VOL. 133 | NO. 20 | Friday, January 26, 2018
IT JUST TAKES TWO. “Dan,” Sen. Howard Baker chuckled, “see that person at the end of the dais? She’s run my office for years, been with me everywhere, heard and seen everything. That’s the first time I’ve seen her blush.”
He had just been introduced to a gathering of The Phoenix Club, a young men’s service organization, and in my capacity as sergeant of arms I had just told a joke … a pretty raunchy joke … pretty much the only job of the sergeant of arms.
OK, not the greatest reason to be known by Howard Baker but I’ll take it because Howard Baker mattered in this state, in this country, in history and as an example of how to matter.
“Excellent,” Lewie Donelson said, “Keep it up.” He was well into his nineties at the time, on a walker and being helped into the Baker Donelson elevator by an attendant as I had just stepped out of it. I didn’t know if he remembered me, but before I could introduce myself, he said he’d read my column that morning, and then he said that.
Nobody heard it but me and the attendant, but I often hear it in my head as I write a column and hope to be worthy because what Lewie Donelson thought mattered in this city and state, and to everyone who knew him and to all those who didn’t but would benefit from the depth and breadth of what he thought.
They were two Tennessee Republican giants.
Howard Baker famously asked, “What did the president know, and when did he know it?”
As the ranking Republican in the Senate Watergate investigation, he put country before party and pursued answers to those questions all the way to the resignation of a president.
Imagine that from any Republican in today’s United States Senate.
Lewie Donelson championed civil rights, and successfully sued Tennessee to force increased and equitable funding of the state’s public schools. He tirelessly defended the right thing not simply the view from the right.
Imagine that from any Republican in today’s Tennessee General Assembly.
I submit that the Trump “miracle” was the unification of Senate Democrats his election caused. Getting Democrats to vote as one is more difficult than taking meeting minutes in the Tower of Babel. Yet 49 Senate Democrats are in lockstep against this president’s march to madness, dependent on finding two – just two – Republicans to stop it with a vote for country and not party.
It could be two Tennessee Republicans if Lamar Alexander remembers who he used to be instead of letting Betsy DeVos mock the job he once had, and if Bob Corker remembers what he said he would do instead of voting to balloon the deficit.
It could be any two Republican senators who vote their conscience and make us start talking to each other again about getting somewhere together.
Howard Baker and Lewie Donelson used to do it all the time.
I’m a Memphian, and we need just two Republican giants.
Dan Conaway, a communication strategist and author of “I’m a Memphian,” can be reached at email@example.com.