Brian Kemp was a local developer in 1998 when he took part in a Flagpole special issue on the future of Athens.
Please don’t get me wrong: I have no intention of voting for Brian Kemp. He has always been further to the right politically than I am, and we all know how far he went in the recent Republican primary and runoff.
Kemp’s friend since childhood, affable and gregarious Charles Davis, dean of UGA’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communications, tweeted last week: “I went to high school with GOP guv candidate @BrianKempGA. We played YMCA ball from childhood. Politics be damned. He is a nice guy, always was. Kind to a fault. He's a friend, always has been, and will be when we're old(er) and grey(er). That's how all this should work, people.”
Davis’ support of his friend drew agreement, but it also elicited responses to the effect that a “nice guy” doesn’t take the kind of stands Kemp takes and suggestions that nobody should be friends with a guy who is running as a Trump supporter and has been rewarded with Trump’s endorsement.
Davis took down his post from Twitter and Facebook and apologized to anybody he might have offended, having apparently accomplished the exact opposite of what he intended.
And there we have the dilemma that we all face with friends and family. If people you love get what Camus described as “the plague” and Ionesco portrayed as turning into a rhinoceros, do you stop loving them? Of course not, though wisdom advises that it’s best not to discuss politics, and in these days dominated by Trump, we inevitably feel more comfortable with friends who see Trump the same as we do.
Dean Davis’ friend Brian Kemp sees Trump as his role model, and Davis made it clear that his old friend is still his old friend, “politics be damned.” Davis knows that the real Brian Kemp is not the swaggering, “Hee Haw” character with the shotgun and the big truck and the chainsaw. Kemp’s well-paid Republican public relations firm turned him into a caricature of the stereotypical Georgian, and it was highly effective political theater. The play’s the thing, and, who knows, it might have caught the conscience of the king and won Kemp the Trump endorsement.
Everybody who knows Brian Kemp personally knows that, however mean his politics and dicey his tenure as secretary of state, he is not that bubba on your TV. He simply did what needed to be done in order to leapfrog the frontrunner. And we can pretty much predict the PR script for his campaign against Stacey Abrams.
Whoever produced Kemp’s TV ads concocted sheer political genius by creating a character Georgia Republicans love. That is what’s so disheartening—that the overwhelming majority of the major party in our state respond wholeheartedly to a gun nut in a big pickup out to round up illegals and proudly telling us about it in an accent from redneck central casting.
Kemp’s PR people figured out a way to run to the right of another right-wing Republican. Coming up with the scenario was smart, but the strategy is just staple Georgia politics. Nobody ever lost in Georgia by running to the right. Even our beloved Jimmy Carter did it in his gubernatorial race against the more progressive Carl Sanders. Carter criticized Sanders’ ties to Martin Luther King Jr. and praised Alabama Gov. George Wallace, the Trump of his day, making all us liberals so mad we almost turned over the phone booth where we were meeting. Then Carter angered all the conservatives who voted for him by announcing in his inaugural address that “…the time of racial discrimination is over.” They just changed parties and went on discriminating.
So now we have the clearest choice we have ever had in a Georgia election: a Yale Law-educated black woman against Trump’s pick for Georgia. The result will probably be the usual 45 percent or so for the blacks and liberals, with the big pickups taking the victory lap. Stacy Abrams is going to talk about the real issues facing Georgians: education and health care and jobs. Kemp’s PR firm will press all the hot buttons that have always motivated the majority of Georgians and the corporations that support and are supported by “conservative” government.
Hating Brian Kemp is not the point. Hating what he stands for is. Vote with love for the real Georgia, where real people face real problems and deserve government that’s on their side.