As the August 1st election approaches -- offering for Shelby Countians both a general election for countywide offices and a chance to vote in the Democratic and Republican primaries for state and congressional offices -- it may be hard to find true distinctions between the candidates in some races.
This is especially the case in two Republican primary races -- one for the right to succeed U.S. Rep. Ed Bryant, the outgoing 7th District congressman who is now a U.S. Senate candidate, and the other between Bryant and former Governor Lamar Alexander for the Senate seat being vacated by GOP incumbent Fred Thompson.
The problem is that the public positions being taken by the contenders for these offices do not differ in any major way from candidate to candidate. All these hopefuls follow the general Republican line of "less taxes, less government, less regulation, support President Bush, etc." All that may be well and good for the party faithful who already possess some more personal reason for choosing this or that candidate, but it leaves in confusion the general voter -- especially an ideologically uncommitted one who knows realistically that to choose a congressman for the heavily Republican 7th District means to select from a multicandidate field that, unfortunately and unhelpfully, insists on parroting each other.
Choosing becomes particularly onerous when the candidates persist not only in saying the same things about the same subjects but in applying identical misleading jargon in doing so. The newest and most egregious instance of this is the use of the term "death tax" to describe what is in fact a levy upon inheritances and what has, until now, served as a useful incentive for the holders of large estates (whom it mainly impacts) to make generous, tax-sheltered contributions to major private foundations.
The Flyer does not endorse candidates for election. But we see no harm in pointing out the rare differences when and where they occur. In the case of the field of Republicans seeking the 7th District nomination, we can report some shockers: Memphis lawyer David Kustoff had the audacity to declare on a Nashville radio program this week that it was part of a congressman's duties to help government do things for his or her district -- even, Kustoff added, at the risk of having others label those dividends "pork." Whew! That's heresy these days in Republican ranks, in which ritual, near-anarchist denunciations of government and all its works are called for.
Another example was an endorsement by state Senator Marsha Blackburn, at a recent Memphis forum, of the concept of a Department of Homeland Security. Surprising as this was coming from such a peerless foe of "new bureaucracies," it helped enliven what might have been a stale discussion otherwise.
But the most dismaying instances of Pete-and-Repeat rhetoric in Election Year 2002 have been those of the Bryant-Alexander race, in which not even the most gifted quantum physicist could detect the minute variations in the current policy pronouncements of the two, and, worst of all, the graceless and predictable denunciations of a state income tax that issued simultaneously and nearly identically from the lips of gubernatorial candidates Phil Bredesen and Van Hilleary, as long as that issue was still alive in the General Assembly.
Voters deserve what they used to get at election time and don't much anymore -- considered conclusions, not canned catechisms.