Shipp: National Democrats hurting party's chances at Georgia polls
The late Sen. Herman Talmadge used to break me up with his descriptions of his Democratic colleagues as "they" and "them." He spoke of national party leaders, who had given him power in the Senate, as if they were alien beings with a communicable disease.
Of course, Talmadge as a Southern Democrat couldn't afford to let on back home that he consorted with the likes of Hubert Humphrey, Lyndon Johnson and, God forbid, Ted Kennedy. When he confessed to being a Democrat, he always made it clear he did not wear a national party badge.
We are in the midst of such an era again. Associating with national Democrats is anathema to winning politics. In another time, two Georgia officials would have had an excellent chance of being elected governor and bringing needed reform and a renewed vision to our state. Alas, both Secretary of State Cathy Cox and Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor are Democrats. Their party label alone may be enough to trip either in their bid to unseat a deceptive, secretive and unresponsive governor.
Cox launched her campaign for the Democratic nomination last week. She focused on a need to bring ethics and morality to an increasingly closed and specially privileged state government.
As soon as the legislature adjourns, Taylor will begin his campaign. Undoubtedly, he will point out the state's awful lapses in economic development, education and health care.
Both candidates have compelling messages. The trouble is, their national Democratic counterparts are drowning them out.
Sen. John Kerry, the worst Democratic presidential candidate since George McGovern, phones in from Switzerland that he plans to go to the mat in opposition to elevating Judge Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court. Kerry is playing to what he perceives as his blue-state base for another run for the presidency.
Sen. Kennedy can't resist another turn under national TV lights to denounce Alito. The national political debate centers on guesswork: How might Alito vote on abortion in some distant, yet-to-be known legal challenge?
Poor Cathy Cox's call for less sleaze and more straight shooting in the Georgia Gold Dome is all but lost amid the Democratic senators' vain tirades against Alito, a shoo-in for a seat on the high court. The national media masses its resources in Washington. If Sam Alito is the Washington topic of the day, it must be the most important news for every American. At least, that is the New York-Washington TV view of the country.
Back in Georgia, what really counts is:
• The availability of good jobs: Ford and GM have closed their 60-year-old auto plants in Atlanta. Four military bases are shutting down. Bankrupt Delta Air Lines is cutting costs and jobs to the bone.
• Health care: Forget for a moment the needs of the poor. Health care for middle-class folks - even those with insurance and the wherewithal to pay - is a disgrace. Hospitals are overflowing. Health-care providers can't keep up with their caseloads. State-generated red tape hampers expansions. Then there are the hundreds of thousands of kids without health insurance. Medicaid for the impoverished is a separate spreading calamity.
• Transportation: Congestion is killing us. Road builders dominate the legislature and governor's office. At lavish influence-peddling parties, the pavers pound home their message: Allocate more money for more highways. No one talks about the only long-term solution: Reducing the number of cars and trucks on the highway. The spirit of Jack Abramoff is alive and well in the Georgia Capitol.
• Education: Public schools in many areas of the state are in a freefall. Additional teacher raises won't end the plummet.
The list of unmet state and local needs goes on. Even so, when the state election campaigns start in earnest in the spring and summer, watch what happens.
Failed incumbents won't bother to answer substantive challenges about their sub-par performances. Instead, they will remind you that their opponents wear the same party tags as Kerry, Kennedy and, of course, Jesse Jackson and Hillary Clinton. Oh, yes, they'll tell you that Democrats are focused on more restrictions on guns, fewer restrictions on abortions and additional rights for minorities and illegal aliens.
Those incumbents figure that reminding you of the dead-duck national Democrats' shortcomings will be enough to keep them in office in Georgia, regardless of the decline of the state's middle class. They may be right.