Lamar Alexander has been around Tennessee politics since the late 1960s. He has served in the U.S. Senate since 2003. In that time, Alexander has developed a reputation of crossing the aisle and working with Democrats. In 2009, he was selected as one of the most bipartisan Republicans. By 2012, that had changed some. He voted with the GOP 70% of the time. That is not a surprise as the Tea Party had begun to put pressure on Republican politicians that it did not feel were sufficiently conservative.
The Tea Party has been primarying Republican officials the last couple of elections. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is being challenged by three other Republicans in next year’s election. In 2012, Senators Bob Bennett of Utah and Richard Lugar of Indiana were also challenged and lost. Utah was sufficiently conservative enough that the Senate seat stayed in Republican hands. In Indiana, the nominee was Richard Mourdock who torpedoed his campaign by suggesting that women who get pregnant from rape is something that “God intended to happen.”
The Democrats can thank the Tea Party for keeping the Senate in their hands after the 2012 elections. That same scenario may play out again in 2014. The same extremism is rearing its head once more. The Tea Party may be able to knock off incumbents in the primaries but their candidates are too conservative for the general election.
Tennessee Tea Party groups banded together and sent a letter to Alexander thanking him for his service by telling him to retire. If Alexander doesn’t retire, he faces a bruising challenge in the primary. This isn’t just any letter pointing out Alexander’s less than stellar conservative credentials. In the Tea Party’s eyes anyway. Those are conservative credentials that just about anyone except Tea Party supporters can see. The letter didn’t take Alexander to task for taxes or social issues, but for doing what a good politician does: compromise.
Here is the unbelievable criticism in the letter that most Americans would see as an admirable trait:
During your tenure in the Senate we have no doubt that you voted in a way which you felt was appropriate. Unfortunately, our great nation can no longer afford compromise and bipartisanship, two traits for which you have become famous. America faces serious challenges and needs policymakers who will defend conservative values, not work with those who are actively undermining those values. Quite honestly, your voting record shows that you do not represent the conservative values that we hold dear and the votes you have cast as Senator are intolerable to us. Furthermore we have serious doubts about your ability to fix our problems since you have played such a significant role in creating them.
The letter matter of factly accuses Alexander of “compromise and bipartisanship,” as if he had committed treason or espionage ala Bradley Manning or Edward Snowden. Since when did compromise and bipartisanship become bad things? The last time the nation failed to compromise there was the Civil War. The U.S. Constitution, which the Tea Party claims to represent as the true spirit, is a magnificent piece of compromise. Politics is called the art of compromise because without compromise differences are settled with bullets and blood.
Politics doesn’t end on election night, and the victors get to act as totalitarians. The entire political process is pushing, shoving, pulling, arguing and posturing. Yet when it comes time to make decisions and pass laws, a deal requires all sides to give some so everyone can move forward. It is clear that is never going to happen with the Tea Party.
Alexander may go down in next year’s primary, and that may open the door for the Democrats to take his Senate seat. At the least, there maybe another Mourdock-like candidate running around shouting about the evils of compromise and bipartisanship as if working with the Democratic Party was akin to cozying up with the Nazis or Marxists.
These “patriots” of the Tea Party need a refresher on civics, particularly on the great debates of the Constitution. They might then learn that Jefferson, Madison and Washington were a lot more like Lugar, Alexander and most moderates and liberals. Our Founding Fathers found common ground to put together the Constitution. The Tea Party is operating more like the political version of stand your ground gun laws. They are ready to take down anyone who gets in their way. Ultimately, the American public will tire of this political narrow-mindedness and arrogance. Those days can’t come soon enough.