By Tom Baxter
Want to know how screwed up politics in Georgia has become? A story in a column by my old AJC colleague Jim Galloway kind of says it all.
Gov. Nathan Deal, whose nagging ethics problems have become the stuff of regular headlines, invited Sen. Johnny Isakson, who has tried to be a voice of reason in an increasingly unreasonable Washington, to tailgate with him at the Georgia-Missouri game. There were a lot of protests on Facebook, but they didn’t come from voters criticizing Isakson for associating with an administration which is beginning to attract fruit flies, not to mention the FBI.
Instead, they came from voters livid over Deal inviting Isakson, who had the nerve to say the Republican strategy of holding up the rest over the budget, to stop a program that is separately funded, was a dumb idea. Deal’s invitation was, in fact, an act of some political courage in the current climate, and in the end, Isakson had to cancel because of the ongoing negotiations in Washington.
Isakson isn’t likely to win many friends, either, by teaming with a Democratic senator, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, to co-sponsor legislation to switch the federal government to a biennial budgeting process, as more than 20 states have already. It’s a sober, common-sense proposal that might benefit the country more than either party, which pretty much makes it a long shot, even though it got 68 votes in the Senate earlier this year.
When Zell Miller tapped Isakson to chair the state school board after vanquishing him in the 1990 governor’s race, it was applauded within Isakson’s party as a model of bipartisan cooperation. But as that Bob Dylan song says, things have changed. Reaching across the aisle is looked upon as consorting with the enemy, even as the failure to cooperate drives the nation to default.
Conversely, if the lingering questions arising from Deal’s 2010 campaign have hurt him within his party, there’s no evidence of it in the latest InsiderAdvantage/Fox5 poll, which has him with 51 percent over his Republican primary rivals, Dalton Mayor David Pennington, with 10 percent, and State School Superintendent John Barge, with 8 percent.
It’s a different story in the general electorate, to judge from another poll by the Democratic North Carolina firm, Public Policy Polling, which has Deal only four points ahead of Democratic state Sen. Jason Carter. But the general election is still many months and millions of dollars away.
Deal can’t be complacent about his ethics problems. The two scariest words in a modern-day case of this kind are “tech guy,” and there’s already one talking about what he says were orders to remove files pertaining to the investigation of Deal’s 2010 finances from the computer records of the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission, formerly known as the State Ethics Commission. But what really matters within his party is that Deal hasn’t made any serious ideological indiscretions, which would be judged far more harshly.
Op-ed and opinion piece writers have already begun to mine an analysis of Republican shutdown psychology by Democracy Corps, the joint project of James Carville and Stan Greenberg. Their focus-group interviews of Tea Party, Evangelical and moderate Republicans are particularly revealing, and more evidence that Greenberg is to today’s Democrats what Bob Teeter once was to the Republicans: an analyst particularly adept at measuring the public pulse.
One take away from their analysis is that, despite widespread Republican disbelief of the polls in the last election, many Evangelical and Tea Party Republicans feel they’ve already lost the greater war for American values and culture, and approach the standoff over ObamaCare with an Alamo-like sense of desperation.
These are intensely alienated voters, angry over a lot of things they can’t change, and spoiling for what used to be called massive resistance, in the early days of federally-mandated racial integration.
This Democratic analysis probably overstates some of the extremes in the Republican psyche. I suspect that if they could have chosen between Northern and Southern moderates, the number of Republicans who identified themselves as moderates in their polling might have been larger than 25 percent. But they have accurately described the conditions under which Isakson could be drawing more heat in his party than Deal.