It’s not easy to define excessive partisan rhetoric in a democracy with a two-party system. But, like pornography, you know it when you hear it.
Opponents are vilified. Arguments are dumbed down. There’s a notable lack of perspective. Demagoguery is doubled.
Gov. Bill Haslam took note of it recently at a meeting among business leaders, warning that it could make it harder to solve Tennessee’s problems.
Perhaps it was wishful thinking on the governor’s part to suggest that “None of us want Nashville to become what Washington has become — a place that is so partisan that you can’t solve problems.”
But this was to be the year, you may recall, that state government was prepared to take on the challenges of balancing the budget and creating jobs for Tennesseans.
The mission seemed secure with Haslam in charge — a business-oriented, commonsense Tennessee Republican in the tradition established by Howard Baker.
Instead, the attention has been hijacked by those painting Tennessee teachers as villains in an epic struggle for control of public education.
Many Tennesseans surely are embarrassed by the tone of the rhetoric, wondering if, indeed, their representatives want to make the state capital more like Washington.
However Tennesseans come down on teachers’ rights, how many of them approve of the language used by longtime Republican operative Raymond Baker of Franklin, openly taunting Haslam as the reincarnation of children’s television star Fred Rogers?
Baker, who calls teachers “knuckle-draggers,” wants you to go to your state representative or state senator and demand an answer to the question: “Are you with me or are you with the (Tennessee Education Association)?”
It is excessive partisan rhetoric to link Haslam with the TEA. It will be instructive to see how the governor reacts if the most radical education “reform” measure — the abolition of the right of teachers to engage in collective bargaining — reaches his desk in the form of completed legislation.
But the governor is a participant in the effort to roll back some of the benefits that teachers enjoy, and it’s doubtful that Mr. Rogers would approve. TAS