frank_talk (2006-29)

Conservatives Everywhere

If all these guys are conservatives, then the term has no meaning

by Frank Cagle

It is painful to watch the trainwreck that is the Republican primary for the U.S. Senate—unless of course you are a fan of Congressman Harold Ford Jr. Does anyone really believe we have four conservatives running for the office? Isn’t it about time we had some truth in advertising?

Bob Corker has a good record to run on. He has been a success in business; he was a successful Finance and Administration Commissioner for Gov. Don Sundquist. He is well regarded for his service as Chattanooga’s mayor. It is unfortunate he has been running a dishonest campaign. It does not serve him well, nor does it serve the voters.

Anybody who has paid any attention to state politics for the last decade knows Corker is a center/right Republican. His politics are similar to Howard Baker, Lamar Alexander and, yes, Phil Bredesen. All three of these men have had success in statewide elections. Evidently being a (gasp) moderate middle-of-the-road conservative is no bar to elective office in Tennessee. Corker, throughout this campaign, has tried to paint himself as a “conservative” with no difference on the issues between him and his opponents, Ed Bryant and Van Hilleary. To suggest they share a conservative viewpoint is ridiculous.

And yes, Corker raised taxes in Chattanooga, just as Bill Haslam raised them, Mike Ragsdale raised them and Bredesen raised them when he was mayor of Nashville. I don’t know of a mayor of any sized city that hasn’t.

The people who fund statewide elections in Tennessee share Corker’s politics. They have funded (and thus elected) Baker, Alexander, Fred Thompson and Don Sundquist. Some of them, if not most of them, also elected Ned McWherter and Bredesen. Corker has supported his share of Democrats, including introducing Bredesen to the money people in Chattanooga. It’s a free country, and no one can argue with their success. (Remember Republicans for Bredesen?)

Because of their lack of money, Hilleary and Bryant have been reduced to attacking Corker in order to get media attention and to drive up Corker’s negatives. They can’t match the carpet-bombing political ads, so they have had to be very harsh in pointing up differences. Bryant especially has made abortion about the only issue in the campaign. For a certain portion of the Tennessee electorate, abortion is the only issue. There is also a rather large group that thinks abortion important, but the vast majority of the voters in this state are more concerned about deficits, taxation, national defense and illegal immigration. But all the candidates seem to talk about is abortion.

Bryant has staked out a position totally out of the mainstream. To get the support of Tennessee Right to Life, he rules out abortion even in cases of rape and incest. In an effort to “out conservative” Bryant, Hilleary has wandered out on that fringe as well. If Corker is the kind of man deserving a seat in the U.S. Senate, he ought to have the courage to stand up and say this is extremism and he doesn’t agree with it.

I dare you to find a Corker supporter that believes that he is as conservative as Bryant and Hilleary. If they truly believed he were, they would most likely be supporting Bryant or Hilleary, because Bryant and Hilleary have eight years of votes in Congress to prove the firmness of their beliefs. Junior supporters who listen to him talking about being pro-life and conservative have to believe there is a big wink in there somewhere. If they truly believed that he was the latest iteration of Congressman Lincoln Davis, they wouldn’t be supporting him at all. They know he is dissembling.

It is a sad state of affairs; let’s have a little honesty for once. It would benefit the Republican and Democratic parties and the body politic to discover whether voters in Tennessee are really as conservative as everyone assumes them to be. My definition of politics is a process to reach consensus to execute public policy. Elections are where consensus is reached and policy directions are decided. If you fuzz up the issues, it makes it harder to find such consensus.

Hilleary and Bryant are as conservative as it gets. If that floats your boat, vote for one of them. Corker is a moderate Republican. If you prefer that sort of candidate then vote for him. Ford is having fundraisers with Bill and Hillary Clinton and is the fondest hope of Howard Dean & Co. to snag a seat for the Democrats. He is the most liberal candidate in the race.

So make your choice. But if all these candidates are conservative, then the term conservative has no meaning.

Frank Cagle is a political analyst and the editor of Knoxville Magazine . You can reach him at frank@frankcagle.com .