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Be Thankful

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As Virginians gathered around the Thanksgiving table, here are three blessings for which all could be grateful, regardless of political persuasion.

First, the slimiest political ads of the state's last two campaign seasons didn't sink their targets.

Voters refused to saddle Gov. Tim Kaine with the ghost of Adolf Hitler, just because Catholic Kaine opposes the death penalty. They didn't see decorated war hero and Sen.-elect Jim Webb as a "deviant," just because he witnessed some sordid wartime scenes and wrote about them in novels. And they didn't view Rep. Thelma Drake as a child killer, just because she opposes experimenting with embryonic stem cells.

Political scientists can debate whether the over-the-top commercials boomeranged. But no one can dispute that they failed to ignite intended outrage. The possibility that they backfired, draining votes from their sponsors, is a delicious prospect that might make professional purveyors of distortion (ahem, campaign consultants) pause in future years.

Second, every Virginian — every American, really — can give thanks that 10th District GOP Rep. Frank Wolf took a fact-finding trip to Iraq last year and came back shaken.

Desperate for a more independent assessment of the war's progress than the White House was offering, Wolf last spring contacted like-minded lawmakers in both parties (including, reportedly, Virginia Sen. John Warner behind the scenes) and set about creating what has become the Iraq Study Group.

Today, that star-studded assemblage of some of the nation's leading foreign-policy lights has become the best, albeit fragile, hope for pointing a principled way out of Iraq.

Co-chaired by former GOP Secretary of State Jim Baker and former Democratic Rep. Lee Hamilton of Indiana, membership includes former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, former Wyoming Sen. Alan Simpson, former Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger and former Attorney General Edwin Meese on the GOP side; and among Democrats, former Defense Secretary William Perry, former U.S. Sen. Chuck Robb of Virginia, former presidential Chief of Staff Leon Panetta and prominent attorney Vernon Jordan.

An array of think tanks, retired military officers, intelligence officials and other experts — anyone asked, it seems — has willingly and enthusiastically lent support.

Much as we might wish for miracles, none is likely when the group reports soon. But at least the nation will know that a mighty effort has been made to create a blueprint grounded in reality rather than ideology.

That the findings coincide with a course-alternating election raises hopes that President Bush will listen and concur.

Third, Virginians can be glad that 2007 is an odd-numbered year. Instead of coming to Richmond for 60 days (246 if you base your count on the '06 session), lawmakers will be in town for only 46. Downsizing is appropriate after a year when legislators spent far too much time doing far too little. Even with all the overtime, they never resolved a House-Senate transportation split.

That controversy will be back on the agenda when the lawmakers convene in January, although few expect any more of a solution next year.

What legislators ought to resist is a frivolous move by Senate Majority Leader John Chichester to hold the January session to 30 days. If 60 is more than enough, 30 is too few.

The lawmaker's idea will get the sympathy vote from citizens tired of deadlock in Richmond. But legislators shouldn't preordain failure on several big issues — land-use reform and electricity deregulation among them — that deserve attention in 2007.

Ideally, legislators ought to come to town, efficiently do that business and go home. If they do, even with all the bad news adrift in the world, there will be something to give thanks over next time Turkey Day rolls around. S

Margaret Edds is an editorial writer for The Virginian-Pilot. E-mail her at margaret.edds@pilotonline.com.

Opinions expressed on the Back Page are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Style Weekly.

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