Monday, July 17, 2006


Channel 10's Karen Collier and an undecided Albany State student attend the first Democratic gubernatorial debate in Albany

Last Wednesday night I went to a debate and a hockey game broke out! That’s a twist on an old joke: I went to a boxing match the other night and a hockey game broke out. The verbiage works, because the point of the joke is that many people go to hockey games just to watch the bloodbath when the players drop their gloves and sticks (some of the nastier ones keep their sticks) and go after each other.

But I digress. The Democratic gubernatorial primary debate in Albany on July 12th featured Albany’s Lt. Governor Mark Taylor and Bainbridge’s Cathy Cox, the Secretary of State of Georgia. I was anticipating a figurative heavyweight fight between Mark and Cathy, because their millions of dollars in campaign ads have been largely wasted on absurd attacks on each other’s integrity. Last week was the first time that Mark had even bothered to show up for a live debate, apparently deciding to sit on his lead and campaign via television commercial. I was sure that Cathy wouldn’t pass up the opportunity to land a few zingers.

After my guest and I settled into our seats in the Municipal Auditorium, I was surprised to see two extra podiums on the stage. Having the brilliant analytical mind that I do, it only took me about five minutes to figure out that those weren’t backup podiums in case Mark and Cathy wore theirs out with fist banging. Nope, there were two other warm bodies that would be up under the bright, hot television lights, putting in their two cents (or, as it turned out in William “Mac” McCarley’s case, about 10,000 bucks) worth.

It ain’t easy to live with a woman for 55 years

My first impression about the “other” Democratic candidates was that they would detract from the debate and that they would be lightweights of no consequence. I could not have been more wrong. Bill Bolton of Marietta and Mac McCarley of Henry County added what Mark Taylor and Cathy Cox couldn’t have brought to the debate in a million years- unselfconscious honesty. Time after time, when a panelist asked Mark or Cathy a question and they gave their polling tested, professional campaign manager designed, “safe” answers, one or the other or both of the unknowns would prick their balloons. At one point, McCarley’s response to a Cathy Cox statement about her introduction of electronic voting machines and her commitment to education was to characterize her answer as “a lot of hokey pokey.” The audience cracked up, but McCarley followed up with the kind of brutal honesty that is so lacking in politics today. McCarley pointed out that the electronic voting machines lacked the most elementary of electoral fraud safeguards- a paper trail. He also mentioned that Cox had twenty years of service in Atlanta, and Georgia still ranked 49th out of 50 in education.

When one panelist asked Mark Taylor about all of the mudslinging in the campaign, he came back with one of the funniest lines of the night. Decrying Cathy Cox’s personal attacks on his uncles, father, mother, wife, and sister- Taylor finished with: “we’ve even put the family dog on alert for the next attack”

But Mac McCarley brought down the house when he was asked by Russ Spencer of Atlanta’s Channel 5, why after being 78 years old, a WWII vet (McCarley lied about his age and enlisted at age 15), married to same woman for 55 years, and a 25 year cancer survivor, he decided to run for governor: Answer: “It ain’t easy to live with a woman for 55 years.” The audience, moderator Dawn Hobby, and the other candidates, completely cracked up, and the debate had to be halted until the laughter ended.

For my money both Mark and Cathy are good political servants. Neither has ever engaged in the politics of fear, of stirring up hatred and divisiveness, of scapegoating one group or another, that has become the hallmark of modern Republican politics. Unlike Republicans, they don’t target immigrants, gays, welfare recipients, or mythical flag burners to win electoral contests. But in spite of their obvious intelligence and sincere desire to leave Georgia a better place than they found it- especially in matters involving children- they have engaged in some of the silliest and most absurd attacks I’ve ever seen.

In one ad Mark said Cathy wasn’t for the Hope Scholarship in 1992 when the lottery issue was on the ballot. Well, duh. She’s for it now, and what difference does it make to any citizen of Georgia when she came to the party?

Cathy said Mark tried to engineer a bill through the State Senate that would have benefitted family members. She refused to name names, dates, times, or places, which left the charge somewhat suspect. Mark answered directly that there was an effort to return land seized from property owners, including his uncles, by eminent domain. But the land was never used for the public purpose. His explanation sounded innocent, and Cathy never followed up with a single detail that validated her attack.

Swift Boat becomes a verb and other mudslinging

By the time this column comes out, one will be a winner (unless there’s a runoff) but the mudslinging will be with us through November, without a doubt. However, this stuff isn’t new. The title of this column comes from the 1884 attacks on Democrat presidential nominee Grover Cleveland by Republican Stephen Blaine. Blaine’s crack campaign staff (Karl Rove’s great great grandfather?) dug up the fact that Cleveland had sired an illegitimate son while he was a bachelor. Their campaign ditty of “Ma, Ma, where’s my Pa,” was decisively answered by Cleveland’s electoral victory over Blaine. Hence the poetic response: “Gone to the White House, ha, ha ha!”

In more recent times, we’ve had a convicted murderer, “Willie Horton,”used to make a racist smear without the candidate ever having to come right out and make an openly racist comment. In 1988, it was Republican presidential candidate George H. W. Bush who attacked Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis’ prisoner furlough program. Bush’s hatchetman, Lee Atwater, picked out a particular Massachusetts convict on furlough, one Willie Horton, a black man, who had committed rape and armed robbery during a weekend furlough program. When Atwater was dying of brain cancer in 1991, he repented the dirt and disgusting smears he had brought to campaigns for the highest office in the nation. By then it was too late. In 1988 Atwater bragged that "by the time this election is over, Willie Horton will be a household name." Republican Media consultant Roger Ailes was reported to remark "the only question is whether we depict Willie Horton with a knife in his hand or without it." Dukakis was effectively smeared with white suburban voters who feared violent black criminals.

In the 2000 Republican Presidential primary in South Carolina, it was another Bush campaigning, but the race card was played once again. This time, it was George W. Bush, and the part of Lee Atwater was played by Karl Rove. Rove used fake pollsters who telephoned South Carolina voters to ask them how the fact that Arizona Senator John McCain had a black baby born out of wedlock would affect their votes. The clear implication was that McCain had fathered an illegitimate child with a black woman, which, in hindsight, should have been a plus amongst racist South Carolinians who worshiped legendary nonagenarian Senator Strom Thurmond. Of course, in 2000, Thurmond was still alive and his black daughter by the maid he took advantage of was still a secret. The truth was that McCain and his wife had adopted a brown skinned orphan from Bangladesh, a fact that Bush’s campaign didn’t reveal to the voters.

2004 brought us the name of a U.S. Navy vessel designed to fight on the rivers of Vietnam. “Swift Boat,” is now a verb, as in “Candidate X Swift Boated Candidate Y in the recent Senate race, forcing him to answer spurious charges that he had falsified his resume.” And so it goes.


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