As this Delaware blogger observes, Coons is a virtual unknown for Delawareans outside New Castle County. His national fame has been growing exponentially in the past 48 hours, however, as the blogosphere explodes with link upon link to excerpts from his 1985, Amherst-student-era oeuvre "Chris Coons: The Making of a Bearded Marxist."
Now, we all wrote stupid stuff when we were 22. But it seems almost laughably hapless of Coons to have written his because he went to Kenya (yes) and came back with thoughts like these:
"I became friends with a very wealthy businessman and his family and heard them reiterate the same beliefs held by many Americans: the poor are poor because they are lazy, slovenly, uneducated," wrote Coons. "I realize that Kenya and America are very different, but experiences like this warned me that my own favorite beliefs in the miracles of free enterprise and the boundless opportunities to be had in America were largely untrue."
Naturally, Coons' prior experience in the classroom had prepared him for this enlightenment:
A course on cultural anthropology, noted Coons, had "undermined the accepted value of progress and the cultural superiority of the West," while a class on the Vietnam War led him to "suspect…that the ideal of America as a 'beacon of freedom and justice, providing hope for the world' was not exactly based in reality."
Coons wrote that upon his return to Amherst for his senior year he realized that, while he had discovered the faults of his country, he had also "returned to loving America."
The thing about Coons, Bearded Marxist, is not so much that he underwent the celebrated, if-you're-not-a-leftist-at-20 rite of passage. It's that he checked every block then, on the official One-Note Leftist list – and he has just kept checking them ever since. Coons appears to be about as politics-as-usual, more-of-same, tax-and-spend-and-spend-some-more as it gets. He's an archetype. He is, in fact, what an astonishing number of Delaware voters considered themselves to be rejecting, by voting for O'Donnell on Tuesday.
The Blue Hen Conservative (link above) has done some spade work on Coons' claims about his performance as an Executive (i.e., supervisor) of New Castle County. Contrary to the theme of his TV ads, the Coons record is not one of improving the county's fiscal situation. In 2005, Coons (elected in 2004) described the county's fiscal position as "fundamentally sound." By 2009, he was concerned that the county was "18 months from being out of money."
This, however, was in spite of a series of property tax hikes that – in other states – would have gotten him tarred and feathered. To save the county's AAA bond rating, Coons raised property taxes by 25% just in 2009. (After hefty hikes in two previous years.) Meanwhile, says Blue Hen Conservative, the size of the county's annual budget increased 33% during Coons' tenure. The tax hikes didn't cover that: county reserves are now down 30% from when he took office.
Coons states repeatedly that he "cut wasteful spending" as county Executive, but the specifics of that outlined in this report on the 2010 budget involve 5% pay cuts for county employees and layoffs for paramedics in the training pipeline. Spending cuts, yes – but wasteful spending? On the other hand, here are some of the things the county council under Coons declined to cut in 2007.
It doesn't help Coons at all that Harry Reid calls him "my pet." Besides being demeaning, it's just creepy; but as AP suggests, it's also tin-eared. Statements likethis one from Reid – "Chris Coons, everybody knows him in the Democratic caucus. He's my pet. He's my favorite candidate" – aren't helpful heading into November.
Coons has more than two soundbite strikes against him. If he has any personality, he can probably find an appealing joke in the "my pet" reference; and a lot of voters will forgive him the "Bearded Marxist" effusion from his youth. Republicans should be careful how they hammer that one – a joke line featuring the Kenya connection seems most promising. But Coons' real problem in 2010 is that everyone knows him in the Democratic Caucus, and taxing and spending are his thing – and more so when the economy's down, and the people are taking big hits in their own lives. O'Donnell should concentrate on that for her serious themes.
UPDATE: Coons blows this one big-time. He could have boosted his brand considerably with a memorable joke about the Reid "pet" reference, but instead plays it straight by insisting "he's not anyone's pet." Reportedly this is being done in company with an attempted joke about an apology being due his wife, as she's the only one who gets to call him "pet." Too fussy, in my judgment. Lame. Karl Rove should take his medicine now, and get in there and help Christine O'Donnell exploit a target-rich environment.
Cross-posted at The Optimistic Conservative.