From “Governing” To Campaigning

Today’s Courier Herald Column:

With members of the Georgia General Assembly safely disbursed from the Gold Dome, there’s been an appreciated lull in Georgia political news.  Forty days of observing the people’s business is enough to make anyone who is paying attention a bit surly.  Some have even noticed it managed to try my usually pleasant and cheerful disposition.  Such is life while enduring the various sausages of law being constructed.

The two weeks after the session contained Easter weekend in the middle, and thus have been a good excuse for many politicians to take some down time.  They’re frankly as tired of us as some of us are of them, and they also need to re-charge and spend some quality family time away from grumpy constituents.  Let’s hope they too have been able to get some rest.

This brief window of opportunity will quickly close as this is an election year.  Though official qualifying for office will not be held until late May, many campaigns have already begun in earnest.  As a political writer, blogger, and junkie, I should probably look forward to this time of year because it provides an inexhaustible supply of material from which to produce the several hundred words per day needed to fill a column with many left over to spare.

The truth is, however, as someone who enjoys the American form of government and our system of representative democracy, I detest campaign season even more than observing the legislative session.  For all the problems of insincerity and lack of substance that one will occasionally observe from our elected officials, one can see the problems even more clearly and distinctly during a campaign.

We’ve actually already been in campaign season for over a year, as this is a Presidential election cycle.  There is a distinct difference between Presidential politics and state and local elections, and that mainly is in the public’s awareness and level of engagement.

Ask virtually anyone about Presidential candidates and their positions, and you’re likely to get an opinion that is based on some level of understanding of an issue or two related to the race.  Ask that same person about their State Rep or Senator, and many will have difficulty even identifying who that person is, much less be able to discuss a specific bill that they took a position on during the most recent legislative session.  This lack of awareness (if spoken of in charitable terms, or public ignorance if address more bluntly) creates a vacuum that can easily be filled with hyperbole, empty pontification, and outright deception during a campaign.

Former House Majority Leader Jerry Keen was so brazen about this that he lectured the Republican caucus to never confuse what you do when campaigning  to what we do we do while we’re governing, according to the late Representative Bobby Franklin.  The only thing shocking about this statement was that it was directly and audibly articulated.  An observer of both campaigns and governing can usually spot differences quickly.

During a campaign, the candidate is constantly reminded that his or her only job is to win the election.  Helpful consultants will generally meet with a candidate early and listen to his or her ideas about how, once elected, he or she will help solve the problems of the State and make the world a better place and respond to the concerns of his or her district on a personal level.  Taxes will be lowered, the government will operate efficiently, and the constitution will be respected.

These consultants then reflect on the candidates ideas, and outline a strategy that will Blame Obama, deport illegal immigrants, stop homosexuals from recruiting their sons, strike Sharia law from Georgia’s official code, and punctuate this with the word “jobs” throughout any advertisements.  For a respectable retainer, the consultant can convince the candidate that these ubiquitous refrains are somehow related to the candidate’s actual concerns and platform.

The only thing that is more disappointing than this tried and true obfuscation is that it works.  Many Republican primaries will be fought on the above slogans as if they are truly what stands between Georgian’s and lib’ruls instituting a totalitarian regime.   And the few in the general public that are paying attention and will actually show up in late July to vote will play along.

For all the cynicism that we display during the legislative session, a good bit of the disappointment must be leveled at those of us looking back from our mirrors.  We must hold our candidates to actual issues that are affected by the offices for which the individuals seek, not to see who can make the most partisan hyperbolic statements which appeal to our inner fears.  Then we must hold them accountable once elected, or elect different people.

Until we are able to do this, we are the ones responsible for our own cynicism.

15 comments

  1. CobbGOPer says:

    “Then we must hold them accountable once elected, or elect different people.” Absolutely, but it’s hard to do when so many run un-opposed… I’ve got two in Cobb County right now I’d like to bounce, but no one will step up to run against them. Is it still my fault even when I don’t have a choice?

    • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

      So you mean that there’s no one that is as equally as slimy that is willing to step up and publicly brawl and fight for their fair share of corporate-sponsored lobbyist largess at the moment?

