All eyes are on Lamar: Emulate Howard Baker and do the right thing

Bill Freeman

By Bill Freeman

In true federal government tradition, the case against President Trump is progressing slowly but ceaselessly. In a situation remarkably similar to both the Watergate scandal and our own homegrown Blanton scandal, the case against President Trump involves concerns of corruption, cover-ups and coercion.  In the Congressional inquiry into President Nixon’s actions involving the Watergate scandal, it was Tennessee’s own Howard Baker who played a crucial role, when he sided with law and reason against partisanship and expediency.  Our best hope for seeing history repeat itself lies with Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), whose own political ideals have been formed by the example set by Baker himself.  The efforts to seek justice in this case have been met with GOP-led protests and machinations from the outset, but there is still an opportunity for Sen. Alexander to allow logic and reason rule the day. I know that all Tennesseans are hoping that, at the end of this contracted process, we aren’t left to conclude that “Lamar is no Howard Baker.”

In the initial days of the Senate impeachment trial, we have seen House managers present their openings and begin to establish ground rules for the trial and lay the framework for their case.  In my estimation, the most powerful representative to date has been U.S. Rep. Val Demings (FL-10).  Her words have been both frank and clear.  Her opening statements, which echoed the articles of impeachment, spoke on the President’s “corrupt motives” and “that his use of power for personal gain harmed the national security of the United States.”  

Demings, whose personal background and commitment to the ideals of the American dream are beyond reproach, was the first female police chief of Orlando and served in law enforcement for nearly 30 years.  Her words, both in the trial itself and on social media platforms, have been profound.  I am a descendant of slaves,” she commented, “who knew that they would not make it, but dreamed and prayed that one day I would make it. So despite America’s complicated history, my faith is in the Constitution. I’ve enforced the laws, and no I write the laws. Nobody is above the law.” 

Nobody is above the law.  In addition to allegations of cover-ups and withholding evidence, Trump has also been compellingly accused of working to manipulate members of Congress by anything that might be an effective tool.  Using Camp David as the metaphorical carrot on a stick, as the Washington Post investigated and reported upon, is just one example of Trump’s efforts to sway, manipulate and coerce members of Congress and his own political party.  

It is not surprising that our conservative-led state delegation, by and large, has fallen in lockstep with Trump’s overall message and, particularly, his vitriolic attack against those investigating the allegations and providing testimony. The one glimmer of hope that our conservative delegation may still hold objectivity is Alexander, whose statements to date have been brief and straight-forward.  

Our senior senator has expressed the importance of remaining objective, remaining silent and remaining aware of the gravity of the case before him.  Those have been his primary points to support his silence, which stands in direct contrast to the other Republican Tennesseans in Congress. 

It is not without irony that the abrupt beginning of Alexander’s career in state government was to forestall a corrupt governor from accepting additional bribes for pardons.  As many stories have noted recently, Alexander’s rushed swearing-in ceremony was done intentionally to hurriedly remove Governor Ray Blanton from office.  One particularly powerful example was a recent op/ed by Laura Brown, who encouraged Alexander to do the right thing.  “Tennessee U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander began his political career after doing the right thing to end a corruption scandal,” she wrote. “The decision he makes in 2020 will bookend his legacy.”  

Much has been made of the crucial role that may fall to Alexander, and many are calling on him to respond in a fashion of which Baker would be proud—to allow objectivity and reason to rise above the noise of political posturing.  

A second powerful call to action directed squarely at Alexander  urged him to remember the lessons learned in childhood.  “We were taught early on the basic values of honesty, civility and shame,” Alexander’s college fraternity brother and current Oregon State professor emeritus of political science Richard Clinton wrote.  “Where is your courage and decency?”  

Powerful words indeed.  As we watch the Senate impeachment trial continue to unfold to protests and posturing, I hope we all summon the courage and decency to find the truth and objectivity.  We should all expect Tennessee’s members of Congress to do the same.  “All eyes are on Lamar,” as the outspoken news outlet Tennessee Holler has said.  They are indeed.  

Bill Freeman is the former finance chair of the TN Democratic Party. He has also served as the largest financial supporter in the state for Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden, as well as for President Barack Obama.