Incumbent Republican congressmen Chuck Fleischmann, who represents Tennessee's 3rd District, and Scott DesJarlais, who represents its 4th, swept to re-election Tuesday by substantial margins. The pair no doubt view their triumphs as validations of their first terms in office and of their hewing to policies espoused by the GOP's far-right wing. That perspective is flawed. Adherence to that line of thinking puts them and the their constituents at a distinct disadvantage in a Washington changed significantly by Barack Obama's victory.
Fleischmann, who won about 61 percent of the vote in his race with Democrat Dr. Mary Headrick, and DesJarlais, who claimed about 56 percent of the vote against Democrat Eric Stewart, blindly pledge to hold the line on taxes and to cut spending no matter what. That message was popular in their home districts, but a majority of those who voted across the nation Tuesday clearly prefer an alternative to the scorched-earth policies supported by Fleischmann, DesJarlais and their hard-right House colleagues.
Americans, in fact, signaled by their votes for President Obama and a fortified Democratic Senate that they want government to operate in a less partisan and more equitable manner. Voters, in the main, are fed up with the type of obstructionism practiced by Fleischmann, DesJarlais and House speaker John Boehner, their political lodestar who already is signaling his determination to buck a popularly elected president at every turn.
Though the House remains in GOP hands, voters nevertheless sent a message to its occupants on Tuesday. The question, of course, is whether or not arch-conservatives like Fleischmann and DesJarlais will heed it. Given their campaign rhetoric, that seems unlikely.
Members of the U.S. House have to serve constituents if they want to retain office, but they also have a larger duty to the nation, a task that sometimes requires a representative to put the overall good of the nation first. That takes courage and vision of the type that neither Fleischmann nor DesJarlais have displayed.
Both Fleischmann and DesJarlais were marginalized by a lack of boldness and willingness to break from party discipline in their first terms. As a result, neither gets much traction when it comes to meeting district needs. Fleischmann's failure to win support for the vital Chickamauga Dam lock, for instance, is tied directly to his refusal to work cooperatively with less doctrinaire legislators in both parties who could assist him in the quest for funding.
The 3rd and 4th district congressmen may smugly assume that their victories in heavily Republican districts in a solidly GOP South assure their continued presence in Congress. That may be so, but their constituents deserve representatives who put the need for jobs, an improved economy, better health care and useful approaches to domestic and international issues ahead of partisan politics. If Fleischmann and DesJarlais can't deliver, their time in Washington could and should be far shorter than they think.