Republicans: Choose Life

Vitriolic platitudes won’t relaunch the GOP

Knoxville may be the nexus of the universe, but not everyone knows it yet. In “The Hill to the Hills,” Frank Carlson will take a monthly look at national affairs as they relate to East Tennessee, pointing out what lessons we can take from Washington and what lessons Washington could take from us.

Carlson is a Knoxville native now living and working outside Washington D.C. He’s had articles published by The Tennessean, Politico, The Middle East Times, United Press International and The Online Newshour.  He recently earned a masters degree in business reporting from Northwestern University, and in 2008 completed a Carnegie-Knight fellowship. He now freelances in his spare time.

Since the morning of November 5, a great deal of ink, pixels, and breath have been expended over one question: “Whither the Republican Party?”

The election last November may have midwifed this question, or perhaps just its urgency, but it’s been gestating since at least the 2006 midterm defeat, and probably longer. And the events of 2009 so far haven’t helped: over Republican objections, children’s health care was expanded, the stimulus bill was passed, and the line between what’s public and private continues to blur. Then there are the self-inflicted wounds: GOP chairman Michael Steele’s many gaffes, Rush Limbaugh’s incitements, and Gov. Bobby Jindal’s uproarious impression of an 8th-grader running for student council in his response to President Obama’s Congressional address.

Indeed, it’s easy to see why many minds are working feverishly to lead the party out of the great desert of political marginalization and into the promised land of ideological overreach.

But perhaps the answer is already here. And perhaps it resides in the foothills of East Tennessee.

Consider: East Tennessee’s national representation is unanimously Republican. In the House, Phil Roe, John Duncan Jr., and Zach Wamp serve as East Tennessee’s representatives, together comprising three of the four Republican House members from the state. In the Senate, Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker, two Republicans raised in East Tennessee, represent the state’s broad interests. When the nation swung for Obama in 2008, East Tennessee swung in the opposite direction.

So how has the GOP managed to keep East Tennessee under Republican lock and key while the rest of the state, and indeed much of the country, trended blue? Is East Tennessee so different? Or is the region’s GOP?

To answer those questions, it’s helpful to take look at Rep. Zach Wamp, who speaks for Tennessee’s third district, just west of Knoxville. A few weeks ago, Wamp decided to go on national television to say that many of the 46 million Americans who don’t have health care don’t really want it (his reasoning being they’d rather spend their money on something else). He angrily voiced his disgust for the movement now underway to extend health care through government programs to those without.

“This literally is a fast march towards socialism,” he told MSNBC while standing in front of the Capital, “where the government is bigger than the private sector in our country.” Well, to be accurate, a “literal” march towards socialism would involve marchers, marching. Presumably in the direction of Western Europe. But summoning the image of marching hordes and militant overthrow does do wonders for inciting fear and dashing debate.

The TV appearance gave Wamp some national exposure ahead of his bid for the governor’s mansion and those many fund-raisers he’ll be holding around the state. But Wamp’s words and convictions are greatly undermined by the fact that much of the wealth and jobs that flow into his district come from jobs and contracts at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (which just received $71.2 million in a “first installment” of stimulus funds), tourism to the national park system, and power production from TVA. And this is the genius of East Tennessee’s Republican Party: with its mouth it spews vitriolic platitudes about not taking government money, while with its hands it reaches deeper into Uncle Sam’s pockets. And it’s okay with that.

Naysayers like Wamp, Corker, Duncan, and Alexander are in the enviable position of having it both ways on things like the stimulus bill. They can vote “no” on it (they all did) knowing that the overwhelming Democratic Congressional majority would guarantee its passage. Then they can reap the windfall of that new employment in their districts.

Somehow, small-government conservatives have learned to live with the monsters of New Deal “socialism” like TVA because doing otherwise would mean drastic change for a people who don’t seem to want it, regardless of their stated preferences for the size and shape of government. Even Ronald Reagan learned this lesson.

The changes occurring now have been brewing for decades, and the GOP should stop pretending or wishing it were 1981, for their own sake and for the country’s. There will be waste, neglect, and outright fraud. Fighting to moderate those changes and improve them will be a valuable service only a minority can truly provide, and for this Republicans are needed.

So call it apostasy. Call it abnegation. Call it whatever you want. Wring your hands and rub your eyes and bemoan the folly a world that does not bend to your beliefs. But Republicans, choose your future. Choose life.

But why would you want to do a thing like that?

