published Monday, May 21st, 2012

David Cook: The meaning of Weston Wamp

  • photo
    Memphis Grizzlies center Marc Gasol (33) reacts to a foul call against him in the first half of Game 7 against the Los Angeles Clippers on Sunday.
    Photo by The Commercial Appeal /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

The day after he turned 25, and thereby old enough to run for Congress, Weston Wamp stood on the second floor of the Hunter Museum of American Art, staring at one of the most recognizable images in all of American photography.

Dorothea Lange's "Migrant Mother."

You've seen the photo. The black-and-white image is the face of the American Depression. A mother suffering in untold ways stares off into a horizon drought of hope, as her children bury their faces in her shoulder.

Wamp looked at the plaque on the wall.

"She looks a lot older than 32," he said quietly.

So true. Age can be tricky, can't it?

Since declaring his candidacy, Wamp's bandwagon has been hit with two main criticisms (but no flat tires): his age and his dad. The son of former Rep. Zach Wamp hasn't had any life experience -- his opponents say -- and is hoping to inherit the seat from his eight-term father.

It would be easy to believe this if he were running an immature and cocky campaign, but he's not. If Wamp -- confident, intelligent, not divisive -- were 43 and had a different last name, he'd win November's election by a landslide. But he's 25 -- and his father's son.

Wamp, more than anyone, forces us to make a decision. It's the Dirty Harry dilemma.

Do we feel lucky?

Is Wamp who he says he is?

"People are skeptical about the contributions young people can make," he said during our afternoon at the museum.

Today, Ron Bhalla, current Rep. Chuck Fleischmann and Wamp engage in their first public debate (UTC, 6:30 p.m.). More than any other candidate, Wamp has a quality that moves past the literal and into the symbolic. Wamp's candidacy says something about Chattanooga.

I'm glad he's running. I'm proud that Hamilton County has a population of twenty-somethings (Wamp is one of many) who are engaged, active, thoughtful and committed.

Sure, he's young. The average age of a congressman is 56. Senators, 62. And they're doing such a grand, grand job of running things, right?

Talking with me, Wamp hit all the big topics: money in elections ("a game for billionaires"), the debt crisis ("catastrophic") and 24-hour news ("the more controversial, the more advertising ... it's a dangerous model").

He used variations of the word "demagoguery" (noun: to gain political power by appealing to the fears and prejudices of a people) multiple times, referring to the politics of Washington.

"I do not see the world through Democrat or Republican glasses," he said. "I could care less about if my friends are Republican or Democrat. Or even perhaps the woman I marry.

"We actually have enemies in this world," he said moments later, "but they are not the other political party."

He sees his candidacy as a calling of sorts, and referred at least once to William Wilberforce, the British abolitionist-politician who, after being first elected in his early 20s, led the effort to outlaw the slave trade in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

That's why I invited him to see the Lange exhibit. In many parts of America, a depression continues. The Migrant Mother is still alive.

And the future of this country depends on our response to the problems at hand. This is not an endorsement. Wamp is running as a Republican; I think President Obama is not liberal enough.

Wamp and I differ on politics, but I'd double down on his character. I'm starting to believe that may matter more.

"I want to earn the respect of people who don't agree with me," he said.

The way we respond to politicians often says as much about us as them.

about David Cook...

David Cook is the award-winning city columnist for the Times Free Press, working in the same building where he began his post-college career as a sportswriter for the Chattanooga Free Press. Cook, who graduated from Red Bank High, holds a master's degree in Peace and Justice Studies from Prescott College and an English degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. For 12 years, he was a teacher at the middle, high school and university ...

Comments do not represent the opinions of the Chattanooga Times Free Press, nor does it review every comment. Profanities, slurs and libelous remarks are prohibited. For more information you can view our Terms & Conditions and/or Ethics policy.
ldurham said...

So, this is what passes for a newspaper column these days? Wow. Mr. Cook, I hope you at least got dinner and a movie during this date. I fully expected this piece to end with "I'm Weston Wamp, and I approved this message."

May 21, 2012 at 8:16 a.m.
timbo said...

