Attentive readers will have noticed that the current issue of the Flyer is devoted to variations on that annual chestnut, the New Year's resolution. Our staffers have searched their souls (and reserves of will power) to provide examples
of this eternal urge to be made new and better than ever (and to expunge undesirable habits) purely through determined actions of one's own.
If we take a few liberties with the notion, we can also find instances of such a resolve in affairs of state, where it is sorely needed. Lamar Alexander, the recently reelected senior U.S. senator from Tennessee, has become the new chairman of the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee. Alexander, as an old governmental hand (now in his third six-year Senate term, (with a lengthy spell as Governor of Tennessee and a shorter one as U.S. Secretary of Education behind him) seems bent, not on creating new habits, but on recreating old ones of across-the-political-aisle collaboration with members of the other major party.
As governor, especially, Alexander was able to pioneer significant reforms in public education, but only with the advice and consent (and votes) of supportive Democrats, who then constituted a majority in the Tennessee legislature. Not only is Alexander capable of doing good in his own right, he is potentially a resource for President Obama to learn from. The Democratic president has had precious little luck so far in getting congressional Republicans to even consider working with him. Alexander can perhaps give both the president and his stiffer-necked GOP colleagues pointers for getting along with each other. (Yes, we know this has a Pollyanna sound to it, but so do all New Year's resolutions.)
Tennessee's other Republican senator, Bob Corker, who has ascended to the chairmanship of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is also well placed to effect some useful collaboration, and he has been known to proclaim (and practice) the utility of constructive bipartisanship in the past. So far, though, he hasn't tipped his hand on meeting Democrats halfway on any of the several foreign policy issues now pending.
Closer to home, we have the case of Governor Bill Haslam, another Republican who in crucial ways of late has attempted to cross the political divide. The governor's decision to participate in Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act (even if disguised within a plan called Insure Tennessee) is long overdue but welcome all the same. We suspect he'll have more trouble convincing his fellow Republicans to go along than he will with the legislature's dwindling number of Democrats, who will have their own opportunity to demonstrate government rather than partisanship.
In any case, both in Nashville and in Washington, the two power capitals that influence our destinies the most, we see evidence, however modest and tentative, of a genuine desire to change. Wishful thinking or not, that would certainly make for a Happ(ier) New Year! So let us hope.