Real Differences 

Real Differences

We suspect that we, like a lot of other people, will spend the rest of the dog days of summer backing off a little from the intensity of campaign politics. But now that the parties have named their nominees for major state offices, we anticipate having one satisfaction to come: While the general-election campaign may not be any less negative than the primaries, it is much more likely to be informative about some key issues.

All too often, the primary races -- particularly those on the Republican side, where lower-taxes/less-government shibboleths have hardened into a litany -- avoided discussion of issues (on which there were minimal differences of opinion anyhow) and degenerated into name-calling matches. In the U.S. Senate race, Democrat Bob Clement and Republican Lamar Alexander have already signaled that they hold divergent views on matters ranging from prescription drugs to security policies to penalties for corporate fraud. A debate on issues of that sort could be edifying as well as enlightening, and when the inevitable trash-talk occurs ... well, we just hope it's more entertaining than the primaries were in that regard.

Up until now, we haven't been as optimistic about the governor's race, where the repeat-after-me syndrome has governed the utterances of Democrat Phil Bredesen and Republican Van Hilleary, both income-tax critics. But their post-election remarks indicate there may be much to learn from the contemplated series of debates between the two. Both have indicated that TennCare is in need of urgent reform, and it is to be hoped that a frank dialogue on the subject will tell us whether the candidates have positive ideas about regenerating the promising but troubled state health-care system or merely propose, Vietnam-War-style, to destroy it in order to "save" it.

A serendipity of sorts occurred this week when each gubernatorial candidate proposed a "sales-tax holiday" but then began to disagree about what to do in the future on the tax front. Hilleary proposed that, once some sort of economic equilibrium is reached, the newly hiked state sales-tax rate should be lowered. Bredesen dismissed that proposal out of hand as "irresponsible." We're not so sure. Frankly, we think the current nearly 10 percent sales tax is regressive and dangerous to the Tennessee tourist industry in particular and to all state businesses in general. And while we'd rather have seen tax reform happen in the last General Assembly, we're realistic enough to know that it will be moribund for years to come. If we can cut the sales tax without gutting the vital state programs that it helps to fund, that would be progress of a sort.

In national politics, too, debate is in the air. A serious argument has broken out between Al Gore and Joe Lieberman, the Bland Brothers of the 2000 Democratic ticket, over the issue of whether the Democrats should embrace the people-vs.-the-powerful approach now being vigorously advocated by Gore or the centrist Democratic Leadership Council line hewed to by Lieberman et al. This is an argument long overdue for a party that's been far too timid about distinguishing itself from the Republican opposition.

And so, just in time for the bang and crunch of football season, real choice is in the air.

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