      Have no fear, I’m sure that some greedy d-bag will step up for their shot at the subterranean trough that is state (and local and national) politics in the not-too-distant future.

      If you really want to find someone to run for the State Legislature just do what I do and set out some carefully-crafted bait that consists of meals at five-star restaurants, tickets to Hawks, Braves, Falcons and Bulldogs games topped off with an overnight stay in a five-star hotel with a high-end escort (male or female).

      You do this and you’ll be swarming with more qualified d-bag politicos than the black book of a high-end Washington D.C. madam.

      Draws ’em out everytime likes files to manure!

      • Calypso says:

        LDIG, I understand your dismay with the system and with some of those who choose to take a shot at joining it, but CobbGOPer was serious (I think) and if you (collectively) tar all who decide to have a go at it with the same brush, then you will never be able to recognize the good guys from the bad. Not to mention inhibiting the good guys from entertaining the idea due to their desire to avoid stereotypes such as yours.

        There’s my run-on sentence for the week.

        • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

          It’s too late for that as there are not that many decent people who have the ambition of rolling around in the mud with a bunch of crazy, duranged lunatic d-bags (other politicians, lobbyists for special interests, obsessive extremist constituents who scream louder than the other 90%-plus of constituents that a politician may actually represent, etc).

          I’m sure that there are plenty of sane, decent people in office, but their voices often get drowned out by the crazy, insane, demented lowlifes they work aside or they themselves either eventually become as corrupted as their environment or grow to become as cynically jaded as yours truly.

          And those decent people who would maybe like to run and change things for the better often take one look at the three-ring circus of wackjobs, cutthroats and backstabbers and run the other way…Can you blame them?

          • Calypso says:

            “…three-ring circus of wackjobs, cutthroats and backstabbers…”

            Sounds like a portion of the job description Hedley Lamar used when he was rounding up his gang to decimate Rock Ridge.

            • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

              “Sounds like a portion of the job description Hedley Lamar used when he was rounding up his gang to decimate Rock Ridge.”

              They’ve got another name for it down at the Georgia General Assembly:

              Tuesday.

      • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

        Nah, CobbGOPer sounds like they have way too much moral and ethical fortitude to run for a legislative body as slimy as the Georgia General Assembly.

        How about I run instead?

        I’ve even got a few campaign slogans all prepared and ready to go, let’s see if anybody likes any of them:

        “Lawmaker for sale to the highest bidder!”

        “(I would sell my soul to be your representative for big-business and mega-corporate interests.) Vote for me and I’ll sell your soul, too!”

        “You gotta pay-to-play!”

        “Because if you can’t beat ’em, you might as well join ’em.”

        “Don Balfour and the Boys ain’t got nothin’ on me….But if they cross me, I’ve sure got a helluva lot on them”

        THE LAST DEMOCRAT IN GEORGIA FOR STATE SENATE.

        I’m the Last Democrat in Georgia and I approve of this message.

      • CobbGOPer says:

        I don’t have the money or connections to run. Without both – in this system we’ve created for ourselves – you might as well never bother.

        Which is why our political system is dominated by rich people and corporations. The barrier to entry is too high for most of us. I need that $1500 qualifying fee for other things, and I don’t have a boss willing to let me take the next 6 months off – or part-time – to run.

        • Calypso says:

          “…and I don’t have a boss willing to let me take the next 6 months off – or part-time – to run.”

          Not to mention the 3+ months off work necessary to serve during the session.

          • Three Jack says:

            One more reason to have legislative session every other year, it will provide opportunity for more citizens to seek office (not to mention the obvious benefits of decreased lawmaking, less ALEC/lobbyist/any other partisan organization pushing bills favorable to their cause, etc.).

  2. L. Max Lehmann says:

    One small, recently incorporated North Atlanta suburb has rejected negative campaigns three times.

    Perhaps my friends who make their living gleefully cross tabbin’, mailin’, and callin’ could embrace this idea: “We must hold our candidates to actual issues that are affected by the offices for which the individuals seek, not to see who can make the most partisan hyperbolic statements which appeal to our inner fears.”

    Clearly, the universal gridlock at State, local, and Federal levels only serves powerful interests. We can and should be able to Do Better.

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