Sunday, October 06, 2002

Why I'm Still For Hilleary, More Or Less

I have noted before that I am a registered and voting Liberatarian, as well as a small-l libertarian in principle. It's not the "pure" belief that hobbles the national leadership and so many local candidates, but a willingness to use incrementalism in my approach and to find common ground with the two dominant parties. I find myself in sympathy with some Republican positions on the National and State level and can make common cause with them. I can stomach some Democratic proposals at the local level since I have a real opportunity to affect them, and to come face-to-face with the politicians who implement them. Because of this, I'm often mistaken for a Republican by many who turn surprised when another facet of my beliefs comes out.

Before I went on hiatus, the gubernatorial contest heated up a bit. While away, I commented to Bill Hobbs that Bredesen was using weasel words in his professions of not "supporting" an income tax. South Knox Bubba took us to task for that. He was clear and unsparing. (Though he did fail to credit or link back to the articles he was criticising -- a bit of bad Netiquette. But he's always been a gentleman in his conduct and speech, never allowing political differences to descend to invective and name-calling, which makes him a pleasure to read and to spar with.)

I and Hobbs, in a nutshell, remain unconvinced of Bredesen's claims of not wanting, nor pursuing, an income tax. Bredesen's record is clear on this (go to Tax Free Tennessee to see it) and he's been carefully hedging his comments to allow himself wiggle room, should events require or welcome it. SKB thinks that Bredesen is just using good judgment in not locking in a position for several years and that his other managerial experiences would make him a better governor. His tax position is less important than those other qualities.

Sunday's debate on NewsChannel Three between gubernatorial candidates Phil Bredesen and Van Hilleary didn't do anything unexpected. If anything, it strengthened my anti-Bredesen beliefs. Hilleary made yet more efforts to tag Bredesen with the IT label and Bredesen responded every time.

But it was those responses that did it. Hilleary's were clear and simple: I oppose the IT. It will not happen on my watch. Bredesen's responses set off my warning radar. He always used some variation of "I do not support the IT" and then followed that with long and windy verbiage. I've had experience with folks who are trying to con someone and that's always the pattern -- give an answer vague enough to get out of and then baffle 'em with the BS to cover your tracks and confuse them in their understanding. That's what Bredesen did.

Now Hilleary is no shining winner, sorry to say. He's too uncomfortably close to the Sundquist example: back-bench Congressman with no real distinguishments, but no major problems. He's "eh." I can, sadly, see him taking the "McWherter/Sundquist dive" in Round Two, his statements and history notwithstanding. I doubt strongly he would, but it's not impossible. Look at Sundquist.

Bredesen's official statements and his debate remarks, though, leave me with no doubt at all that he'd implement an income tax, if he thought he needed it or thought he could politically get away with it. None at all. And that's the problem.

The forces who are pushing for the IT are not the politicians, though many want the pig trough of money it entails. The real players are the bankers, developers and ultra-wealthy, Those Who Cannot Be Named. You will never see them brought into this publicly, but privately they are the prime movers. It's the Hall Tax they want to remove, to stop the drain on the sources of their wealth. Every version of the IT so far has had a single feature in common: repeal of the Hall Tax. The sales tax is a lesser, though non-trivial concern for them. The changes are to get them off the hook, to let them keep their wealth protected from harm and depletion. The whole IT battle is to cover the tax code changes they want.

As McWherter and Sundquist have proved, those folks are non-partisan. The Commercial Appeal ran an article in January of 2000 that detailed a series of "secret" meetings between leading politicians and the wealthy. I unfortunately failed to save that article, but it showed how Republicans and Democrats worked across party lines to both preserve political advantages and to implement the IT. Of course, that effort failed, at least as far as the IT is concerned. But it didn't stop them from going at it again, in the safety of Sundquist's second term. WREC's Mike Fleming has floated the idea that Sunquist was actually considering this as far as nine months before his election, but I think that's damage control by his friends. I can see Fleming doing something like that.

So, back to Bredesen and Hilleary. Hilleary has the unmistakeable example of Sundquist's flaying and political immolation to warn him. He might be turned, but he knows the consequences and I think he has larger political ambitions to protect. Now, Bredesen does too, but as a Democrat an IT vote wouldn't cripple him. In some circles it's a plus. And he is a Democrat; all this talk of fiscal management must baffle and pain his soul.

If I could somehow surgically graft Hilleary's tax-cutting conservatism into the body of Bredesen, with his management abilities, I'd whole-heartedly support that person. But for me the IT is the defining issue, the battlefield of today and tomorrow. The present tax structure forces our Legislators to confront, year after year, their spending priorities and desires. While it leads to "gridlock," I don't see that as a bad thing. Government of the scale we see today is a thing to be restrained at all costs. It is a leech that tries to make you hallucinate that it's a best friend. We need to fight to reduce the size of that government and keeping the IT away is one front in that war.

On that count alone, Bredesen is out. Hilleary will attempt fiscal management, I think. Bredesen won't; not really. And like it or not, that's where I stand.

Until next time.

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