If Van Hilleary had beaten Phil Bredesen in the 2002 Governor's racedon't forget, it was closer than you rememberhe would have cut TennCare benefits, slashed funding for higher education, and revamped worker's-comp laws to save business millions. He'd allow a Pro-Life group to have their own specialty license plate. The head of the lottery would have reaped an outrageous salaryas would her top lieutenants, thanks to a Hilleary-appointed board. He might even have said, in a speech before the Johnson City Young Republicans Club, "We're trying to bring about corporate-level values to state government."
State Democrats and other progressivesbrought together by their enmity of GW Bushwould have gone rabid. Right? They'd accuse of Van Hilleary of selling out to the wealthy, capitulating to the business community, and sticking it to the ordinary Tennessean. The Music Row Democrats would have linked the conservative governor with Bush, and Green Hills progressives would have stuck "Van Must Go" bumper stickers on their shiny Saabs. Dwight Lewis would be calling Van a racist.
But that's not what happened. Or rather, it didn't happen with Hilleary. Instead, it was his pointy-headed Democrat rival who did just about all of the above.
In his first year in office, Bredesen removed nearly $100 million from the higher-education budget. This year, he revamped the worker's-compensation laws to save businesses nearly $70 million. Under his proposal, TennCare will offer less coverage and enrollees will pay more. And yet, apart from a Gordon Bonnyman here and there, the silence from progressives is deafening. In fact, they openly boast about Bredesen's popularity. To them, Bredesen is exhibit A on why Kerry will beat Bush in Tennessee.
Obviously, Bredesen's brainpower far exceeds Van Hilleary'sactually, so does Mindy McCready'sand he's been able to trim government spending and reform TDOT to an extent his erstwhile Republican rival could have never approached. TennCare meanwhile, could either be cut or killed. There was really no other viable option.
But the fact remains that Bredesen has governed like a moderate Republican. This point can't even be argued. Ask yourself if the prototypical moderate Republican, Lamar Alexander, would disagree with anything our governor has done. Anything? Anyone?
This is not to attack Bredesen. He inherited a bleak fiscal situation and a political climate hostile to even the thought of an income tax. He maneuvered skillfully within those confines, and in the process he made state governmentespecially TDOTa little less clunky. Besides, he campaigned on the basis of his managerial acumen, not his progressive values.
But does anyone believe that Democrats would cut Van Hilleary that kind of slack if he were somehow able to put his conservative beliefs into practice? We know what would have happened: they would have am-Bushed him.
After four years of President Bush and an Iraq war gone horribly awry, Democrats of all stripes are so obsessed with winning that they're sacrificing the core beliefs that make them Democrats. It actually started before President Bush, when President Bill Clinton saved his seat by signing a conservative welfare-reform bill. A few Democrats of conscienceincluding George Stephanopoulosgrew frustrated, but everyone else understood the game. It was about winning. Never mind that same people who applauded Clinton would have excoriated Reagan if he introduced similar legislation.
Right now Democrats are whining about the Swift Boat ads, which are not only inaccurate but craven, off-point and connected to Bush. The ads stink. But they serve as a good test for Kerry's resolve, showing that the Democratic nominee doesn't react well to pressure these days. He ruminates and delays, and doesn't act until the damage is done. That's what you want in a commander-in-chiefthe instincts of a Boston Red Sox manager. Ironically, the Swift Boat ads seemed to have had more of an affect on poll numbers and approval ratings than their liberal propaganda counterpart, Fahrenheit 911.
Republicans are just as hypocritical. Here the party of small government controls all branches of the federal government for the first time in decades, and the federal deficit rises to record levels while discretionary spending skyrockets. But the Republicans can be forgiven for choosing a win over principle. Democrats are supposed to question power, not fall in love with it.
As much as Democrats revile Bush, they're doing a poor job of setting themselves apart. While surveys show most people think the decision to go to war in Iraq was a mistake, the Democratic presidential and vice presidential nominee both supported the war at the start. They still won't express regret for their stance.
Honestly, I think they probably think the way I dothat the objective to get rid of Saddam once and for all was an urgent one, but it was executed recklessly, foolishly and arrogantly. But they haven't really said that, have they? They can't quite figure out how to explain their support for Iraq, either because they don't want to admit they were wrong, don't want to alienate their base, or don't know what they really believe. None of those possibilities is assuring.
Back when I was a Democrat in college, an older student from a small Southern town came out publicly in the Vanderbilt Hustler, the school newspaper. It's been over 10 years so I'm a little sketchy on some of the details about what happened to him, but here's what I remember. Student Democrats rallied behind him, offered their support, and used his column as a launching pad to crusade for gay rights. Meanwhile, a group of college conservatives mailed the column to the writer's parents, who might not have learned yet about their son's orientation. Then the students bragged about what they did in a rightwing paper of theirs called, The Arena. At that point the line was clear: Democrats: good, Republicans bad.
Thankfully, when it comes to matters of tolerance, the Democrats are still outspoken and unequivocal. Here's what John Kerry said recently about gay rights. "With respect to the question of relationships, my general view is that freedom means freedom for everybody. People ought to be free to enter into any kind of relationship they want to." Bring it on!
Oops. Actually, that was Dick Cheneynot John Kerryspeaking in a town-hall meeting in Iowa. He does not oppose gay marriage and is in favor of letting the states decide for themselves. "I made clear four years ago when this question came up in my debate with Joe Lieberman that my view was that that's appropriately a matter for the states to decide and that's how it ought to be handled."
Meanwhile, Kerry keeps on changing his mind about gay marriage. In 1996, he voted against the clearly anti-gay "Defense of Marriage Act"which, by the way, President Clinton signed eagerly in his second term. Then Kerry seemed to have second thoughts. After his home state of Massachusetts became the first in the nation to sanction gay marriage, the legislature debated an amendment to ban same sex unions. Kerry told the Washington Post he supported that amendment.
Thenas he does on many, many issueshe straddles the fence, spins his neck and sucks up to both sides. "If the Massachusetts legislature crafts an appropriate amendment that provides for partnership and civil unions, then I would support it, and it would advance the goal of equal protection." Who talks like this? Where's Dick Cheney when you need him?
This is not an instance of Kerry mining for moderates as the general election hits the back stretch. He was like this during the primaries. And the Democrats picked him anyway. When it comes down to it, on issues that ordinary progressives seem to care aboutIraq and gay marriage, in particularno one knows what Kerry believes. And no Democrat seems to care. It's all about beating Bush, they say. Fine. But a party that has no confidence in the appeal of its values has no future.