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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 Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.

Editorial on 05/17/2018

Print Headline: Incremental progress

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  • RBear
    May 17, 2018 at 6:43 a.m.

    Exactly, John. Tucker understands the need for healthcare in a growing economy, something that escapes Republicans who it turns out have very little business savvy. For there to be productive workers in an economy that continues to struggle to find employable workers, they need to have some type of healthcare while they work towards becoming even more employable. That one simple fact never enters the Republican conversation.
    Instead, it gets simplified by some right wing rhetoric that doesn't really make any sense when you unpack it. "They can go to the emergency room." One of the most expensive healthcare options around that has to be paid for by taxpayers in the end. "They have to work in order to get healthcare." Partially true, but not to the point where they can't take care of kids or get an education to become more employable.
    Tucker has some good ideas for growing the state's economy, which is actually stagnant under the current Republican administration. Growth in the state is anchored by a few key businesses, but it's not diversified. Even now, it's being threatened by our president who could cut off agricultural exports through tariffs.
    Tucker sees the practicality of the ACA and looks at helping make improvements to provide coverage for as many as possible. The others are just whistling tunes that aren't achievable now. Hill ignores the issue entirely and just follows his party's message. In other words, Hill doesn't have a plan or understand enough to support one.

  • mozarky2
    May 17, 2018 at 7:54 a.m.

    What a lot of wasted ink over nothing. Regardless which of these clowns wins the dim nomination, they can't possibly beat French Hill. In 2016, he beat the dim 58.3% to 36.8%.
    And with the nation in far better economic shape than it was two years ago, the dim won't stand a chance.
    And why the controversy over which of them gets the nomination? Once in DC, they're nothing but a rubber stamp for Nanzi Pelosi, anyway.

  • RBear
    May 17, 2018 at 8:23 a.m.

    moz actually they are not a rubber stamp. Most Democrats have pushed Pelosi to the side. Only BSC right wingers believe that line of bull and try to push it. Then again, they have Hill who toes the line with Republican leadership as is proven with his votes. Tucker worked across the aisle in the state senate which flies in the face of your claims.

  • mozarky2
    May 17, 2018 at 8:49 a.m.

    Nanzi Pelosi is still House Minority Leader, RB, but only a BSC "prog" like yourself would believe she's been pushed to the side.

  • hah406
    May 17, 2018 at 8:50 a.m.

    Moz, you are so wrong. This is going to be a highly competitive race. Hill has pissed off plenty of people by towing the Trump / Ryan line instead of standing up for the best interests of the citizens of the AR-2. I've voted for him twice, even as a liberal democrat, because he was the best in the race. Not this year. His attempt to torpedo the ACA and support of giant corporate welfare were a bridge too far for me and many others. He might still win, but he better get used to being in the minority party.

  • LRCrookAttorney
    May 17, 2018 at 9:07 a.m.

    Toeing the Line? If we look back over the 20 years and the votes in the house and senate, only the Democrats "toe the line!" There is always a Republican, more than likely several, that vote against party line. However, there is never a Democrat that crosses the line and votes against the group. You look at the Bill Clinton impeachment, the votes for approval of Trumps candidates or any other important issue, the Democrats will vote lock, stock and barrel with each other. That is part of the reason Republicans never accomplish anything and end up losing the majority. Big example...when all of these republicans ran for office, their mantra was "repeal Obama Care," and somehow the mantra changed, after they were elected, to repeal "and replace" Obama Care.

  • hah406
    May 17, 2018 at 9:20 a.m.

    Leave it to a republican to continue to dredge up Bill Clinton from 25 years ago. Nevertheless, Hill has NEVER voted against Ryan or Trump.

  • LRCrookAttorney
    May 17, 2018 at 9:46 a.m.

    Not a republican, not a democrat, not a libertarian, not green party, not affiliated with any party. I was one of those nuts that voted for Ross and got Billy elected. I just want this "go to DC and get rich" attitude to stop and people go to DC to do their job, then go home and work like the rest of us. I know this is a pipe dream and will never happen, but cannot ever give up hope.

  • RBear
    May 17, 2018 at 9:50 a.m.

    moz only the right wing lives by this mantra of "party line" politics. Democrats are a little more independent thinking. I know that's a novel concept for you who almost follows Trump's idiotic line to a tee. Maybe you follow a totalitarian model but we don't.
    LRAttorney that's bull and I'll pull up Roll Call to prove you wrong. The only time Democrats voted along party lines is when Republicans pulled some BSC moves like trying to repeal the ACA when Obama was in office. You can look at Obama appointees and find many party line votes from Republicans, so you're only painting one side of the story. Finding you're about as idiotic as Trump.

  • GeneralMac
    May 17, 2018 at 10:04 a.m.

    " finding you're about as idiotic as Trump "

    RBear........have you EVER responded to someone you disagree with and ended your reply w/o an insult at the end?

    What was your father like?
    I ask because EVERYTIME I encountered a real jerk in my lifetime, someone would eventually say............" You think he is bad ? You should have seen his father"

    apples rarely fall far from the tree