As for the state Democratic Party’s travails, Bredesen accepted “some of the responsibility” but then explained how he’s not responsible. It was a nationalized election, you see, and that’s the fault—again—of the president and those Washington Democrats who can’t imagine what it’s like to lie awake at night worrying about stuff. Bredesen, of course, knows exactly what that’s like because, possibly after performing a really tricky Vulcan Mind Meld, he understands the concerns of all the poor schlubs who shop at Wal-Mart and eat greasy food at Waffle House.
Here’s the Q&A:
Q: With Republicans in the new Congress threatening to repeal the health care overhaul, is there anything in the law that you’d like to see them keep?
Bredesen: Look, I’ve always thought that the bill that was passed was going to take some substantial reworking, OK? Certainly the fact that we’ve expanded coverage, I’d love to see that preserved. I mean I think it’s got to be modified in the way it’s done in some ways and so on. But you know we took a big bite out of the problem of people who are completely without insurance in this country. My only concern there is we didn’t take a big enough bite. But I hope we can preserve that. You know, what we’re seeing now is the flip side of this bill being passed in such a partisan fashion. Unlike Social Security or Medicare, where half of the Republicans voted for these things, we passed this bill with no Republican votes. That just means it’s in play politically. It becomes part of partisan gamesmanship forever. I feel sure that’s going to prove to be a weakness of it in the weeks and months ahead. But I hope we can start being sensible and find some good ways to do it. We certainly here in Tennessee are moving full speed to implement the law as it was passed. We’re not playing any games or backing out of it or anything like that. I really do think there are going to be some changes and I hope they are sensible and middle of the road changes.
Q: What changes would you like to see?
Bredesen: Well, I think there’s got to be a bunch of them. They’ve got to put some things which are genuine cost-saving measures in there. I think they’ve probably got to pull back a little bit on how broad the benefit package that they’ve defined is. They’re just driving an awful lot of people, an awful lot of businesses how out of the health insurance market. But I think one of the most important things to do is for Democrats and Republicans to work together and to find some common ground. I’m not even sure it’s important all the details of what that common ground is. So we can do something that’s as important as moving health care forward and containing its cost and making sure that people have access to health insurance, that we can do that in a way that’s stable and tracks forward in the future. …
Q: Do you think Obama could have done anything differently? He tried to two years to find a consensus and failed?
Bredesen: Well I have a slightly different view of that. I think the president who intended to do exactly the right things turned it over to the most partisan body in the nation, the U.S. Congress. The whole thing got played out rapidly along straight political lines. I did a lot of dealing with the Democratic members of both the Senate and the House on this. What they were interested in was Republicans doing what they wanted. I never sensed that there was any great feeling of let’s find some common ground and find a way to put it together. Everybody was trying to get done what they wanted to do using it as a political wedge. I hope that if this happens again that the president will step in and take a little more leadership of the process and say look we’re going to find some way to do some things together. … Let’s make a starting point here and let’s find some things we can agree on.
Q: Governor, the Tennessee Democratic Party obviously has hit some hard times right now. You’re the titular head of the party. Do you bear any responsibility for that? And in your view, what should the party be doing going forward?
Bredesen: I mean look, I’m the titular head of the party. I’m governor. I’m certainly not operating the day-to-day party apparatus or anything like that. So certainly I’ll accept some of the responsibility for it. This, I think it’s very clear, turned out to be a national election. There were people voted out of office in the state legislature for whom there was no particular reason for that to happen based on either their districts or the way they conducted themselves in the legislature. This election got nationalized. I mean, I really think the Democratic Party … I think has got to get reestablished as the party of people who shop in Wal-Marts and go to Waffle House. People have got to start listening to these people and not the advocacy groups and the unions and everybody else that we’ve had as these constituencies. I think if we can do that and really try to understand what the people I’m just describing, who have been over the years the heart and soul of the Democratic Party, what they’re really looking for and try to provide that, I think we’ll do fine. … I think if we kind of get back to the center here on this, we can be very, very successful. I’ve had this feeling through this whole process this past year, just watching it politically, you just think that all the people who are doing this, the people in the White House and the leadership and the Congress, I don’t think they know what it feels like in America for people to lie awake in the middle of the night and worry about keeping their jobs and worry about things that they wanted slipping away from them. Until they can connect with those kinds of fears and address the kinds of issues that people who have these fears have, we’re not going to be successful. But if we do that, we’ll be fine.