Virginia's Choice

04/11/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

I've been unkind to Terry McAuliffe in previous posts. You'll recall that I dinged him for his reticence to put tax increases on the table, for his business dealing with Carl Lindner, his father-in-law and a crony that ran a union pension fund.

Several people commented on my reports; some defended McAuliffe by suggesting these contretemps had been aired before by Republicans and found wanting -- that McAuliffe had done nothing wrong.

Since then, I've thought more about why I disagree with those sentiments. First, my response was simple: if we've learned nothing else from the past, we should know Republicans don't need substance to derail a Democrat. Whitewater? The White House Christmas card list?

So you may not find McAuliffe's business record to be a crucial issue... you may prefer to vote on the basis of his agenda and issues... But it doesn't make sense to completely ignore this stuff. All else equal, wouldn't you want a candidate without baggage? We've got a general to win, and after that, a state to govern. And this stuff is low-hanging fruit for Republicans.

So yeah, that was my initial reaction... but today I saw something that really drove the point home.

American politics is replete with tales of redemption. Robert Byrd is a KKK Grand Wizard one decade; a champion of civil rights the next. John McCain gets snarled up in the Keating Five scandal and turns around to champion campaign finance reform. Ted Kennedy... well... Ted Kennedy.

What of Terry McAuliffe? Remember -- I haven't reported the half of McAuliffe's questionable business practices and associations. The Lindner/S&L/Union stuff barely scratches the surface. If nothing else, McAuliffe has put himself in a position to have to defend himself against people suspicious of his moral compass.

So has he learned from those experiences? Is he now steering well-clear of any gray areas, or is he still traipsing through an ethical no-man's land?

I fear the latter.


In case you are YouTube-challenged, the video above is a news report of Terry McAuliffe taking a strong position in favor of "clean coal." Those are finger-quotes I put around the term. There's simply no such thing as "clean coal" (more finger-quotes.)

I'm going to take a lot of heat for this next statement, but it has to be said: anyone that climbs into bed with the coal-mining industrialists and espouses the fictitious and unattainable ideal of "clean coal" is 100%, absolutely, without-a-doubt and undoubtedly morally suspect.

There. Is. Simply. No. Such. Thing. As. Clean. Coal.

Furthermore, the coal industry's definition of "clean coal" allows so much pollution that it's absurd. Even if supposed clean coal technology were able to eliminate 100 percent of the carbon emissions associated with burning coal to generate electricity, there would still be substantial carbon emissions from the extraction and transportation of the coal, and from the processing of the wastes. Furthermore, this imaginary clean coal future would still require either the destruction of entire mountains in order to get to thin bands of coal or the sacrifice of coal miners lives as they work in lethal underground conditions. The coal that they call "clean" would also continue to be stored in gigantic lakes of toxic sludge behind dams of the kind that burst open in December 2008 in Eastern Tennessee, knocking homes off their foundations and contaminating drinking water with arsenic and other poisonous heavy metals.

Of course, McAuliffe dresses this up as concern for coal-worker's jobs. But as we've seen in recent years, the coal industry could care less about the welfare of its workers.

Terry McAuliffe is a smart, infectiously friendly and fantastically wealthy man. He could, at no significant personal cost, play this one straight. But that is not who Terry McAuliffe is. Terry McAuliffe is a person that has always put business interests first -- at the expense of people that work. And McAuliffe's support for the coal business demonstrates -- conclusively -- that he hasn't changed his stripes one iota. You simply cannot cozy up to the utterly corrupt coal industry and expect to walk away unsoiled. Terry's conscience should be every bit as darkened as a coal-worker's hands.