What is it about Tennessee politicians who go national? They all seem… I dunno… aggressively bland, somehow. Please don’t take this as an attack on the Volunteer State, but when your politicians vie for national attention, they get really… bland. Like I said.
I remember watching the 1996 Republican primaries closely when, in a flash of plaid, Lamar Alexander burst onto the national scene. Not that I was terribly moved by any of the Republicans that year, but I found Alexander singularly unmoving. “I’m not like those other guys,” Alexander said while campaigning in the summer of 1995. “I’m an outsider.” Yuck.
The next wooden, uninteresting politician from Tennessee to make a play for national office was Al Gore in 2000. Gore didn’t seem to catch fire, the way Bradley did. I wouldn’t blame Gore for not wanting to catch fire, because that would be dangerous, what with him being a block of wood and all. And when it came time to push for an accurate vote count in Florida, Gore just didn’t do it. Sure, he was great on Saturday Night Live, but hell, if I was looking for a Saturday Night Live cast member for president, I would have voted for Tina Fey.
Now we’ve got Bill Frist making rumblings in New Hampshire, “very concerned” about the Manchester mayoral race, and talking bland, boring politispeak, like that quote up there. I’ll excuse a politician some politispeak; that’s part of their job, after all, but it seems that that’s all that Frist has to offer. The man isn’t even as good at oratory as Al Gore! Plus he’s a regular conservative Republican line-toer! And he wants to be president?!
A recent issue of The New Republic featured Phil Bredesen as a potential presidential (or vice-presidential) candidate. But TennCare is a mess and besides, Bredesen is bullish on these faith-based initiatives—and he’s another less-than-inspiring speaker.
Maybe Tennesseans like ‘em bland. That’s okay, but I just can’t wrap my head around the appeal of them. Are Bob Clement and Harold Ford more exciting? Maybe Van Hilleary? Those three, I’ll admit, I’m not terribly familiar with, though all the talk about Ford lately seems to suggest that he’ll be making a Senate run soon, so I guess I’d better get acquainted with him. Here’s hoping he doesn’t put me off—or put me to sleep.
For exciting politicians and political sagas, I’m turning my attention to New York and Illinois these days (and, recently, Pennsylvania.) But for all the limelight that Tennessee politicians have gotten over the past decade or so, you’d think they’d have been offering something more interesting. Andrew Jackson? James K. Polk? Where are you now?