Barry: Irreconcilable

Sunday, October 24, 2010 at 10:45pm
Bruce Barry

Culminating a demoralizing political season for Tennessee progressives, Republicans next week will gain the governorship, expand their U.S. House delegation, and sustain state House majorities. The gubernatorial contest is the race whose outcome is least in doubt, but even so, liberal Democrats going to the polls face a dilemma as they gaze upon the name Mike McWherter at the top of the ticket: Should I vote for this guy? Do I have to?

For loyal party regulars there’s really no dilemma. McWherter may be inexperienced politically, conservative ideologically, and on the jejune side intellectually, but he’s the nominee, and he comes from hearty Democratic family stock. Yellow dogs are creatures of moral clarity: McWherter’s the Democrat, so pull the damn lever (or touch the damn screen, as it were).

But for those on the left who see McWherter’s candidacy as a new low in efforts by Democrats to be taken seriously in Tennessee politics, the calculus is different.

Yes, ours is a very red state, and a successful Democrat is apt to be a moderate one. But while there’s a plenty of daylight between moderate and extremely conservative, some of McWherter’s positions and postures veer alarmingly toward the latter.

To name a few: McWherter opposes the Obama challenge to Arizona’s immigration law, supports a same-sex couple adoption ban, frowns on collective bargaining by public employees, and thinks creationism should be taught in public schools.

With polls flagging, a desperate McWherter has resorted to the sort of vapid, jingoistic tactics that are the stock in trade of the rabid right. First he floated an insinuation that a few degrees of separation between Haslam’s oil company and a German firm doing business in Iran means that Haslam family profits are financing Iran’s pursuit of nukes. Then McWherter rolled out a TV ad blasting Haslam’s company for importing oil “from socialist Venezuela.” These kinds of appeals to ignorance and fear are off-putting enough when Republicans do it; in the hands of a Democrat, they’re detestable and simply unacceptable.

The McWherter campaign’s fecklessness has had the unintended effect of making the insipid and unimaginative Bill Haslam look sharp and accomplished in comparison. In their debates, McWherter spoke prosaically in simple sentences thick with sloganeering but decidedly thin on substance or detail. Haslam, too, had little to offer in the way of serious policy innovations, but did manage to embellish his platitudes with actual facts and figures, leading the casual viewer to conclude that Haslam is far more prepared and informed than his opponent, and hardly more conservative.

So it comes as no surprise that a hefty number of Democrats are seriously considering voting for Haslam. They should think twice before doing so. Haslam has worked hard to cultivate an image of Bredesenian competence and restraint, and compared with the right-wing fanatics he took down in the GOP primary, Haslam comes off as moderation personified. But Haslam has done virtually nothing in his campaign to persuade us that he will shield us from his party’s extremist, retrograde legislative impulses.

The real Democratic malpractice here emerges less from the flaws of the candidate than from the party establishment’s enabling of this fiasco. The Democratic primary field at one time featured two promising, experienced candidates: former House leader Kim McMillan and veteran state Sen. Jim Kyle of Memphis. But wait, party regulars insisted, only McWherter has the name and the access to money to go the distance. A year later as the nominee, he’s being outspent by an order of magnitude and is hovering at gadfly levels in the polls. For this we needed the magic McWherter name?

Tennessee progressives are justifiably disgusted at this state of affairs, and the way to send that message to the party is to just say no and sit this race out.

Bruce Barry is a professor of management and sociology at Vanderbilt University, and a contributing writer for the Nashville Scene.

10 Comments on this post:

By: pswindle on 10/25/10 at 9:17

He is better than Haslam.

By: bfra on 10/25/10 at 9:20

You got that RIGHT!

By: AmyLiorate on 10/25/10 at 10:01

Barry brings up a good point.

Is McWherter being outspent because Haslam has more money, is so likable that contributions roll in steadily.

Or is McWherter just not having that panache. Are his fellow democrats just not inspired to send their donations in. Does it even have to do with McWherter at all? Maybe they see the gov race for what it is this year and wouldn't have donated to any candidate.

I, as a conservative, may be voting for Mike. With one party in the governors mansion and a different one in the house it could mean that more sensible budgets and legislation will prevail.

Haslam will sign anything the legislature puts on his desk. That is basically what he said last week. He is an empty suit.

By: girliegirl on 10/25/10 at 10:08

Loyalty, my backside! This election is all about choosing the RIGHT man for the job this time! No more cheerleader mentality crap. The gloves have come off, and the spending of fake/artificial money is over! See ya, bye~ :-)

By: govskeptic on 10/25/10 at 12:01

Even moderate members of the Democratic Party in large numbers
adhore many of the far left proposals Mr. Barry suggest in his
opinion. A candidate running on all his listed items would be lucky
to get more than 15% of the vote! This is Tenn. not Calif.

By: budlight on 10/25/10 at 12:53

AmyLiorate on 10/25/10 at 11:01
Barry brings up a good point.

Is McWherter being outspent because Haslam has more money, is so likable that contributions roll in steadily.

Well, kind of like Obama buying his seat for ONE BILLION DOLLARS.

By: budlight on 10/25/10 at 12:54

Go Girlie; you are so smart.

No this is not TN; this is Mexico-Iran.

By: WayneR on 10/25/10 at 1:26

At the beginning of the governor's race I awoke one morning to find McWherter coming on my TV telling me that gangs were the issue that he planned to do something about if elected governor. WTF? Does this man truly think I believe gangs to be the major difficulty facing Nashville citizens and even if it were, what in hell is the governor supposed to do about what is a local police matter. This man is a dufus whose later ad claims he knows how to 'built a business' when most of us are aware he inherited his daddy's beer distributorship, which is not exactly striking a blow for capitalism.

This race I voted for Howard Switzer, who is my equivalent of "none of the above.''
Even holding my nostrils I could not pull a swich for either major party turkey. Sad.


By: on 10/25/10 at 2:04

Scared to death aren't 'ya Bruce. You and yours should be afraid, very afraid. Change she is a coming, I can smell it in the wind. Pack your bags and head south for the duration, way south, with your deported brothers to Mexico and points south.

By: conservarage on 10/26/10 at 6:16

he should just drop out of the race - he's wasting his money and our time.