Sunday column: Bob Corker, Raging Moderate (by TN standards)

In his quasi-campaign last year against insignificant opposition, U.S. Sen. Bob Corker declared himself independent-minded, willing to work with Democrats and “more optimistic than I’ve ever been” about Washington folks achieving a sensible, post-election solution to the nation’s fiscal problems.

At this point, it seems the senator may be guilty of over-optimism, but certainly not for any lack of personal political independence from the Washington Republican mindset and a willingness to work on changing the Washington Democratic mindset.

He has become, unquestionably, the most raging moderate of Tennessee’s congressional Republicans and, arguably, could outdo all GOP officeholders in the state in that department. Just consider a few examples in the past couple of weeks or so.

When President Barack Obama visited Chattanooga, fellow moderate Gov. Bill Haslam diplomatically scheduled events elsewhere and proclaimed that a conflict prevented his attendance. Fellow moderate Sen. Lamar Alexander — who seems far more fearful of a challenger from the party’s right wing to his 2014 re-election than Corker was in 2012 — joined the state’s U.S. House Republicans in avoiding any inkling of an indication of civility toward the epitome of liberal evil, boycotting the event and hurling insults from the sidelines through PR people. They didn’t bother with excuses.

Heck, the state GOP even showed it has money to burn by paying for TV ads in the Chattanooga area bashing Obama and his “liberal policies.” Obama-bashing is very fashionable among politically correct conservative (PCC) officeholders, as the president more or less acknowledged in a minor departure from his scripted text in Chattanooga: “I know that the politics for Obama aren’t always great in Tennessee.”

But what did Corker do? Why, he publicly declared that he really had wanted to be there with the president, telling the city’s daily newspaper that he toyed with the idea up to the last minute and having his PR people issue a statement that said he “hated” missing the event. Hands down the most moderate and civil performance among our red state Republicans.

And then, in the same week, he appeared on MSNBC — not exactly the favorite Republican media place to be — and insulted the Washington GOP mindset movement of the moment, defunding Obamacare.

The premise is to vote against any of the gridlock-bypassing, stopgap spending bills that include funding for the loathsome federal health care law.

“I think it’s a silly effort, and what people are really saying who are behind that effort is, ‘We don’t have the courage to roll up our sleeves and deal with real deficit reduction and spending decisions.’ … I don’t look at that as very courageous.”

Yes, of course, Corker has denounced Obamacare and voted against it. But here, again, we find Bold Bob standing against the PCC position, instead of just ignoring it as Alexander, Haslam and the like will do, and putting himself at odds with the state’s GOP House delegation members who, fearful of a primary challenge, will eagerly co-sponsor anything that can be perceived as attacking Obamacare. Yes, folks, he is a raging moderate.

There are other examples, but perhaps the most telling instance of Bold Bob’s recent raging comes from Roll Call, the Washington political publication, in its report that Corker — in closed-door meeting of Republican senators — loudly shouted an expletive euphemism for disbelief in response to remarks made by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. It’s a word all country folk Tennesseans have heard, abbreviated BS. In polite terms, it’s the equivalent of baloney spreading. In impolite, or impolitic, terms it refers to manure from a male member of the bovine genus.

Yours truly engaged in an email exchange with a Corker PR person about the accuracy of this, and the evasive response was basically a refusal to confirm or deny — which I take as a confirmation. Understandable, perhaps. There is a limit to boldness in public versus a supposedly private session with the most powerful of the Washington mindset.

But from faraway, there sure does seem to be a lot of baloney spreading afoot in our nation’s capitol — certainly including some spread by our president in his three-hour splashdown in our fair state. And it’s darn refreshing for us cynics to see someone note that on a bipartisan basis.