Lamar Alexander Storms Into Cyberspace

No Republican presidential candidate is striving harder to revive the disgraced spirit of '80s Reaganism than Lamar Alexander, who seems to have found a new life selling nostalgia for a preindustrial Southern Eden. Ironically, this mythology, laced with entrepreneurial blithesomeness, is most evident in cyberspace. Of all the candidates, he has the greatest number of World Wide Web pages -- there are dozens of interconnected text-with-pictures campaign ads for Alexander. Compared to Phil Gramm's dull-as-dishwater pages (Senator Phil must be putting all that campaign money in Swiss bank accounts), Alexander's cyberspace links are works of art. Through these pages, the former Tennessee governor would lead us to believe that he inhabits a country full of decent, hard-working folks with none of the rage and anxiety that Pat Buchanan speaks to. His Web pages tell of his 8,800-mile journey around the country during which he touched real people and learned that there were a great many of them who wanted him to run. Of course, to play up this "salt of the earth" image, Alexander's Web pages play down his real background -- that of a slick Beltway politico. After a brief reference in the first sentence of his bio to his responsibilities as secretary of education in the Bush Administration, Alexander resorts to Southern gentility, fattening his Web pages with family details. For example, in keeping with the unspoken Republican campaign theme "I Got Mine, So Screw You," Alexander offers some policy pronouncements, several of which target programs that aided his own economic climb. The most glaring example of this hypocrisy is his proposal to eliminate the Department of Education, which once paid his salary. Alexander seems to be taking his cue from Ronald Reagan, who was able to sail through such contradictions because he built his image so meticulously. Moreover, Reagan carried his folksy mythology on his actorly shoulders, hocking his destructive policies with the same brand of B-movie heroism and labored California optimism that took him to the Sacramento statehouse. Alexander's "folksiness" reflects his background as a political player in the mid-South. His Web pages make him out to be part high-tech entrepreneur, part Southern patrician. Think of him as a cross between Bill Gates and Ashley Wilkes. It is an image deeply embedded in Tennessee politics (Al Gore, another less-than-charismatic Tennessean, has used it successfully during his statewide campaigns). While Phil Gramm is the favorite among conservative media types, Lamar Alexander is the favorite of old-guard Republican partisans because he appears to be a nice enough man. In a field full of candidates who seem to think they're at a revival meeting, a WWF match, or a stop on the NASCAR circuit, he's viewed as someone who really could recapture the White House for the GOP.

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