Roger L. Simon

Tennessee Waltz: How Marsha Blackburn Can Stop Phil Bredesen

(AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

Normally red Tennessee of all places — a state Donald Trump won by 26 points — is very much in play in the 2018 Senate race. Phil Bredesen — a popular former governor opposing also popular Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn — is running a smart, stealthy campaign.  Democrats and their media friends are naturally pleased.  New York magazine details the strategy:

….Bredesen’s opponents are making sure everyone knows about the “D” next to his name. So far, though, he’s been careful to fly far underneath the national radar, garnering a tiny fraction of the headlines and online virality surrounding someone like Beto O’Rourke, the Texas congressman running a long-shot bid to take out Senator Ted Cruz. That’s Bredesen’s plan to avoid the national party’s stain. He has proceeded with a purposeful calmness, quietly cementing front-runner status in the Senate race — both in polls and among prognosticators — even as national Democrats cultivate a campaign that’s much louder, more combative, and more fractious.

In other words,  Bredesen is telling Tennesseans he will govern in the Senate just as he did in the governor’s office back home — as a pragmatic centrist businessman .

This is a lie, although Bredesen may not realize he’s telling it (or is conveniently ignoring the obvious). In fact, it’s impossible.  Even ten minutes watching the Kavanaugh hearings reminds us of what we already know.  We live in an era of the most extreme partisanship.  There are no middle of the roaders in the Senate.  It’s not allowed, virtually verboten, especially on the Democratic side.

Whatever Bredesen is thinking, he will arrive in D.C. to caucus with Chuck Schumer’s party, unless it’s by then Bernie Sanders’ party — even more extreme.  He will have to toe the party line or be ostracized.  Forget plum committee assignments, campaign help, etc.  Conform or go home.

Is Bredesen strong enough to fight that?  Even those few Senate Dems (Manchin, Heitkamp, Donnelly) who might do something as simple as vote to confirm Judge Kavanaugh — a man who apparently agreed with liberal nominee Merrick Garland 93% of the time — hide their votes until they are certain it won’t be held against them by their party.  Did Manchin vote for something significant like the tax cut bill, healthcare or immigration reform, despite cajoling by the president and others? In the end, no.  Neither did the Heitkamp or Donnelly. Would Bredesen?  Even less likely. It’s party line über alles.  The only place to find Profiles in Courage these days are on the remainder shelves.

Typing this at my new desk in Nashville, it seems to me Blackburn has not done a good enough job of explaining this situation to the Tennessee public.  Yes, she has a pungent television ad with Trump saying that he needs her vote in the Senate, but that is not enough to counteract the reputation of a man who was twice governor and twice mayor of this city.

Blackburn might be so bold as to acknowledge Bredesen’s local competence to the public, at least relatively.   Who knows — the electorate might appreciate a little honesty from a politician for once.  Yes, the man was decent enough here (there are quibbles) but Washington, D.C. is a whole different ball of proverbial wax, to say the least.  He cannot be his own man, no matter what he says or wishes.  The system is no longer built that way, especially the Democrat part of the system where it’s a competition between left and far left.  The center — the Blue Dogs, the party of Henry Jackson, JFK, and even Bill Clinton — has vanished.

That’s no place any longer for a Phil Bredesen, or anyone like him, to be himself.  Like it or not, he will find himself voting to roll back tax reform or whatever other proposals Schumer, Pelosi and Bernie concoct.  He certainly won’t be a vote for the border wall, or a host of other issues of concern to Tennesseans.  When the next Supreme Court nomination comes along, he will be constrained to vote no (possibly with swing vote implications) and undoubtedly would have joined the negative Democratic chorus on Gorsuch and Kavanaugh had he been there.  And should the president be impeached by the House, the supposedly-pragmatic Bredesen could easily find himself voting to convict  in the Senate, despite Trump’s enduring popularity in his home state.

Are ANY of those decisions ones the majority of  Tennesseeans would approve of? Not bloody likely.

Marsha should make all this clear — slowly, precisely,  and without rancor, respecting what Bredesen has done but illuminating the present danger.  She needn’t do this is in a fancy Hollywood production with Clint Eastwood brought in to direct and she needn’t indulge in the usual political palaver about who did what in the past.  This is about the future of all of us. People here know what’s going on in Washington — we all do — and tend to listen to reason more than most, I’ve found. Simply facing the camera and telling the truth as it is will suffice.  The good people of the state will respond.

Roger L. Simon – co-founder and CEO Emeritus of PJ Media – is an author and Academy Award-nominated screenwriter.  He discussed his work recently on BookTV.