March 21, 2007
The man on the fence gets hit from both sides
The Tennessee Senate felt another shift in its teetering balance last week when former Speaker Pro Tem Micheal Williams (Maynardville — and that’s his spelling, not mine) announced his departure from the Republican Party and declared himself an Independent. For those keeping score, but behind on the scoreboard, that leaves a 16-16 tie between Democrats and Republicans in the state’s upper legislative body, with the ever-enigmatic Williams potentially holding a deciding vote. Committee chairs are not changing.
I don’t exactly mean this the way it will sound, but there ought to be more people like Sen. Williams. And U.S. Senators Jim Jeffords and Joe Lieberman. And President Theodore Roosevelt. Let me be clear: I am not asking for acts of spite or betrayal or egotism, but for conscious release from partisan rigor. It doesn’t do to merely switch teams mid-game. Independence, either to the individual degree or, as in Roosevelt’s case, as a new party, is too often undervalued, even scorned, but is a vantage point for unparalleled leadership. I remind you, Abraham Lincoln’s Republican party was close to brand-new when he acted as its titular head. Its founders declared independence from the era’s two political giants, the Whigs and the Democrats.
The arguments for a bilateral party system are many, and are at times convincing, from a practical perspective. Independent and so-called “third party” candidates who run today are at best unnoticed, and at worst considered spoilers for one major-league team by the other. Therefore, I do not necessarily criticize those who choose to work within the establishment in order to advance goals for the public good. I simply admonish all to avoid getting sucked in by the power trip, so that when the conscience sounds an alarm about any conflict evident between one’s personal outlook and that of the party, the appropriate action may be taken.
Mike Williams’ defection was far from sudden. His position can be described as “waveringly moderate” over the past couple of years. What made him quit the GOP exactly right now is not important. His motives, though we may suspect them, are still his alone to judge. The real message here is that the entrenchment that the two major parties currently enjoy needn’t be considered the default setting. A coalition-based legislature is possible, even preferable. Would that more independent-minded politicians openly declare their un-partisanship, or work with like minds to help our political ecosystem evolve a bit.
Finally, how will this event shape the 2008 election? Though retribution by Williams’ former party members has been forecast, threatened, and even planned, it will be a sad process to watch. If the constituents of Senate District 4 decide on their own to make a change to their representation, fine; but it will disappoint me to see them led down the walk by a bloated, strutting political entity (really, one half of a two-headed monster) that is more interested in advancing its goals than it is serving the people.
[Cross-posted from the Pulse.]