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.