U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander, a Republican up for reelection, got some bigtime help from Democratic friends Friday night. Memphis mayor Willie Herenton hosted a reception for Alexander at the Majestic Grille in downtown Memphis in tandem with MPact Memphis, 100 Black Men, and the Black Business Association of Memphis. And Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton, who along with Herenton has endorsed Alexander, was also an attendee.
The affair was described by Alexander's staff as "political" but not a campaign event. The senator faces opposition in November from Democratic nominee Bob Tuke of Nashville.
Both in a brief interview and in his prepared remarks, Alexander, the GOP's caucus chairman in the Senate, defended the amended $700 billion bailout bill just passed by both houses of Congress and signed on Friday by President Bush.
Acknowledging that the bailout plan was unpopular with the American public, Alexander compared the situation confronting members of Congress to one in which "a big ole wreck out on the highway" had occurred, blocking other drivers whose first instinct was to get angry and blame the careless drivers who'd caused the accident.
Among the blocked vehicles might be one car "carrying money for your auto loan," others carrying the funds for "your mortgage loan or somebody's farm credit loan," and yet another "carrying the money for your payroll check." Under those circumstances, the senator argued, the only feasible thing to do was to clear the highway of the obstructing vehicles, "getting 'em off the highway," so that ordinary commerce could resume.
That, in essence, was what had been done with the bailout package. "Next week we can have our philosophical discussion about what we can do so as not to have another wreck. But this was Step One in making this economic downtown shorter and easier to get out of."
In his introduction of Alexander, Herenton had praised the senator for his work on behalf of a " rescue package vital to this community getting back on its feet. Boasting a friendship with Alexander that went back two decades ("three and a half decades," Alexander would offer by way of correction), the Memphis mayor said, "His service deserves the support of all great American thinkers and all great Tennesseans."
Alexander told reporters the bailout package had been improved during the past week with add-ons, the so-called "extenders," that included several provisions useful to Tennesseans - including a continuation of the state and local income-tax deduction for Tennessee residents and a solar tax credit that would benefit Sharpe Manufacturing.
Asked to appraise the previous evening's debate performance by Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin, Alexander said that Palin had performed well in the debate , especially when compared to Democratic opponent Joe Biden, whose Washington insider lingo might strike most Americans as "a foreign language."
The senator added, "That was the second time - the first was the convention - when she had to get up in front of 70 million Americans and perform. Not many people could do that."