Last week in this space I touted an article likely coming on the weekend in the New York Times focusing on our 2nd District Democratic congressional race.
I offered mildly informed speculation that the article would feature our race as an example of nationwide tension in the Democratic Party between attempted national party dictates and local grass-roots passion.
By that scenario, state Rep. Clarke Tucker of Little Rock was the nationally preferred candidate and Paul Spencer, the Catholic High teacher, the candidate of local grass-roots passion.
I can now report being half-right.
There indeed was a Times article over the weekend showcasing our race.
But it was pretty much a puff piece for Tucker. It was approximately as flattering as some of these columns I've written extolling his considerable credentials and abilities--albeit, in my case, with a little sideways attempt to stir the pot by pitting the national Democratic support for Tucker against local liberal resentment.
Part of that stems from my belief that the national Democratic Party has been inept generally and worthless specifically where Arkansas is concerned. I may be the only person ever to have addressed a state Democratic Party meeting and encouraged members to divert any emails from the national party directly to spam.
The hook of the Times article, though, was that, at long last, the national Democratic Party was getting smart by putting a thumb on the scales in Republican-leaning district primaries for more practical moderates like Tucker against the passionate liberals.
The piece mentioned that Tucker rarely mentions Donald Trump. That's smart. The 2nd District is blue in Pulaski County but overwhelmingly red in Saline, Faulkner and White counties. And a recent poll said 86 percent of Republicans in Arkansas like the job Trump is doing.
It's better for a Democrat not to run against the cultural decline of our nation under this disgraceful caricature of a president. It's better to run as, say, a cancer survivor committed to health care for everyone, as Tucker runs.
The favorable national publicity strikes me as another boxcar on the speeding train that is Tucker's campaign for the nomination. I think he has a legitimate chance to win without a runoff.
One reason is that he is the best political talent of an emerging Arkansas Democratic generation--the standout fish in a still-small pond, I'll acknowledge.
But he acquitted himself adeptly in that Times piece, saying, "There's, in my view, an overly simplistic characterization of Democrats now into one of two camps: either centrist and unenthusiastic or liberal and passionate. I have a lot of passion about the issues that I really care about. At the same time, I realize that making any progress is better than making no progress at all."
Well, excuse me.
Now, be advised: Something will become clear--because the Republicans will make it so--if the general election matchup pits Tucker against incumbent French Hill.
It's that Tucker isn't all that centrist. It's that he blows up the old and now outlived Arkansas model of Democrats made electable by incremental Republicanism--as offered by Mike Ross, Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor, all struggling to get to 40 percent in their swan-song races amid the Republican tide.
Tucker is an incremental progressive Democrat, not an incremental conservative Republican.
He also is part establishment and part outsider, combining the saga of pragmatic civic responsibility and leadership on the Tucker side with the saga of liberal public health pioneering led by his late grandfather on his mother's side.
I'm remembering that grandfather, Roger Bost, a pediatrician who headed the state human services agency for Dale Bumpers, barking at Lincoln during her last and failed re-election campaign to quit dancing around the health-care reform issue and just admit that Medicare for all was the real and only solution.
Here's what you get in grandson Clarke: He's the only candidate in the four-person Democratic field not to embrace single-payer health insurance or Medicare for all. Instead, he proposes that Medicare or a Medicare-like policy be offered as public option to private plans for non-seniors seeking coverage on the Affordable Care Act's exchanges.
He looks moderate now. But he'll look like a young Bernie Sanders by the time Hill's agents get through with him on that in the fall.
Republicans are going to say--and they may be right--that setting up a Medicare public option essentially commits us inevitably to Medicare for all.
They'll say that like it's bad. But it's good.
As my conservative health insurance agent told me a few years ago, getting me affordably through my few years remaining before Medicare was the daunting challenge--because, when I turned 65, I'd go into what he called the best health insurance in the world.
Why not the best for everyone?
Alas, I'm getting ahead of myself. I won't be 65 until December, and Tucker won't be the Democratic nominee for a few more days or weeks.
John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at email@example.com. Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.
Editorial on 05/17/2018
Print Headline: Incremental progress