SEVEN LESSONS FROM AN ELECTION-NIGHT DUMPSTER FIRE: Lesson Two

VITTER IS LEAVING THE SCENE, WHICH IS BOTH A GOOD THING AND A BAD THING.

In giving his concession speech last night, the Senator revealed what has been talked about since the possibility he might actually lose the governor’s race emerged late in the primary – namely, that he won’t run for re-election.

And with him goes something which has delighted the state’s media and its liberals (but let’s not repeat ourselves); namely, the incessant snickering about hookers that has followed him around for a decade.

Without that dirt to distract Louisianans from issues which actually matter, the fact Louisiana is still a very conservative state still in need of conservative reform – and it will be in absolute dire need of same shortly, for our new governor John Bel Edwards is most certainly not conservative – becomes much more prominent in the public discourse.

We’re finally done with Vitter’s hookers, which has been one of the most irritating political memes imaginable.

Irritating not just because it’s been an embarrassment to Republicans and conservatives in the state, and irritating not just because it’s been a dark stain on the escutcheon of Louisiana’s most gifted politician in several decades, but also irritating because the persistence of the public’s attention on it does not say good things about the people of this state.

The lack of forgiveness and understanding inherent in the hatred of Vitter over something the people who were actually affected by it were willing to get past does not make the people who live here appear better. And no, you can’t say this is about upholding standards – you can’t say that when Edwin Edwards, who bragged about his philandering, was elected governor four times and made a runoff in a congressional election after finishing a federal prison sentence for public corruption. You can’t say that after you voted twice to give Louisiana’s electoral votes to Bill Clinton. And you can’t say it after you re-elected Vitter to the Senate when the hookers issue was fresh.

It’s good Vitter is going from the electoral scene, because no one makes out well for his sexual dalliances having become the public’s business. We have all been cheapened by it, and in particular our politics – practiced as it has been by sanctimonious hypocrites whose own sexual exploits outside of marriage would similarly titillate the public were those given the airing Vitter’s has – has been cheapened by it. Finally, it’s over.

Mercifully, as well, because as Vitter leaves public life he can finally avoid having others dredge up the sins of his past – and those he loves can stop being victimized again and again by the daggers thrown in their direction by his political enemies, daggers of his mistaken creation.

But David Vitter departing Louisiana’s political scene will cost this state, and it will cost his party.

Vitter was Louisiana’s pre-eminent conservative reformer. His defeat is the defeat of aggressive reform in Louisiana.

The next Republican candidate for governor will not run on an aggressive reform agenda, though he (or she) will unquestionably have to practice it once in office. Vitter’s evisceration by an unaccomplished leftist state legislator will send a message to all future contenders that real change in Louisiana’s public sector can only be made away from the view of the voting public and not advertised to it prior to Election Day. Sure, run on lower taxes and economic growth and cleaning up corruption, but whatever you do don’t tell these people what that means. Because if you do, they’ll turn against you – the specifics of those things will alienate entrenched interests who are dubious Republican voters in the first place, so you have to fool them into thinking you won’t actually leave any broken rice bowls in your wake.

That will be the lesson. Vitter would have been the first committed, unapologetic conservative Republican governor willing to back up his promises with action, and he proved you can’t win with that message.

From now on, the GOP and the conservative movement are going to have to find con men – and good ones. Then we’ll have to hope it’s not us getting conned.

So while a degree of relief that our suffering under the tyranny of hookers has ended is in order, that must be tempered by the realization that the public, conservative though it might call itself, simply isn’t energized by our ideology enough for a committed, if flawed, candidate to carry the day.

There are lots of potential successors to the state GOP’s political leadership. We’ll see some of them battling it out for Vitter’s Senate seat next year. Jeff Landry has an opportunity to build himself into a political powerhouse from his new digs as the state’s attorney general. John Kennedy, if he’s not the next U.S. Senator from Louisiana, could well parlay his reputation for needling Gov. Jindal about budgetary incompetence into becoming Gov. Edwards’ worst nightmare, and that could make him governor in 2019. And Garret Graves could be a political tsunami on the horizon, once discussed as a potential 2023 contender but quite possibly coming faster than that.

None of those political figures carry the baggage Vitter will finally be able to let fall after more than a decade of bearing it. But none of them has built his record of consistent, committed conservative leadership. And that leaves a void.



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