A political nightmare is brought about by a politician trying to sleep between the proverbial rock of one key constituency and the hard place of another key constituency. I got to observe such a political nightmare during my final term as a Senator. And what happened this week regarding Common Core may be brewing another.
My experience was in my last year in the Senate and the issue was going to carry over into the next year, so I had the luxury of being a bit of an “observer.” And the situation brought a humorous smile to the face of many political junkies.
On one side of the issue was the National Rife Association, representing gun owners; and on the other was the Tennessee Wildlife Federation, representing people who hunt with guns. It’s hard not to smile when you think about a Republican who is trying to figure how to make two core constituencies, who are opposed to each other, happy in the next election.
And speaking of “core,” I see the same kind of nightmare brewing when it comes to Tennessee’s adoption of the Common Core educational standards. These standards represent what our public schools students are supposed to learn before graduating high school.
The nightmare began to intensify this week when the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce said one of its priority agenda items was support for the Common Core educational standards. Of course, this comes right on the heels of the state being named “State of the Year” by economic development magazine Business Facilities.
In case you didn’t know, the business community lists educational improvement (and excellence) as a key ingredient in attracting businesses. And their financial contributions are a key ingredient in funding political campaigns of Republicans and their political party.
On the other hand, in my 20 years at the state Capitol, apart from the income tax or abortion issues, I don’t think I have ever seen such a swell of conservative, grassroots opposition to something in our state as I have seen with Common Core. In case you didn’t know, grassroots conservatives are the people on the ground that do the legwork and provide the bulk of the actual votes that allow Republican political candidates to win and their party to control the legislature.
And therein lays the nightmare: the conflict between money and votes. Both appear to be irreplaceable ingredients in political success, according to human reasoning.
No doubt every campaign needs some money and no candidate wins without votes, but the “rub” is found in that last little phrase – “according to human reasoning.” Human reasoning leaves out one important possibility for the politician and office holder – there is a God in Heaven, who establishes and pulls down kingdoms and rulers in the present as he has in the past.
I understand that’s an old-fashioned and outdated view, but for those who take seriously what is in the Bible and the sovereignty of God, it is not an irrational one. I readily admit that such a view doesn’t make deciding how to vote easier. However, for those politicians who hold to it, it can ease the constituent-conflict nightmare.
As a Senator, often I felt inner turmoil over what was the “correct” side of an issue. After all, my vote was going to affect six million people, maybe for multiple generations. If that doesn’t cause a politician to sit up straight and pay attention, then he needs to get out of politics. But that tension was usually the result of grappling with how to apply to the situation the principles in which I believed.
I know some would say, “that political philosophy leaves the citizen’s opinion out of the equation” or “that’s undemocratic.” Actually it is the most democratic position. And it gives the greatest dignity to the citizen’s opinion.
The reason is simple: it makes every citizen’s opinion count, not just the opinion of those groups with the largest number of voters. It makes every opinion count because politicians who hold to that philosophy may never know who God might use as the messenger of the truth they need to hear.
So what’s my advice to my Republican friends? Don’t count noses. Don’t count dollars. Don’t listen to which group of voices is loudest. Listen for the still small voice. It could come through anyone, and it may just be the one you need to hear.
— David Fowler, a former state senator, oversees the Family Action Coalition of Tennessee.