The grinding problem for Southern Republicans — and most notably for the boys who have been mismanaging Georgia for the last few years — is that it's darn hard to keep the black man down when one of them gets elected president of the United States. Real darn hard.
And keeping the black man down – as well as Hispanics, women, gays, liberals, environmentalists, ethnically nonaligned poor folks and anyone else who can be mischaracterized and maligned – is what the GOP has been about since the 1960s.
That's when the colorful merry-go-round called the Democratic Party flew apart over race. The Dems for decades had been an uneasy coalition of labor, northern liberals and Southerners who still hadn't forgiven Republican Abraham Lincoln for taking away their slaves.
When the nation, led by progressive Democrats, told the South that it must actually provide equal education to all kids and would have to give up its quaint customs, such as lynching black men, the racists fled the party. Some followed George Wallace for awhile, but almost all of them eventually found the open arms of the Republican Party, which even had a name for its cynical appeal to racism, the "Southern Strategy."
At the heart of such politicking is fear. The GOP won the South and, since 1980, most of the nation by using fear. From Willie Horton to draft-dodging Saxby Chambliss' ploy of plastering Osama bin Laden's and Saddam Hussein's pictures next to maimed war hero Max Cleland's – it's all about fear.
Heck, paid GOP activist Ashley Todd was just playing to a time-honored script last month when she invented the tale that a big black man (are you scared yet?) attacked her at a Pennsylvania ATM, copped a feel and carved a "B" for Barack on her cheek. It was the same sort of canard that launched many a lynching and race riot. That the right-wing screechers – Drudge, Hannity, Limbaugh – all bit big on the story, truth be damned, was more than predictable.
What these folks never understood is that Barack Obama was largely devoid of scare tactics, other than to state the obvious: We had a lot to fear from four more years of the delusional and extremist GOP running the country. Obama offered hope, and that's why the nation and the world are rejoicing today. You can gain power and govern by employing either fear or hope. Saddam Hussein and the totalitarians of the last century utilized the former. The Republican Party still does. That doesn't make the GOP equivalent to Saddam's Baathist Party. Our fellows are still constitutionally constrained from employing Big Brother snooping on citizens, torture and concentration camps ... oops, I forgot George Bush shredded the Constitution.
The politics of fear distract people from real issues, and the Republicans know that. The biggest of the issues is the economy. Since 1980, we have witnessed a radical and reprehensible "redistribution of wealth" upwards – from Middle America to the gated redoubts of the ultra-wealthy. Obama's mention of "spreading the wealth" by returning it to the middle class wasn't socialism. It was the finest Americanism, the philosophy of great pre-Nixon Republicans such as Lincoln (who decried placing the interests of capital over those of labor), Teddy Roosevelt (who used his bully pulpit to argue for a progressive income tax), and Dwight Eisenhower (who wisely warned against the accumulation of wealth and power by the military-industrial complex, a jeremiad that eloquently foreshadowed the rise of Halliburton, Carlyle, Lockheed-Martin and our very own atrocity-creating outsourced army, Blackwater).
There are sane and smart Republicans, I swear. New York Times columnist David Brooks is one, and it's intriguing that he's already calling for economic policies reminiscent of FDR's New Deal. Noting that the nation's roads are clogged and that much of America is broken and in disrepair, last week he called for "a major infrastructure initiative [that] would create jobs for the less-educated workers who have been hit hardest." Wow, what enlightenment.
Unfortunately, such brilliance can't break through the noxious political clouds that smother Georgia. The Reagan-era, Gingrichian hordes still chant, "less government, small-bore solutions." And it ain't working.
In one direction, North Carolina just turned purple, maybe even blue with the ouster of Sen. Liddy Dole. To the south, Florida is governed by a truly sensible Republican governor who eschews the theocratic rabble-rousing of Georgia's GOP; plus the Sunshine State is radiating bright blue today.
Those two states "get it." Especially in North Carolina, there has been long-term investment in education and other critical assets. Florida, once current Gov. Charlie Crist finishes shaking off the toxic dust of Jeb and digs out of a housing and insurance crisis, likely will put that state on a very, um, progressive course.
The best that could happen here was that the Chambliss-Jim Martin race went into a runoff. Almost certainly, Obama will come to campaign, preaching the uplifting gospel of hope and progress. That will shake the foundations of Georgia's neo-Confederate Republicans. As one of them, Congressman Lynn Westmoreland (R-Nathan Bedford Forrest), recently groused, that black guy is "uppity." Once the rest of Georgia sees what uppityness can get you, there might be no stopping the people from sweeping Republicans out of office here as is happening across America.
What's very, very clear is that with a few worthy exceptions (such as Cobb Commission Chairman Sam Olens) the Republicans here have proven they cannot govern. The state is facing daunting crises in education, transportation, water resources – and all of that has cratered our economic growth. Georgia's economy ranks with Michigan as among the most devastated in the nation, and we have the boobs at the Gold Dome to thank for that. Rather than calling for massive investment in Georgia, as David Brooks advocates for the nation, they're busy fattening their own bank accounts, scaring folks and chasing comely lobbyists.
The term "more perfect union" from the U.S. Constitution's Preamble has come into vogue recently. No, something can't be "more perfect." It either is or isn't perfect. Our nation's Founders might have earned a rap on their knuckles from an English teacher, but they were stressing the notion that we can constantly improve on what they created.
You can only do that with hope as your guide. Georgia's current leadership is devoid not only of hope, but also of ideas and common sense. At best, they know only one thing, craven demagoguery. Two years from now, can Georgia forge a "more perfect" state?
I can hear you say it: Yes we can!