at face value–like many senators and governors, he thought he could do a good job as president and figured, why not try, even if it is a long shot? I even defended him on some of the blogs when people would accuse him of being nothing more than a stalking horse for Hillary Clinton (trying to take Iowa out of play or at least weaken Edwards here).
Vilsack talked a good game when he was running for president. I liked what he said about a lot of issues, including Iraq. The joke in my circle of friends was that Vilsack was sounding a lot better as a presidential candidate than he had as governor. I settled on Edwards as a candidate, but a few progressives I know, including my husband, were considering Vilsack.
When Vilsack dropped out early, I thought he did the honorable thing by giving his staff opportunities to get good jobs with the other campaigns. And I agreed with what he said about the role of money in politics, even though I thought he came pretty late to that party. I don't recall ever hearing him talk about public financing or clean elections reforms as governor.
Cynics immediately assumed that Vilsack would endorse Clinton–a done deal. I gave him the benefit of the doubt. But boy was I disappointed. For someone who staked his campaign on getting us out of Iraq immediately, he found it amazingly easy to endorse the Democrat with the worst positioning on the Iraq issue. If Hillary Clinton has said or done anything to help us start withdrawing troops before March 2009, I don't know what that is.
And if Vilsack really cares about the influence of money in politics, why did he turn around and endorse the favorite candidate of corporate lobbyists and low-lifes such as Rupert Murdoch?
Reading reports of his campaign appearances with Clinton, I felt disappointed and just tired of his song and dance.
The Des Moines Register ran a big story talking up Vilsack's role in the Clinton campaign. But guess what? He didn't have coat tails when we repeatedly failed to retake the Iowa House and Senate during his governorship. And Clinton hasn't been gaining in the Iowa polls following Vilsack's departure from the race.
My hunch is that Iowans are going to prove one more time that endorsements don't win the caucuses.
But here's the part of the article that bugged me the most:
Their personal connection through Christie Vilsack's late brother, Tom Bell, and Vilsack's loyalty to Clinton for campaigning with him at a key point in his 1998 long-shot bid for governor, were key to a decision aides described as automatic.
If his friendship with the Clintons and ambition for the VP slot or a cabinet post are that important, then he shouldn't have wasted other people's time and money on his presidential bid. Everyone has known for a long time that Hillary was running for president. Vilsack just wasn't serious about taking her on, and it makes all of his presidential campaign rhetoric–especially on Iraq–look empty.
Reminds me of why I voted for Mark McCormick in the 1998 gubernatorial primary.