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Why I Don’t Watch Political Debates

I watched about seven minutes of the recent prime time Republican debate before switching to a recorded Antiques Roadshow segment on my DVR. Seven minutes was long enough to see the realization of the nightmare scenario offered in the movie Network. Peter Finch played the part of an anchorman gone mad. In the end, he became a star and network news had morphed to an entertainment show complete with a cheering and booing studio audience.

Lord help us, Network has arrived in the form of Fox News.

But, that’s not why I turned off the debate. I’ve barely watched them since Jimmy Carter taught me an invaluable lesson about making political decisions. In 1970 he was an obscure state legislator from south Georgia who I didn’t know much about. He had lost a bid for governor in 1966, but I was fifteen then and we had just moved to Georgia. During the next four years, I became politically active as a Vietnam War opponent and a civil rights proponent.

Back then, a man named Roy Harris from Augusta was still a powerful figure in Georgia politics. He had been a kingmaker since the 1930s, and his endorsement was a critical factor in being elected. He was an editor for a conservative Augusta newspaper and was a leader in the pro-segregation White Citizens Council. When I read that Jimmy Carter met with Roy Harris to seek his endorsement and got it, my political activities focused on beating Carter. After he became the Democratic nominee, I volunteered and worked hard for the Republican nominee, Hal Suit. As strange as it seems today, Hal Suit was considered a moderate—almost a liberal.

In those days, running as a Republican in Georgia was a lost cause and Hal Suit lost. I was extremely disappointed that the evil segregation-monger Jimmy Carter was going to be the governor of my state.

Then, he gave his inaugural address.

His speech only lasted twelve minutes, but it had a life-long impact on me. Newly elected Governor Carter said it was time for segregation to end. He said, “No poor, rural, weak, or black person should ever have to bear the additional burden of being deprived of the opportunity of an education, a job, or simple justice.”

What?

I went back and studied what Jimmy Carter had done before beginning his second campaign for governor. As a school board member, he had proposed enlightened educational reform. His plans were defeated in popular votes, but they were far from the thoughts of a follower of Roy Harris and his ilk. In his previous campaign for governor, he was a progressive moderate. His mother, Lillian, had volunteered for the Peace Corps in 1966 and worked with lepers in India. While kids often stray from their mama’s values, that’s not common. Had I studied what he’d done before his 1970 campaign, my opinion of him would have been very different, and everything he’s done since then bears that out.

Lesson learned.

While it’s disappointing to know Jimmy Carter was disingenuous during his campaign for governor, that behavior is the norm. There are exceptions, but we have no way of knowing until after the election.

So, after 1970, I quit paying attention to what candidates say during the election campaign. Instead, I examine their records for what they’ve actually done before the campaign began and make decisions from that. Having watched what politicians do after being elected, I can tell you they all return to their roots, no matter what they say during the campaign.

All this leaves a cautionary note to you Donald Trump supporters. You might want to look at his past and compare it to his campaign rhetoric. The life-long Trump is who’ll you’ll be getting, and I suspect that guy will scare the dickens out of you.

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