Alexander’s Rag-Tag Bland
Is A Sour Tune
By Mark Harmon
For roughly a dozen years I was a writer and bit player for Knoxville’s Front Page Follies, a gridiron-style show mocking local, state, and national politicians with satirical songs. Follies is gone now; the East Tennessee chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists mothballed it because of declining fundraising numbers for journalism scholarships. I miss Follies, and still pen a ditty or two—e.g., a Dylan-esque Like a Roger Stone.
If I were still writing bits, I might try my hand at Alexander’s Rag-Tag Bland, a variation on Irving Berlin’s bouncy song Alexander’s Ragtime Band. It would be tough, however, because recent actions from the senior Senator from Tennessee, Lamar Alexander, are less comically flawed than maliciously tragic.
The Supreme Court vacancy created by the death of national treasure Ruth Bader Ginsburg quickly led to a weekend of speculation whether enough Republican U.S. Senators would balk at Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s nefarious and hypocritical plan to rush through a Trump replacement nominee in record time.
Lamar Alexander recently has offered only flickering indications he might be willing to reject lockstep Trumpian extremism. His 2019 Americans for Democratic Action 2019 progressive/liberal voting score was just five percent, meaning 19 times out of 20 key votes he took the right-wing position. His career American Conservative Union score over 17 years has been 72.12 percent, though lately non-conservative fraction has been inflated by missed votes.
Those with deep memory (or extensive reading) might know of January 17, 1979, when Alexander did his most famous bipartisan act in the public interest. He cooperated with Democrats to get sworn in three days early as Tennessee Governor, effectively ending an accused “cash for clemency” scam by the exiting Democratic governor.
Alexander long has trumpeted bipartisanship. He widely has been quoted saying, “The goal with a big piece of social legislation is to have a bipartisan result, so the country will accept it.” You’d think a critical lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court would meet the same consensus standard, but Alexander brazenly has taken the opposite view.
Ginsburg’s body was barely cold when Alexander released a statement he would join McConnell’s ploy. He even had the temerity to say the voters expect the Senators to do it. Nope. Public opinion overwhelmingly favors waiting until the January inauguration. Alexander lamely tried to draw a distinction between now and 2016 when McConnell refused to take up President Obama’s nomination of the moderate jurist Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court. That nomination came 237 days before the election. Trump’s selection of Amy Coney Barrett comes just 37 days before Election Day.
Alexander bloviated that the Senate “has refused to confirm several [Supreme Court nominees in election years] when the President and Senate majority were of different parties.” Huh? So, the ethics of the matter depends on the partisan composition of the branches? That dog won’t hunt. The better historical reference is to Abraham Lincoln who waited upon his 1864 re-election before filling a vacancy when Chief Justice Roger Taney died just 27 days before voters went to the polls. In 2020, many voters are going to the polls now.
If Alexander thinks the Trump presidency and Republican control of the Senate imply some sort of mandate for these shenanigans, he is sorely mistaken. Trump lost the popular vote in 2016 by more than 2.8 million votes, and during his presidency consistently has been well below 50 percent approval. Senate Democrats tallied 18 million more votes than Republican ones in 2018 and ten million more in 2016.
It would be the height of irresponsibility to force through a Supreme Court nominee before the election or in a lame-duck session in which it is possible, even likely, that a group of Senators rejected by the voters could push through on a party-line vote the extremist nominee of an impeached president rejected by the voters. At this late date, we must let the people choose the president, and let that president fill the vacancy.
Alexander, 80, is retiring from the Senate. He could have ended his career with as bold a stance against abuse as when he became Tennessee Governor. That could have been his legacy. Instead, compiling this action with his cowardice on impeachment, means he slumps away from public office as a hack who once had a plaid-shirt gimmick. Alexander’s rag-tag bland statements are too sad to be funny.
Mark D. Harmon is a professor of journalism and electronic media at the University of Tennessee, and a regional vice chair of the Tennessee Democratic Party.