Cleveland Daily Banner: America’s ‘good’ gets Alexander’s focus

Posted on July 7, 2017

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tennessee) told the Kiwanis Club of Cleveland on Thursday that people should start focusing on the good about America.

“It’s easy to say what’s wrong with our country,” Alexander said. “I think it’s easier to say what’s right with it and the Fourth of July week is a pretty good time to think about that.”

The U.S. senator did that by telling what he called his “Fourth of July” stories of some complicated legislation which were passed “in a divided era.”

“I was running for re-election in 2014 and everybody was mad about the Common Core [education policy]. Not everybody knew what it was, but they were mad about it and they wanted it repealed,” he said. “I said, ‘OK, if the election goes right I’ll be chairman of the Education committee and we’ll repeal it and we’ll send decisions like that back to Bradley County and Cleveland, and you decide things like that.’”

Alexander said after two years of work, the law was passed affecting elementary and secondary education which repealed the Common Core mandate, reversed the trend toward a national school board and sent most decisions on elementary and secondary education “back where they belong” — to the state and local levels.

“Despite all the arguments that went along with it, we got 84 senators to vote for it and President Obama signed it a Christmastime calling it ‘a Christmas miracle,’” Alexander said. “The Wall Street Journal said it was the biggest evolution in shifting power from Washington to the states in 25 years.”

“That got done and that’s a story about how our government can work,” he said.

The senator told the story of Doug Oliver from Nashville, who had gone blind and, after internet research assistance, went to Florida.

“He found a treatment called regenerative medicine, stem-cell research, where they placed a needle into his bone marrow, stirred it around in a centrifuge, injected it into his retina, and within three days he began to see again,” Alexander said.

“He began to see so well, he became an advocate for the legislation I was working on called 21st Century Cures, in the Health committee I chair,” he said. “It’s complicated, too. A lot of arguments. This is a committee with 21 senators and starts with U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts), Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont), and Al Franken (D-Wisconsin). On the other side, we have Rand Paul (R-Kentucky). That’s what you call developing a consensus when you get a deal.”

He said one of the issues was Obama’s interest in personalized medicine where they are identifying through genome research what medicines might be most effective in different people.

“The president said that to me when he came to Knoxville to speak at a community college,” Alexander said. “I said, ‘Well, Mr. President, why don’t we roll that into our 21st Century Cures bill and we’ll work on that together.’”

Shortly after, Vice President Joe Biden’s son died from brain cancer and was appointed by Obama to lead the “Cancer Moonshot” initiative which serves to accelerate the research into that disease.

“I said let’s roll that in there as well and work on it together,” he said.

“That ended up being passed and that included provisions for more research like the kind that gave Doug Oliver the chance to see again,” Alexander said, choking back emotion. “He came to my office and gave me the cane he walked around with as a blind person. He said, ‘I don’t need it anymore.’”

Alexander said there are many stories like that about America.

“During the presidential campaign, when everybody was dumping on everybody and it was more like a political mud wrestling match, someone asked George P. Shultz, who served as President Reagan’s secretary of state, what he would like for the next president to do,” Alexander recalled. “Shultz said he wanted the new president to remind the country what’s good about it.”

“We are 4 percent of all the people in the world, and we still produce more than 20 percent of all the wealth in the world year in and year out,” he said. “If there is a cure for blindness or identify a cure for Alzheimers’ or cancer, odds are very, very high it will be done here in the United States. We are ‘allies rich’ and our adversaries are ‘allies poor’ and that’s because we have the strongest military in the world.”

He also noted many from around the world “are lined up” to attend colleges in the United States because of the quality education they offer.

“There is a lot of good to say about the United States of America,” Alexander said. “You might watch cable TV or social media and get a different opinion about what it’s like to serve in our country, but we still have a remarkable country. We still have a remarkable system of government that’s capable of performing very, very well. I consider it a great privilege to represent Tennessee in the United States Senate.”