Sunday column: Of Sam & Davy, Lamar & Joe, David & Goliath

When he kicked off his campaign against Lamar Alexander for the 2014 Republican U.S. Senate nomination in Tennessee, state Rep. Joe Carr used a standard analogy by comparing his effort to David and Goliath, casting himself as David, naturally.

But last week, the two candidates strayed into more novel rhetorical and analogical territory by likening themselves to Tennessee historical figures who fled the state for Texas.

Lamar explained, more or less, that he’s like Sam Houston. Joe, well, he’s a Davy sort of guy, it seems.

As reported by Michael Collins, Alexander took to the U.S. Senate floor following Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s oratorical marathon against the Affordable Care Act last week to recall that both Crockett and Houston fought for Texas’ independence from Mexico after leaving Tennessee. Crockett died at the Alamo; Houston went through a series of strategic retreats and ultimately led the Texans to victory over the forces of Santa Anna.

“He was heavily criticized by some people at that time for withdrawing,” said Alexander. “We celebrate Texas Independence Day on March 2, 1836, because Sam Houston won the war.

“The moral of the story is sometimes, in a long battle, patience is a valuable tactic,” Alexander said. “That’s why I’m in Sam Houston’s camp on this one. I’m not in the shut-down-the-government camp. I’m in the take-over-the-government camp.”

Now, doubtless Alexander was getting in a not-so-subtle dig at Texan Cruz here. And President Barack Obama surely was the Santa Anna of his script.

Tennesseans always have enjoyed pointing out to Texans that their great state probably owes its existence to Tennesseans. Alexander surely wasn’t intending to bring Carr into the conversation, naturally preferring to widely ignore the challenger at every opportunity.

But Carr, who coincidentally also last week was accused of plagiarizing material used in speeches to tea party groups, showed some originality by immediately launching a surprise news release attack from the right flank. It, too, was widely ignored, despite its reference to Tennessee’s role in Texas history.

Carr rose via press release to the defense of Cruz and Crockett, deeming Alexander’s remarks “insulting” to the latter.

“Without Davy Crockett staying and fighting at the Alamo and heroically sacrificing his life for the principles Tennesseans believe in, Texas Independence Day would never have been possible. It was the bravery of Davy Crockett and thirty-one Tennesseans at the Alamo who gave their lives that allowed the time necessary for Sam Houston to recruit the men necessary to beat Santa Anna and the Mexican army,” declared Carr.

“From the Alamo to those men and women serving in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, their memory should be honored, not be used as political theatre for self-enrichment of a career politician who doesn’t believe in self-sacrifice,” Carr said.

Both men deserve some credit here for departure from boilerplate political rhetoric, which Alexander has used in amazing abundance over the years and Carr apparently recently lifted from the Heritage Foundation. Anyone paying attention could find it refreshing to put contemporary political debate into a historical perspective.

And the analogy, it is suggested, may actually have some merit.

Davy Crockett famously declared, “To hell with you all, I’m going to Texas.” — or something along those lines, accounts vary — both during his last campaign for a Tennessee congressional seat and after losing it, in part due to opposition from Andrew Jackson (who is revered today by Democrats as a founding father figure). And he did go to Texas, dying there.

That seems like an act Carr will probably follow, although, of course, he is facing only political, not physical, demise.

And Alexander, well, he’s always been a pragmatic fellow. He thinks about things, with assistance from advisors, and acts accordingly to his long-term political interests. He’s been David in the David and Goliath analogy — losing, in both cases, his 1974 campaign for governor and this 1996 campaign for president.

Sam Houston, too, had some problems in his younger days and lived to become a U.S. senator before dying at age 73, a ripe old age at the time.