With the loss of much of New England, the industrial Midwest and the Pacific Coast, the gravity of the modern Republican Party is of course in the South and the Sunbelt. The heartland of this region is the river valley between the Ohio and the Tennessee rivers and square in the middle of this region the state of Tennessee. If the state of Kansas once was the intellectual and political center of populism and progressive Republicans, (as in the Thomas Frank book “What’s the Matter with Kansas?”) then Tennessee (and its neighbor state of Kentucky) probably best represent the peculiar intellectual and political make-up of the GOP today. And if one candidate best encapsulates all of this, it’s Tennessee 8th District Republican Congressional candidate Stephen Fincher.
If ever central casting came up with a model for a Southern Republican Congressional candidate, Fincher fits the mold to a tea. He’s a cotton farmer. He ‘s a gospel singer. He’s a family man. Like any good Republican candidate, he says believes in less government and a strong military. He’s a strong social conservative. He’s very impressive on the stump and is a favorite to win the House seat of the retiring Rep. John Tanner (D-Tenn).
And his term in Congress will be ineffective even before it begins. Oh, he may very well be effective in constituent service, bringing jobs to his district or holding in town meetings. But in regards to the main focus of his campaign, reducing the size and scope of the Federal government, he won’t have much of an impact.
For you see, Fincher accepts government subsidies, some $200,000 of your tax money and mine in his pocket to help run his farm every year. This post is not to cast aspersions upon Mr. Fincher as a hypocrite, although some have called him that. Sometimes in life,you have to do you need to to survive and put food on the table to feed your family and pay the bills or else find another line of work. (Fincher says without the subsidies we would be paying $10 for a loaf of bred instead of $2. Actually, we would probably be paying a $1 in our “free trade” economy because we would be paying for cheaper Russian, Ukranian or Egyptian wheat but that would also mean fewer U.S. farmers.)
It wouldn’t surprise me if during his time in Congress if Congressman-to-be-Fincher is on Ag Committee, and he wants keeps his subsidies in the next farm bill, and some New York Democrat wants to increase the amount money that goes to school lunch programs, well, then there’s your compromise and bi-partisanship in action right there. Everyone gets what they want and the government gets no smaller. Sounds like many of the deals have been going on for a long time in D.C.
And of course we haven’t begun to discussion the other government subsidy that benefits the states of Tennessee and Kentucky and that’s the Tennessee Valley Authority. Both states benefit from cheap electricity the TVA produces at again, your expense. Tennessee and Kentucky Republicans looking for smaller government haven’t been too demonstrative in demanding the removal of this federal presence from their land. Like the Oak Ridge Laboratory. Or Ft. Knox. Or Ft. Campbell. Or demand the Great Smoky Mountains National Park be sold off the tax rolls and be privatized. Nope, I can’t say I’ve heard too many calls for reducing the heavy- handed presence of the federal government by eliminating or closing these institutions.
This would not be a problem in of itself and Republicans in the past from both states, whether John Sherman Cooper, Jimmy Quillen, William Brock, Howard Baker and even Lamar Alexander have defended these programs with all sincerity. But because the modern GOP is supposedly the party of small government and tries to fashion its image and brand upon that label, it does such branding a disservice if not damage it altogether. This kind of “what’s mine is mine and what’s yours is negotiable,” style of politics Phil Gramm made famous should have gone out with him. Instead, modern Republicans still seem to believe you can tell people on the campaign trail you’re anti-federal government and still enjoy the benefits of that government. It’s hard to see how any kind reduction in spending or in the size of federal government or any kind of decentralization from Washington to the states is even possible if the Republicans continue with this attitude.
If this pattern continues then Fincher’s career could easily wind up like former GOP Congressman Van Hilleary and current House member Zach Wamp who started out their careers as young reformers from “Republican Revolution” election of 1994 and wound up careerists. Hilleary is no longer in politics and Wamp could very well be out of it if he loses the GOP primary for governor. But both men were re-elected easily in their districts after their first two terms in the House. Clearly Tennesseans approved of their politics and may very well with Fincher. Yet the failure of the Republican Revolution to accomplish its goals rests squarely on Southern Republicans who felt they could keep all that was bequeathed to their region by the New Deal and the Great Society and insist other functions of the government popular outside the region could be cut or eliminated. Such a stands may have worked locally, but were detrimental to the party’s image and ultimately led to its defeat. It allows Democrats to still have an impact in Southern politics because they happily point out these contradictions and tell voters they can count on them to bring home the bacon because they’ve never been opposed to doing so. And such defeats and such hypocrisy led to the rise of the Tea Party movements in the first place as this local Tea Party activists points out:
These activists mistrust Fincher because he is the anointed candidate of national Republicans and because of those farm subsidies. Jim Tomasik, a leader of the Mid-South Tea Party in Cordova, Tenn., is heading perhaps the most organized effort to portray Fincher as a welfare farmer.
“If Republicans are going to complain about subsidizing General Motors, that’s a drop in the bucket to farm subsidies,” Tomasik said. “But they’re backing candidates who are taking large amounts of money from the federal government. That’s hypocritical.”
Rand Paul, running for the U.S. Senate in Kentucky, may find that his toughest opponent is not establishment tool and Bill Clinton supporter Trey Greyson, it will be the Democrat candidate who will no doubt attack him for his libertarian views towards government and say that Rand wants to eliminate the TVA, Medicare and Medicade and maybe even claim that Rand will want to close the state’s military bases too. It will be interesting to see if Tea Party activism has changed minds in the Republican heartland towards the feds or whether the same kind of Republicans that predominate in this region will still prevail, but to its detriment nationally.