Announced this week that he would become...

LAMAR ALEXANDER

March 02, 1995|By THEO LIPPMAN JR.

LAMAR ALEXANDER announced this week that he would become one more in a series of Tennessee politicians who wanted to be president.

None yet has made it, and I predict he won't either.

I shouldn't say "none." Back in the last century there were Andrew Jackson, James K. Polk and Andrew Johnson (all born in the Carolinas, by the way), but in modern times -- that is, the past 128 years -- no Tennessean has even come close.

Let's roll the videotape:

Sen. Estes Kefauver won the Democratic primaries in 1952 and came in second in 1956, but was not nominated either time.

At the 1956 Democratic national convention Kefauver won the vice presidential nomination in a rare open contest. Among those he defeated was his fellow Tennessean Sen. Albert Gore Sr.

That convention was the high water mark for the Volunteer State. In addition to Estes and Gore Sr. in the limelight, the keynote speaker was Tennessee Gov. Frank Clement. (His old-fashioned stemwinder of an attack speech on the Republicans, overloaded with Old Testament rhetoric, prompted one journalist covering the convention to write that "the Democrats attacked Republican Philistines last night with the jawbone of an ass.")

Thereafter no Tennessean tried for the presidency until 1980, when Sen. Howard Baker ran a pathetic campaign in the Republican primaries, dropping out early and getting only 16 write-in votes in his home state's primary. Then came Al[bert] Gore Jr. in the Democratic presidential race of 1988. He hung Willie Horton around Michael Dukakis' neck, but still lost big.

Now Lamar Alexander. He inherits this rich tradition of loserdom. Like Estes Kefauver he believes in phony symbols of plainness. Estes was a wealthy Yale Law sophisticate, but he wore a coonskin cap to fool people into thinking he was just folks. Alexander went to law school in what the picante sauce crowd calls Noo Yawrk City, but wears an open-at-the collar red and black plaid shirt when he goes a-campaigning, as those of you who saw him in living color on the front of The Sun yesterday must have noticed.

Like so many successful Southern pols of his generation, Alexander was a draft dodger. He graduated from law school just as the war in Vietnam was heating up, but got a draft deferment to clerk for a judge, then went to work on Senator Howard Baker's staff.

Alexander's theme song on the campaign trail is "cut their pay and send them home." He wants members of Congress to be part-timers.

I haven't heard him say, but I wouldn't be surprised if he plans to be a part-time president, working in the private sector on the side. That's what he did when he was governor and then president of the University of Tennessee.

Or so I assume. He came out of public service a multi-millionaire, 20 times richer than he went in.

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