Facing an active campaign by grass-roots activists to defeat him in next year’s primary, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) penned a letter to the state’s largest newspaper defending his pragmatic, “problem solving” approach to governing. The letter in The Tennessean defends his record as a conservative who knows how to “get results.”
“Well, I learned to count in Maryville City Schools,” Alexander writes. “So I know that if you only have 45 votes and you need 60 senators to get something important done like balancing the budget and fixing the debt, then you have to work with other people — that is, IF you really care about solving the problem, IF you really want to get a result, instead of just making a speech.”
It is a superficially compelling argument. It is an argument conservatives have heard for decades. Yes, the perfect can’t be the enemy of the good. Yes, we have to compromise to meet many of our goals. And, yes, a half-loaf is better than nothing.
But it begs the question. Where has Alexander’s “compromise” and “problem-solving” approach taken us? Alexander has often abetted the Democrats in the Senate, supporting their legislative agenda and providing support for Obama nominees. When has he been able to persuade Democrats to support a conservative issue? Alexander’s record suggests compromise is a one-way street, i.e. Republicans support Democrats. When do Democrats in the Senate ever repay the favor Alexander extends them?
The record of the “problem-solving” approach is fairly grim. It has given us $16 trillion in debt, ObamaCare, bailouts of Wall Street and the auto industry, trillion dollar deficits, sweeping new regulations, and government encroachment on ever more aspects of our lives.
Against this, Alexander proudly trumps his successful campaign to preserve the rights of people to fish at dams. That’s all well and good, but it isn’t exactly an even trade.
I have no doubt that Alexander is a fine man and a decent-enough Senator. Unfortunately, both he and the state’s junior Senator, Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), represent something of a wasted opportunity. Tennessee is a deeply conservative state. It is still one of only a handful of states that doesn’t have an income tax. Alexander and Corker, however, have voting records that better reflect the voters in Maine or Illinois.
There is perhaps a place for Alexander’s approach to governing. Tennessee isn’t that place.