Cook....You write the dumbest columns. Where does the TFP find these local liberal idiots. Please find a mature, seasoned writer that at least knows what in the heck is going on around here. You said, " I think President Obama is not liberal enough," shows that you are basically brain damaged. For you to have a column shows just how biased left the TFP really is. I wonder if the geniuses running that newspaper realize that at least half of the people who read the "fish wrapper" are conservative. With people like Cook, we may need to find a news source that is less biased. We should all consider canceling our subscriptions.

It is absolutely stupid to vote for a novice like Wamp. Your argument that, "The average age of a congressman is 56. Senators, 62. And they're doing such a grand, grand job of running things, right?" is basically a childish quote from little Wamp himself.
There is a reason that people with no experience and no background except for winning the sperm lottery don't run things. People his age should shut up and listen and they might just learn something.

In other words, Wamp is about as immature and unqualified for congress as you are Mr. Cook.. enough said.

May 21, 2012 at 11:48 a.m.
una61 said...

Being a Harry Austin clone means Cook can continue with his hack writing.

May 21, 2012 at 12:55 p.m.
timbo said...

JonRoss...If he is the best we got..we are in real trouble.

May 21, 2012 at 1:36 p.m.
mymy said...

Timbo said: Where does the TFP find these local liberal idiots?

This was his bio from

So, what can I say!

(David Cook, a Red Bank graduate, is a former journalist for the Chattanooga Times-Free Press. He currently teaches American history at Girls Preparatory School and can be reached at

May 21, 2012 at 10:09 p.m.

Well, I can see the quality of discourse here.

I'm sure David Cook is going to be deeply concerned with your in-depth criticism.

May 21, 2012 at 11:34 p.m.
librul said...

Mr. Cook says he's glad Weston is running ...

"I'm proud that Hamilton County has a population of twenty-somethings (Wamp is one of many) who are engaged, active, thoughtful and committed."

Sad he couldn't honestly say "intelligent", "experienced", "well-read" or (yikes) "compassionate".

Hey 21st Century Republicans: You SUCK!

Sure - that's lacking in compassion, but you can just call it "tough love" because it's all I've got for these uber-conservative, arrogant, souless automatons. Buck privates in the twerp invasion.

May 22, 2012 at 7:55 a.m.
una61 said...

Maybe Cook can interview Scottie M. and together they can watch ice cream melt.

May 22, 2012 at 1:44 p.m.
ChattyinLA said...

Who needs to endorse Weston before the haters stop judging from a distance? How many people reading this have actually met Weston? My guess is only one (and I apologize, that wasn't the best circumstance). How many people reading this went to the debate last night? There is so much negative energy in politics and there doesn't have to be. At least Weston isn't blaming Obama for all our problems like many Fox News die hards. He owns up to the fact that both parties share fault and until we can just swallow a little humble pie and admit that we aren't perfect we are never going to fix this country.

May 22, 2012 at 5:51 p.m.

Timbo, what's your dealio? Sounds like you have a case of the Mondays! Based on your comments, you already have plenty other sources for conservative narrow thinking banter. Why don't you go pick on somebody with your own small brain size?

Thank you TFP for encouraging those of us who are willing to think a little some interesting, thought provoking articles and columns!

May 22, 2012 at 8:58 p.m.
timbo said...

eastbrainerdchick....If you are an example of intelletual prowess I don't have a lot to worry about. I will put it in terms even a liberal can understand. I DON'T AGREE WITH LIBERALS. I THINK THAT THAT IF A NEWSPAPER WANTS SPECIAL CONSTITUTIONAL PROTECTION, ("FREE PRESS") THEY SHOULD SHOW SOME SEMBLANCE OF EVEN-HANDEDNESS.

Being a liberal you don't mind that bias. It makes the newspaper into a propaganda rag that espouses your veiwpoint. Cook's touchy feely column is amateurish and he would never be employed by a serious publication. He doesn't have the talent.

As for reading something else, I read everything, especially things with which I don't agree. You need to see what the enemy thinks before you can formulate a strategy for winning.

Cook is just a butt kisser telling the liberal management of the TFP what they want to hear. This is why their circulation is down. They don't even try to be fair.

May 23, 2012 at 9:41 a.m.
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