In the GOP 8th District Primary, the Dirtiest Word in the Language Starts With 'D'

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Fincher with fellow non-D-words in Millington
  • JB
  • Fincher with fellow non-D-words in Millington
One of the amazing developments in ongoing cultural history is the remarkable reception general movie audiences have accorded the new Christopher Nolan/Leonardo DiCaprio sci/fi thriller Inception.

On a recent Saturday night showing at a Bartlett multiplex there was an audible gasp — half disappointment, half delighted surprise — from the packed house when, after two-and-a-half hours of ever more convoluted sequences the action abruptly and unexpectedly ended on a black screen, a la the final scene of the concluding installment of HBO’s The Sopranos.

The way in which just-folks audiences have responded to this most complex and baffling of dramas is even more remarkable given the possibility that no one, not even the film’s makers, could perfectly distinguish between what was real and what was illusion. Part of the confusion (or the charm) is the fact that dream sequences within dream sequences are laid on with a literal doggedness, while “reality” is rendered in so fantastical and cockeyed a fashion as to blend inseparably into the make-believe stuff.

I say “make-believe” rather than fantasy because that term better describes the manipulated man-made nature of all the layered visions.

Slightly amended, he above description could just as easily apply to the current three-way Republican primary in Tennessee’s 8th congressional district. That one, too, is beyond rational explanation and is eerily compelling as it heads toward an abrupt resolution that seems destined to leave the spectators dumbfounded and none the wiser.

One of the principals is a Central Casting type — Stephen Fincher, a youngish, blond farmer and gospel singer from the Crockett County community of Frog Jump. (Not making this up.) The role set aside for Fincher, who was largely recruited by state and national operatives of the Republican Party, was to “take our country back.”

Fincher entered the drama last year at a time when the 8th District — a preponderantly rural West Tennessee area that extends into a section of northern Shelby County — appeared destined to be represented in Congress again by the district’s same old same old congressman, Blue Dog Democrat John Tanner of Union City.

But then something happened. Some fever of discontent occurred in the district — reaction to the installation of a new Administration or to the fallout from the bank bailouts of the previous one or to the continuing recession or to the new president’s stimulus programs or to his health-care proposals or to the simple fact that the president’s last name, Obama, could be combined with the last name of the new Speaker of the House, Pelosi, to make a moniker, “Obama Pelosi,” with enough ethnic and gender implications to make it as threatening as, say, Bela Lugosi, or Keyser Soze.

Add to this the emergence in the district of a significant Tea Party movement (not to be mistaken for the movement of the same name in Alice in Wonderland), and suddenly, just before last Christmas, Tanner bailed out of his reelection race, and Fincher was all by himself.

But not for long. Two other Republicans, looking at what was now a bona fide open seat, decided to get in. Both were physicians — Ron Kirkland of Jackson and George Flinn of Memphis — and their R/x was the same basic one as Fincher’s: Rescue the country from the clutches of Obama Pelosi.

Here’s where the plot can be construed as either tortuously difficult or ridiculously simple. We’ll go the simple route.

In order to compete with each other, each of the three participants discovered that each of the others was either in league with Obama Pelosi or, what amounted to the same thing, a crypto-Democrat. (Compounding the drama was that state Senator Roy Herron of Dresden, the bona fide Democrat in the race, was doing his best — like so many of his party-mates — to downplay or even conceal his party affiliation. But that’s another story.)

It seemed easy enough to make the charges stick. After all, Kirkland had once upon a time donated, or been at the head of a physicians’ PAC which donated, to the campaign funds of assorted Democrats; as a member of the Shelby County Commission, Flinn, who has a Democratic son, had voted along with the body’s Democrats (and, to be sure, most of its Republicans, as well) to approve the county’s annual budgets, which, after all, authorized the spending of money; and Fincher (yes, as a plot twist, it does seem a bit corny) had actually voted, in May of this year, in a local Democratic primary!

Cutting to the chase: There has for the last several weeks been a blizzard of back-and-forth name-calling between the three Republican candidates — the charge always being the same: That other guy is a Democrat! (or: Those other guys are Democrats!).

