Tuesday, July 30, 2002

Red Meat!

In today's Commercial Appeal, Paula Wade's editorialtaking a look at the present state of the Tennessee Republican Party. It's not bad, except that it's written through the perpetual lenses of her pro-IT stance.

She begins with Ronald Reagan's famous "Eleventh Commandment," to Republicans to say nothing ill of their party brethren. It was, and still is, worthy advice. Democrats have learned, through their roots in the labor and social activist movements, the power and importance of sticking together and keeping disagreements to back rooms. Republicans, however, as a party of businessmen and entrepreneurs, is doused in the ethos of individual pursuit and competition. That ethos extends to their politics.

It doesn't help that the party is two pretty distinct branches welded together, as Wade notes, somewhat incorrectly:
Across the country, the Republican Party's uneasy alliance of
socially moderate business elites (aka country club Republicans)
and socially conservative activists (aka right-wingers) has been
kept intact by delicate conciliation. The business elites would get
their tax and regulatory breaks, the Right would get judgeships
and an anti-abortion plank in the party platform.

Typical Wade and typically, dismissively wrong. I would argue that the party's two wings are the Eastern Establishment, the socially neutral, pro-market businessmen and the Christian conservatives, who value social stability. It's an uneasy marriage either way. But this election, Bush managed to excise the influence of social conservatives to such an extent as to make inroads with moderate Democrats and forge an image for Republicans as socially moderate and pro-business.

It's Bush' many seemingly inexplicable moves since the election that have exacerbated the hard-core conservatives in the party. Add adviser Karl Rove's missteps in aligning the National Republican Committee with moderate-to-liberal candidates in elections across the country, and Sundquist's massive betrayal, and you have Tennessee.
As one Republican partisan told me, the governor spoiled the
dance by backing an income tax - an act the Right considered
high treason, but some business elites in the GOP have come to
believe would bring a necessary modernization of the state's tax

Not quite; at least that last part, which is basic CA propaganda. But that's close. Sundquist won an easy re-election based on an anti-IT promise and then weeks later, in a "Read my lips" moment, betrayed every voter who elected him. He aligned himself with Democrats and got on the train against many of his own party members.

There has long been a movement by business leaders and the ultra-wealthy in this state to get an IT. As Wade notes, there are obvious business advantages. But it's the little-commented on benefits for the very rich that are key. Every single tax plan put forward in the past 18 months--every one--no matter how different, or what revenue sources they are based on, has had one identical feature. Every plan eliminates the Hall Income Tax.

For 95% of Tennesseans, the Hall Tax means little; even for retirees. But for the very rich, that tax bite is money from their pocket in significant amounts. Those who live off their investments and bank ownerships and trusts, etc., have always wanted to get rid of that profit drain. And they have the power, influence and money to make it happen. That's why the IT issue comes back, over and over.

So, while Wade wants you to believe that business leaders on the Mom and Pop scale are the prime drivers behind the IT, that's not true. Large numbers of Republicans realised that Tennessee's tax burden was about to be shifted onto their backs, put their with the enthusiastic cooperation of their Governor. They revolted. Sundquist saw his reputation and welcome disappear overnight. He is a pariah in the State and in his party. Republicans avoid his endorsement, an amazing development.

That is "...the intraparty struggle is playing out across Tennessee, up and down the ballot." Eastern Establishment Republicans, who have seized the party at the national level are trying to lock down that control on the Senate level. Hard-core conservatives are working upwards from the grass-roots level. It's only Sundquist's betrayal that's muddying the issue.

When Wade writes:
I've always wondered about the quickness and savagery with
which so many in the GOP turned on Sundquist after he first tried
to reform business taxation, and later embraced tax reform
based on an income tax. For many in the GOP, the governor's
advocacy was nothing short of heresy, a colossal betrayal.

that simply says more about her politics, and the blinders she has put on. For the rest of us, it's very, very, clear.

The battle was ongoing. The tax issue became the flashpoint. It's just that simple.

Until next time,
Your Working Boy

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