“I don’t think it was all that different,” he said nonchalantly of the first two years of Republican majority in the legislature. Undercutting the campaign of Mike McWherter yet again, he even praised Senate speaker Ron Ramsey for his willingness to compromise on the state budget.
But the governor did agree lawmakers of both parties are increasingly goofy and strident. To explain this phenomenon, he blamed media fragmentation and bias for producing loons in the legislature like so many little Frankenstein monsters. We quote the governor’s pop cultural philosophical musings at length:
“I think the way communications is evolving—specialized publications, specialized websites, tweets taking the place of paragraphs and paragraphs taking place of articles—is driving the way we think about things into much tighter channels where you really get to only be exposed to things that you agree with. Every time people do studies of this, the more you talk with people who agree with you, the more firm you become in your convictions about how right you are.
“One of the good things about three TV news channels and a couple of daily newspapers was you kind of had to see a lot of different stuff. You don’t have to do that anymore, and I think it’s driving behavior in the direction of people getting very focused on very narrow issues. They get excited about them and they tend to see the world in terms of those issues and how people feel about them rather than some broader way.
“It’s a real challenge to the notion of what citizenship in a democracy means. But it’s a fact of life right now. The answer as always is going to be leadership. We’re going to need generations of leaders who make sure we fight against that. It’s a phase we’re going through, but it’s very real.”
Here are excerpts from the Q&A:
Q: The last two years Republicans controlled the legislature. How was it different from your first six years as governor?
Bredesen: I don’t think it was all that different. You know, there’s starting to be more party-line orientation in the legislature. Certainly over my eight years, that’s grown a little bit. … But we don’t have anything like the hardnosed party discipline that the Congress has on most kinds of issues. … It’s changed a little bit but not as much as you would think. When we had strong Democratic control, I still had all kinds of problems putting a coalition together to get things done.
Q: It seems there has been more emphasis on social issues, right?
Bredesen: That’s a piece of politics I don’t like, whether it’s being done by Democrats or Republicans. The guns issue is certainly not a Republican issue. There were plenty of Democrats, particularly in rural counties, who were there. I’ve never had a lot of tolerance for what I consider posturing. This whole thing about ‘we don’t have to obey Obamacare’ or whatever the title of the bill was and some of this stuff, I just think of as more things that are done for political advantage to try to drive wedges in rather than representing an ideology that you want to push forward as a way to govern. I don’t care for it.
Q: Do you think this is going to escalate in Tennessee?
Bredesen: Yeah, I think it will escalate and I think it’s a challenge for people who genuinely want to be leaders to figure out a way to rise above that stuff a little bit. The noise level is probably going to be there and increasing.
Q: What has changed to cause this escalating partisanship?
Bredesen: Well, I guess I’m not sure about escalating partisanship. A lot of this stuff I don’t read in hard partisan terms. Give you an example. The guns-in-bars stuff had broad support on both sides of the aisle. It was much more of a cultural thing.
Q: But it seems that Republicans are promoting a lot of this.
Bredesen: I don’t disagree with that. I think Republicans are feeling their oats after an awful long time in the woods. But you’ve got some good people there. I’m hoping they’ll settle down. In the end, you have to pass budgets. I thought Ron Ramsey in the end stepped up and agreed to some things and made some compromises to get the budget passed.
Q: What about the overall level of goofiness?
Bredesen: It was very high this year. Higher than normal, yeah. The people I have representing me, the Pat Millers of the world and John Morgan, they come to me and say they’ve genuinely never seen a legislature like this one. Last night, it definitely did not end with a bang but a whimper. I’m not sure what that is. … I’m right at the end of my term. I certainly don’t have the stick with the legislature that I would have had the year after I’d just been elected. It’s a lot of different things coming together.
Q: So it’s your fault?
Bredesen: What? It’s my fault? That’s your position on most things.