Oh, there have been variations: Kirkland’s brother (evidently a moneybags, though not on the scale of Flinn) paid for a TV ad attacking Flinn for corrupting the youth of the 8th District through his ownership of “urban” radio stations. And somebody has dredged up some old dirt from Flinn’s two divorces and other legal proceedings and spread it around through the blogosphere.
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But basically it’s the “Democrat!” charge — coupled with the idea that the accused is an accomplice of the villainous Obama Pelosi.
The reduction ad absurdum of all this may have come during this past week when a Fincher ad appeared on TV containing proof via a sound clip that Kirkland had (horror of horrors!) professed a willingness, if elected, to “reach out across the aisle.”

Now, earlier this month I did an interview with 7th District congressman Marsha Blackburn, who — arch-Blackburn critic of the right Mickey White notwithstanding — is generally regarded as being about as arch-conservative and un-Democrat-like as you can find in the halls of Congress. And one of the things she talked about was how she and other members of the Tennessee congressional delegation, Republicans and Democrats alike, recently worked in harmony to secure federal aid for victims of flooding in Tennessee.

On Friday afternoon, Fincher happened to be having a get-out-the-vote rally for his supporters on a parking lot adjacent to Baker Community Center in Millington — presumably the requisite number of feet away from what was an official early voting site.

And I asked him, after citing his ad, if he could not work with congressional colleagues “across the aisle” in the same sense that Blackburn had on the occasion of the recent flooding. Now, keep in mind this was Millington, site of some of the worst flood damage.

Fincher appeared to undergo something of an inner struggle while considering the question, but he could not bring himself to say Yes.

“I’m going to work with the people of the Eighth District…because that’s who I represent,” he answered finally. “I think President Obama and Speaker Pelosi are taking this country in the wrong direction. Until that leadership is changed, I’m not going to work across the aisle.”

I persisted: Not even with Tennessee congressional colleagues, in case there’s another catastrophe like the recent floods? I mean, this was Millington, where the flood damage was severe, and where several federal agencies were expected to provide disaster relief, and, at the behest of both Republican and Democratic congressional representatives, are in fact doing so.

“Well again I’m going to work for the people here, taking care of folks here,” was all Fincher would say.

There was one other area where an across-the-board opposition to President Obama hit a little snag. Fincher was discoursing on what he said were regular talks he was having with military personnel in the state, with “generals,” in fact.

I asked him what his reaction was to the recent sacking of General Stanley McCrystal in Afghanistan, who was forced out by Obama, it will be recalled, after making some indiscreet observations about the administration to a Rolling Stone writer.

“Well, that deal was really complicated with statements he made…” Fincher began, pausing while he figured out how to avoid expressing solidarity with the President. He did so with an abrupt segue, “Let the generals on the ground make the calls, and stop playing politics with our guys’ lives.” There was a lot left unspoken to between the two halves of his answer.

The last poll taken in the 8th District still had Fincher up by a tad over rival Kirkland, with Flinn trailing in third, having shown some slippage, it would seem, since he made the decision two weeks back, for whatever reason, to depart from the above-the-battle mode and join the others in the game of pin-the-Democratic-tail on the donkeys.

As wicked as the slings and arrows have become, though, both Fincher and Flinn are willing to support the winner of the GOP primary, regardless of the non-stop persecution, rough and getting rougher, they’re getting from their fellow GOP candidates.

“No question about it,” said Fincher. “Yes, we’ve got to defeat Roy Herron,” said Flinn, who was in Millington Friday afternoon for a rally overseen by Shelby County Commissioner-elect Terry Roland, who’s something of a political broker up that way and has included Flinn on his favored slate.

Doubtless, Kirkland would answer similarly. Fantastical as it seems, the iniquity of being a Democrat — or worse, of having relations with Democrats, any kind of relations — has become the meme to beat all memes, the single dominating issue in the 8th District.

Has Dom Cobb, the character played by Leonardo DiCaprion in Inception, been making the rounds up thataway, planting that obsession in people’s minds while they slept?

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