On Lamar’s knack for evading answers to issue questions

The Tennessean’s government and politics editor listened to Lamar Alexander for a while last week and came away impressed with the senator’s remarkable ability to evade answering any question directly.

When tea party sympathizers say U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander has failed to stand up to liberals and Democrats on the things they care about most, they have a point.

But if he told them where he stood, they might not like what they’d hear.

Alexander, seeking re-election to a third six-year term, has been selling himself throughout the campaign as a “results-oriented conservative.” But on a remarkable number of hot-button issues, Tennessee’s senior Republican senator has stopped short of explaining what he thinks, let alone how he would get results.

I sat in on the senator’s meeting with The Tennessean Editorial Board last week and listened as he successfully avoided saying what he really thinks on a whole host of topics: Medicaid expansion to provide health care for low-income Tennesseans; Common Core education standards; legislation that would require President Barack Obama to resume deportations of undocumented immigrants; and a proposal by his Republican colleague, Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker, to raise the gas tax to shore up federal road funds.

….Alexander’s reluctance to declare himself too explicitly on any of these issues makes sense politically. He’s running in a Republican primary, his most serious opposition is to the right, and he doesn’t want to stir up trouble with anti-Common Core zealots, sworn enemies of Obamacare or the folks who think illegal immigrants should be tossed out on their ears.

But tea partiers aren’t wrong when they slam Alexander for his reluctance to take a stand.

These are artful dodges, sure, but they are dodges.

Note: This is not a novel observation. Years ago, Alexander’s canny knack of using use short sound bites that sound interesting but say little of substance – while wearing his then-trademark plaid shirt — was known as speaking in “plaid-itudes.”

An example? Well, here’s a clipped quote from his “Little Plaid Blog” post on Sunday, following a visit to Sweetwater:

With a crowd of about 700 people, I saw a lot of East Tennesseans I’ve known for a long time — and who know what I mean when I say I want to help move the country in a more conservative direction. We need to repair the damage of Obamacare, fix the debt and reverse the trend toward a national school board.

I could see the crowd understood that, and I was glad to be among the candidates speaking to them again tonight. Of course, the best conversations I had were in the food line.