© 2009 MetroPulse. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Comments » 3

crathlev writes:

i think you are a great writer

ErnestNorsworthy writes:

So you want change? The kinds of change the Obama administration is slapping you in the face with? Bill Clinton was accused of campaigning throughout his eight years but Barak Obama has put him to shame at this time; a while to go yet.

At least Obama comes at you straight on – he wants power and is willing to spend all the money he can (your money) to buy it.

But gosh, you say, he’s for eliminating earmarks but signed a bankrupting bill with 9,000 of them in it. And other campaign promises one by one are falling to the wayside.
Stripped of all his mesmeric qualities there is no “there, there” as Gertrude Stein once said about coming back home to Oakland, CA where she once lived.

In Obama’s case, he’s like the pied piper of Hamlin and has convinced half the country to change the country’s direction. So far, there is not much evidence of change of any kind except perhaps of worsening an already bad situation.

In 60 days he has put generations of Americans in the deepest debt the country has ever known. And as far as I have observed, Barak Hussein Obama has not mentioned the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights a single time. And that would be appropriate for the track he is today leading this country on.

Those “dusty old documents” as some put it; those old documents represent the “old” ways and the only way to couch them is in today’s terms – living, flexible documents with no constraints. Wrong. Those documents are our guide posts that set our values and they have worked well for over 200 years.
The ship of state is moving into uncharted waters without a scrap of those old papers for guidance.

Tennesseans long ago succumbed to Uncle’s siren song, taking the money and running with it and complaining about not having enough of it. Governor Bredesen lately did show a spark of resistance to the feds when he required the TVA to report back to him on TVA’s proposals date certain of cleaning up the Kingston catastrophe. TVA never has received those kinds of marching orders before but they meekly complied. That dam break was heard ‘round the world.

I could have predicted (and did predict) that TVA should not be the organization to fix it. TVA’s track record is abominable in about every measure.

“Heads should have rolled” in the Kingston disaster wake, and predictably, none did. “Nobody ever gets fired from the TVA”.

I have written a lot about TVA’s ineptness and frankly have stated many times that TVA should be dissolved, at least the power production part of it.

President Obama is oh, so smooth but until more Americans remove those rose-colored glasses to view the reality of his goals, they will be praising him and the rest of us all the way to perdition.


Ernest Norsworthy

DumbOldLocal writes:

I think that may qualify as the silliest commentary I've ever read. Mr. Carlson, do you seriously mean to suggest the Republican Party adopt the ideology of the Democratic Party, content itself with trying to moderate "waste neglect and outright fraud," and accept permanent minority status? Do you seriously mean to suggest that the halls of Congress should not be a place where our elected representatives come together to argue the path our nation should take, but rather a place for them to quibble over the details?

Much like the Republicans in 1981 and, especially, after Reagan's unbelievable landslide in 1984, you pretend the debate is over, the direction is established, the people have spoken and etched their words in stone tablets. Hardly, sir. The will of the American people is, at best, written in sand. The Republicans eventually pushed the American center a little too far out of their middle-of-the-road comfort zones and President Obama was elected as a true progressive leaning Democrat (Bill Clinton being a centrist). Assuming even that our current left turn endures for more than four years, it will also inevitably, eventually, push those same middle-of-the-road Americans in the center too far out of their comfort zones and America will turn right again.

You see, Mr. Carlson, at the heart of it, we are a very large, very populous democratic republic. As such, the United States of America must be governed from its center. There is simply no enduring way for any ideological bent to hold sway fully or for very long in this country. The Conservative Republicans, unchecked by their more moderate members, pushed their right leaning ideology a little too far for a little too long. Progressive Democrats, left unchecked by the Democratic moderates, will inevitably do the same.

The answer for the Republican Party, then, is not to abdicate all that they stand for and bring to an end meaningful political debate in this nation; it's simply to correct their course slightly and return to the core of the message that resonated with the American people.

The real question before us, Mr. Carlson, is not how the Republican Party should redefine itself; it's how far to the left the Democrats will be able to push this nation before they, in their turn, get slapped back to reality by the same center that dismissed Mr. Bush and his would be successors. I hope President Obama manages to use his time in the sun to put in place some of the best planks of the Progressive platform - things like Labor Reform and National Health Insurance - rather than fritter away this very brief moment on things easily undone and of mostly symbolic importance. If he and the Democrats in Congress recognize the election of 2008 represents a window of opportunity and not a permanent state of being, they may choose wisely. Time, as always, will tell.

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