Ralph Waldo Emerson famously wrote that "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen ..." That's been widely interpreted to mean that people need to stop foolishly following everyone else, and become self-reliant. Voters in Tennessee 3rd Congressional district will have to decide if Chuck Fleischmann, the incumbent Republican seeking re-election against Democratic nominee Dr. Mary Headrick, is one of those "statesmen." Fleischmann is nothing if not consistent, and he is definitely a follower not a leader.
He's consistent on every political issue. His response to any question is that it is "a spending problem." He consistently supports his party's agenda even when that the policy — as is the case with the need for a new lock at the Chickamauga Dam — is not beneficial to constituents. He's consistent, too, in his refusal to engage in public debate.
He was two years ago in his initial run for office. And he is this year. He refuses to engage Headrick in public, limiting debate to a sparsely attended Bradley County event. That, his spokesman asserts, fulfills a promise for a single debate during the campaign.
That might be true, but it purposefully overlooks a candidate's moral obligation to let voters take the measure of his or her candidacy, policies and promises based on extensive contact with the public.
Fleischmann consistently fails to meet that test — to the detriment of those he purports to represent. Debates with a knowledgeable and articulate Headrick would serve voters far better than Fleischmann's duck-and-run policy. But voters, it seems, don't figure into Fleischmann's political calculations.
The incumbent's strategy is clear: Why should he debate and risk exposing flaws in his resume and reputation or expand his opponent's audience when it is politically safer for him to cower behind vague references to a "full schedule" and simply coast to victory in a heavily GOP district?
District voters should challenge that assumption and demand that Fleischmann share the stage with his opponent in the days before the election. If he refuses — and he will given his consistency — they should punish his candidacy at the polls. Headrick, who has made her willingness to debate known, deserves more than the condescension Fleischmann sends her way.
Public debates would allow Headrick to expose the shallowness of Fleischmann's positions and record. They would allow her to contrast her thoughtful approach to education, health care, rural and urban poverty, tax equity, small businesses and the nation's fiscal woes with Fleischmann's stale but consistently empty rhetoric on the same issues. The comparison would be telling.
Headrick offers voters a thoughtful vision of what Tennessee and America can and should be for all citizens. Fleischmann offers the foolish consistency of failed policies that serve the few. Headrick is the better choice for District 3.