December 21, 2002

FRIST BY NUMBERS (by David Weigel)

FRIST BY NUMBERS: We can expect to read a lot of sham profiles of Bill Frist now that liberal journalists have him in their sights. It's insightful to peel back the layers and read some stuff written before this week. Kirk Victor's Sept. cover story in the National Journal is a good place to start (especially because he floated the idea of a Frist leadership). It also hints that Frist may retire in 2006 - but term limits are sooooo 1994. Let's move on:

- Frist has been a workhorse on funding international AIDS prevention, criticized only for accepting program cuts from the White House. As far as federal spending goes - and he has opposed much other spending - this is not a bad area to be soft in.

- His supporters' chief criticism of his position on stem cell research (he opposed "therapeutic cloning") is that he's "not stepping outside the line and taking a single issue that is contrary to the [GOP] leadership." Somehow I don't think that will come to hurt him.

- He voted against background checks at gun shows and against trigger locks - he has voted for hardening penalties for bringing guns to school, but this is a policy dance that puts him square in the middle of American opinion. That's as good as you can expect from a party leader, in my opinion.

- He voted against McCain-Feingold in 2001 - one of only 41 senators to do so, when media pump-up for the bill was at its absolute height.

- He HAS voted to strengthen penalties for drug offenses - but here his votes were no different than Lott's, so he's not exactly a step down.

To view the Frist record in better light, go here.

Meanwhile, get ready for weeks of background research from liberals aimed at labelling Frist a racist whose record "mirrors" Lott's. As I predicted (sort of), The Times is geared up:

We will learn more about Bill Frist in the days ahead, including his thinking on the civil rights issues that tripped up Mr. Lott. One of the obvious lessons of the Lott firestorm is that the Republicans must give much more than a passing glance to the record of the person they choose to lead them.

What will their background research find? As far as rhetoric goes (and THAT was what destroyed Lott) Josh Marshall, consistently the best investigative blogger out there, was only able to come up with a lame quote from Frist's 1994 campaign. Memo to Marshall: What Marion Barry has to do with a Tennessee Senate campaign is that Frist was campaigning "against Washington," and Barry, fresh out of prison, was running for mayor that year to great national scrutiny. Tennessee voters knew who he was and were disgusted by the fact Washingtonians gave him a primary victory in September '94. Barry was a corrupt junkie first, an African-American second.

As for the rest of his record - he voted against extending hate crimes legislation to gays (passed 57 to 42), against setting aside 10% of highway funds for minorities (defeated 58 to 37), and against prohibiting job discrimination based on sexual orientation. The latter bill, written by Ted Kennedy, was defeated 50-49 in a Republican senate, and it's a disgusting vote for libertarians. But the only sitting Republicans who supported it were Olymbia Snowe and Arlen Specter (and Jim Jeffords). Not the Republican mainstream.

Frist voted to end special funding for minority-owned businesses and voted to end federal affirmative action (failed 36-61). He is part of large caucus in the Senate that opposes affirmative action whenever it comes up. Liberals will fail if they try to equate these votes with racism.

In conclusion (finally) - Frist is something like a dream candidate for Republicans. He votes against measures supported by the self-appointed "civil rights" lobby with regularity - that's not racism. He votes with landslide majorities on soft, child-friendly gun laws, but against all other anti-gun legislation. And he has more tact than Trent Lott could learn to have in 10,000 years.

Posted by John Tabin at December 21, 2002 12:11 AM