Commentary

Editor’s column: Thank God for Sen. Marsha Blackburn

After last week’s U.S. Senate Judiciary hearings, the rest of America understands our embarrassment

March 28, 2022 1:00 pm
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 21: Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) speaks during a Senate Judiciary Subcommittee hearing on September 21, 2021 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Ting Shen-Pool/Getty Images)

Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-TN, (Photo by Ting Shen-Pool/Getty Images)

For too long, Tennessee has gotten short shrift on the national political scene. We’ve become flyover country. National Democrats have given up on us and national Republicans take us for granted. 

For outlets like CNN, MSNBC and the Washington Post, U.S. senators, including Republicans Ted Cruz of Texas, South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham and more recently, Missouri’s Josh Hawley, are catnip: Their antics and oratory are just too good to resist, drawing outrage from anyone an inch left of center, and even some a little right. 

So thank God for our own Sen. Marsha Blackburn! And thank God for her placement on the Senate Judiciary Committee, for after the past week’s Senate hearings on the nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court of U.S. Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, many Americans now know more about Tennessee and feel the pain Tennesseans have for years when Blackburn opens her mouth. 

Never mind that the American Bar Association, the voice of lawyers across the country, lauded Jackson during supporting testimony. More than 250 judges, attorneys and academics of all political persuasions described Jackson in an evaluation as “brilliant,” “eminently qualified,” and “beyond reproach.”

Never mind that, according to the ABA, evaluators wrote comments that included, “She is one of the brightest legal minds in the country with a well-rounded set of experiences in the legal system and judiciary.”

Blackburn chose to disregard those evaluations and instead, showed her fanny to America by haranguing Jackson on a variety of cultural issues. Our senior senator used her allotted 10 minutes for questioning on the first day of hearings to quiz Jackson about her involvement with a school that teaches about white privilege and gender identity.

The school in question is Georgetown Day School, on whose board Jackson sits, and is progressive but no bastion of ultra-liberalism. It’s the sort of fancy-pants private school in Northwest Washington that Supreme Court justices and U.S. senators and congressmen of both parties send their kids to: The late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg sent her kids there but so did former Republican Sen. Phil Gramm of Texas. 

Americans discovering Blackburn may have been surprised to find a senator from little ole Tennessee blowing big right-wing dog whistles but to those of us who have followed her career, we’ve seen a remarkable ability to adapt and evolve with the Republican Party. 

Although Jackson repeatedly described her judicial methodology as starting each case from a neutral position, Blackburn said Thursday that she was concerned “We had a very difficult time — we never got her to nail down her judicial philosophy.”

Blackburn posted a barrage of anti-Jackson tweets, accusing the judge of being backed by “liberal dark money groups”, and haranguing Jackson for not providing an answer to Blackburn’s request she define “woman” (“I’m not a biologist,” answered Jackson.) 

Americans discovering Blackburn may have been surprised to find a senator from little ole Tennessee blowing big right-wing dog whistles but to those of us who have followed her career from its beginnings as founder of the Williamson County Young Republicans in the late 1980s to her current role, her behavior is another demonstration of her ability to evolve and adapt with the Republican Party. 

In the early part of her political career, Blackburn was still working as a professional image consultant for a department store chain. Nowadays, there are Democrats who like to make fun of that job and her home economics degree and her hair style. They say she’s not bright, but in fact those roles have served her well and her political strategy is far more salient than her bad hair days. 

Several years ago, a Republican political consultant gave one explanation for Blackburn: She plays dumb, he said, but few who don’t posess savvy reach the U.S. Senate. Initially, he said, she wore stylish clothes and makeup to play a role: “Those older Republican men, they like that she’s pretty and she has a Southern accent and she plays up to them,” he said.

I’ll have to take his word for that, but clearly, whatever she’s done over the last 30 years has been effective, as she’s risen from young GOP activist to state senator to Congress to her present role. Her Senate race in 2018 against former two-term Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen was one of the most competitive in the country, with millions of national dollars pouring into the state on behalf of both candidates. 

In the end, she shellacked Bredesen by 11%. 

Her evolution from fiscal conservative to full on Donald Trump acolyte is complete. She served on Trump’s 2016 transition team and voted against his impeachment. In January 2021, she announced she would vote against certification of the 2020 election, changing her mind only after a violent mob attacked the U.S. Capitol and she presumably lost her nerve. When she speaks, as she did last week, she hits every far-right, culture war talking point, from human trafficking and pedophiles to claims of violent prisoners being released into an unsuspecting population.

Blackburn is purportedly on Trump’s list of potential vice presidents for 2024 but her vote to certify the 2020 election could hurt her and she’s got ground to make up. I don’t put it past her to be able to do that. 

But one thing is sure: Those watching Blackburn’s performance at last week’s hearings are at least now aware of what Tennesseans deal with. America, welcome to our embarrassment.

 

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Holly McCall
Holly McCall

Holly McCall has been a fixture in Tennessee media and politics for decades. She covered city hall for papers in Columbus, Ohio and Joplin, Missouri before returning to Tennessee with the Nashville Business Journal. She has served as political analyst for WZTV Fox 17 and provided communications consulting for political campaigns at all levels, from city council to presidential. Holly brings a deep wealth of knowledge about Tennessee’s political processes and players and likes nothing better than getting into the weeds of how political deals are made.

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