Frank Niceley, the state senator from Strawberry Plains is a rare breed among Republicans. He thinks for himself. This occasionally leads him astray of his party's orthodoxy, as it did recently on the issue of genetically modified organisms.
Niceley takes a pure free-market stance on the matter: label products containing GMOs and let the market decide their value. You might imagine that a lot of Americans would favor this approach, but you'd be forgetting that corporations (not people) dictate policy, and corporations wield huge power over politicians through campaign financing.
News Sentinel columnist Greg Johnson knows how to please the powerful. He wrote an appallingly dishonest column about Niceley. Instead of criticizing Niceley's policies, Johnson claimed Niceley wanted to ban GMO crops. The senator had only proposed labeling products containing GMO ingredients.
Most Americans agree with Niceley, which is probably why Johnson opted to misrepresent Niceley's stance instead of confronting it honestly.
In the same column, Johnson claimed Niceley had "apparently" gotten an idea for electing U.S. Senators in the state Legislature from the Goldwater Institute. Actually, that idea comes from the original U.S. Constitution. Mentioning that would have undercut Johnson's already weak argument, so Johnson invented a false attribution.
A week later, Johnson took on the "myth" that TVA provides cheap power but again supported his case with ridicule rather than evidence. TVA rates rank 38th among the 100 largest utilities, so they are cheaper than most despite having a mission that includes flood control, recreation, natural resource management, economic development, and other responsibilities few TVA competitors share.
To make his case, Johnson merely points out that several neighboring utilities charge less for electricity than TVA does, as if someone had claimed TVA sells the cheapest power. .
He wrote, "TVA is controlled by a disinterested federal government and an unqualified board of political seat-fillers, none of whom have an instance of experience in high-level corporate governance."
A cursory glance at TVA's Board reveals Johnson's statement to be utterly false regarding experience and qualifications. New appointee Mike McWherter resembles Johnson's "seat filler" description. Otherwise, the statement is absurd.
Fortunately, being on the side of power means never having to apologize or explain, and right-wingers take full advantage. Senators Corker and Alexander have yet to justify their opposition to reappointing Marilyn Brown to the TVA Board. Despite the perpetual talk about level playing fields and opposing new taxes, Tennessee Republicans just approved a huge tax increase on solar power producers, motivated by little more than animosity toward environmental causes.
Inside the GOP propaganda bubble, the party's policies seem sensible, but that bubble drifted into the upper atmosphere years ago, leaving conservatism indistinguishable from oxygen deprivation. Niceley suffers from this syndrome as well. Stray from agricultural issues, and his thinking grows muddled and misinformed. He bought into the Benghazi bed-wetting, and his Obama derangement rivals Johnson's.
Watching the two of them argue underscores how rigid Republicans have become. Reagan's dictate that Republicans not attack each other personally morphed into a ban on disagreement, and that has done more to weaken our country than anything a rival power has accomplished. It helped create and excuse Bush's surveillance state, and our military continues to expand as our economy shrinks.
Despite all the recent talk about domestic spying, despite Republicans' alleged focus on budgets, where is the cost-benefit analysis on the work overpaid flunkies like Edward Snowden do? We were paying him about four teachers' salaries to spy on us, and we are cutting teacher pay.
It is good to see a little dissent among Republicans, but it will take a lot more disagreement for that party to find its way out of the orthodoxy they built for themselves.