Learning Curve 

Learning Curve

We have discovered something: If politicians -- even the most practiced evaders among them -- are allowed to go on long enough, they may actually end up speaking about issues of real substance.

A fairly recent instance of this occurred on July 31st, the last day of the summer's statewide political primaries, when 7th District congressional candidate Mark Norris finally stopped parroting the less-taxes/less-government/more-freedom jabberwocky that he and his five Republican opponents had engaged in ad infinitum and told a luncheon audience that Social Security might be imperiled if the candidate then leading the GOP primary -- state Senator Marsha Blackburn -- got elected.

Blackburn, who won that race and is favored against Democrat Tim Barron in next month's general election, was being supported, as Norris pointed out, by the Washington-based Club for Growth, a lobby which had as one of its aims the total privatization of the Social Security system. That the Club for Growth supported and channeled funds to Blackburn is unquestioned. One of the organization's flacks called the Flyer to boast of the fact and to solicit newspaper interviews. Whether Blackburn would go as far toward ending Social Security as her benefactors would is something that Barron needs to press her on, especially since Norris' last-minute lapse into substance, which did him no good in the primary, came too late for the issue to be properly vented.

Followers of the current statewide campaigns for governor and the Senate may be more fortunate, in that another overlooked issue, that of the federal minimum wage, has suddenly, after months of repeat-after-me generalizations, popped up in both races.

In the governor's race, Democrat Phil Bredesen, who has spent far too much time trying to match Republican Van Hilleary's opposition to a state income tax point by point, has charged his opponent with voting to allow Tennessee to opt out of the minimum wage -- currently at the princely level of $5.15. Hilleary, whose record on the minimum wage seems to point in several directions at once, has attempted to counter the impression, maintaining that he has voted on some occasions to increase the federal minimum wage. He has also, on one occasion, done exactly what Bredesen suggested. If the dialogue has forced Hilleary to clarify his position, then the campaign has thereby been elevated.

The issue is alive also in the Senate race, in which Democrat Bob Clement has wholeheartedly endorsed a proposed increase, while Republican Lamar Alexander has not only opposed the raise in question but been moved to cast doubt on the whole concept of providing a minimum wage as a floor for the unskilled worker to stand on.

While governor of Tennessee, Alexander -- though a fiscal conservative -- was known as a moderate in his attitude toward long-accepted government safeguards for citizens. We can only hope that, as with Hilleary, the sudden publicity given the minimum-wage issue and candidates' attitudes concerning it will be helpful reminders that, even in the heat of battle, extreme postures should be avoided. We trust the former governor will be able to rediscover his former moderation.

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