Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Republicans Retreat

Do you remember that sick feeling in the pit of your stomach when you just woke from a drunken haze to the reality that the midterm exam was in an hour, and you had yet to crack a book? (Never happened to me, of course.) That must be something like what Republicans are feeling right now as they face midterm elections. On a national level, things have pretty much gone to hell while they were napping. With Republicans set to pay at the polls for the Katrina response (or lack there of), the failure in Iraq, the escalating deficit and the general lack of confidence in the integrity of the President, no one should be surprised that the White House has announced that Karl Rove will be turning his attention away from policy to focus on politics and the upcoming election. For him, the line between policy and politics is faint, so the transition will be easy.

So, how will Rove respond? In classic style, he will retreat to the issues that have become the bedrock of Republican politics: 1) Pushing for a constitutional amendment to define marriage; 2) further restricting abortion; and 3) Asking for a constitutional amendment to ban burning the American flag. While NONE of these issues impact the day to day quality of life of the average family, they are all reducible to easy seven-second sound bites (yes, we no longer even have a fifteen second attention span).

We saw a similar pattern in Georgia, with "sound-bite driven" legislation winning the day. No longer is public policy based on best practice; it is simply based on best language and, in reality, best polling. So, we have a new sex offender law that law enforcement views as an unfunded mandate likely to drive the most dangerous offenders underground and certainly, because of restrictions on where convicted offenders can live and work, out of Atlanta and into rural Georgia where the fewest resources are available to track them. But, who can vote against, "Let's protect our children"? If only this bill accomplished that goal. See the article in today's Macon Telegraph

We also have "The 65% Solution", I mean, "The 65% Deception" that restricts further how local school districts spend their scare dollars. After all, who can object to "spending more money in the classroom where teachers teach and children learn"? Well, no one, and this bill is great provided you believe librarians, counselors, principals, teacher training and transportation are less relevant to learning than coaches, band directors and field trips.

In reality, Sonny Perdue's greatest political move has been to actually do very little. (Roy Barnes put forward and ambitious agenda, and you see what that got him!) Perdue has made virtually no substantive policy moves that address the critical issues of jobs, healthcare and education. Ironically, that, on election day, could actually serve him well.

For "do nothing and say great things" politics to fail in Georgia, Democrats will have to put forward an agenda that resonates with the values and the day to day experience of voters. In Georgia, that means putting addressing our educational crisis, looking for realistic solutions for our growing number of uninsured, and improving public safety ahead of sound-bite politics.

Bill Shipp's piece today Red Herrings Have Worked for Too Many Years in State Politics looks at the issue of whether the public will pay attention. It's a worthy read.