Monday, October 10, 2005

John Barrow - WTF??

If you happened to read Blake Aued's column on October 2, then you would have seen an interesting piece about the band the Visitations, who apparently paid a little visit to our Congressman, John Barrow. Seems the band had some concerns about Barrow's disdain for the 1st Amendment (or perhaps his disdain for losing his re-election campaign next year).

To be more specific, the band was hacked off (rightfully so, in our opinion) about Barrow's support for a Constitutional amendment that bans burning the U.S. flag.

According to Blake's column, the band was told that the Republicans are making Johnny B hate the 1st Amendment, since redistricting his made his district more conservative.

Also according to Blake, the Congressman (or more accurately, a member of his staff) promised the band a flag that was flown over the Capitol.

Today, Barrow writes in to the ABH to set the record straight.

Sez Barrow:
"I have never knowingly presented a flag to any group or individual who intended to desecrate it, nor would I ever. They are not going to get a flag flown over the U.S. Capitol. Not from me, at any rate."

Our question is this. Why?

Why make an issue out of this at all? Are you really that worried 13 months before the election?

John Barrow has smart folks working for him, and there's no denying that. But sometimes, Barrow's beltway brain trust is just a leeeeeeeeetle too smart for their own good. This is a good example.

Living in the fishbowl that is beltway politics does strange things to a person. There's a certain mindset that folks get into in DC, and part and parcel of that mindset is the unshakeable belief that the folks back in your district are watching every move you make and grading you accordingly.

Not exactly. And that's why the folks up in Barrow's DC headquarters kind of blew it.

Y'see, most folks had already forgotten about this particular story, especially in Athens, where politically, we have much bigger fish to fry right now, politically speaking. (Hey, you guys heard anything about this La Puerta del Sol thing?) So, the thing is, we aren't really paying that much attention to Barrow, and it's pretty much accepted as gospel that he's trying to run to the right, in order to avoid being labeled with the dreaded l-word.

But, by writing in, Barrow (and his communications staff) have turned a one-day story into a minor campaign issue. Left alone, this story doesn't go anywhere. Heck, we're not even sure that Max Burns (Barrow's ostensible opponent next year) would have picked up on it. And, even if ol' Maxie and the RNC did pick up on it, they've got better things to use against Barrow than this. The best thing to do was to let this go, and if you're really worried about it, go make some new news, instead of rehashing the old stuff.

Instead, though, Barrow chose to respond, and in a matter that was more defensive than statesmanlike to boot. As a result, what was a one-day story now has more legs. Granted, if Barrow's folks don't talk about it any more, then chances are the story dies now. Of course, there's always the chance that the Visitations might decide to respond now, and suddenly a story becomes a Story.

Worse though, is that a response actually makes Barrow more vulnerable to attack on the issue, because we've got a news story that says Barrow (via his staff) promised the band a flag, then, one week later, a letter from Barrow denying it. And what's the favorite epithet thrown at Kerry by Bush, and by extension at Democrats everywhere by Republicans everywhere?


And whether this is a flip-flop or not, Barrow just left himself wide open to have it thrown at him.

You might think that this is a lot of ink for one minor misstep. And you'd be right. Except for one thing. This is really symptomatic of why Barrow is going to be in trouble. Because what's logical in DC is just silly back home.

Eeeerbody in the club gettin' tips. Including us.


Publius said...

One thing I forgot to add is that, much like the mainstream media, I love a good process story.

Buck Laughlin said...

There's always the possibility Barrow is genuinely opposed to flag burning, and doesn't view it as something that should be protected by the Constitution. Lots of reasonable people hold that view.

Publius said...

Well, I'm not going to start a first amendment argument here, although I've always thought that political speech should be protected.

In any event, Barrow's views on the issue are irrelevant to the topic of the post.

The point is, as far as politics go, he (or his staff) blew it.

While his views are certainly a topic for discussion, that's a discussion for another day.

Anonymous said...

"According to the band, Barrow wasn't in his office when they visited, but they spoke with a staffer who told them that the former Athens-Clarke commissioner took a stand in favor the amendment because Republican redistricting is making the 12th Congressional District more conservative."

Sounds like he chose to support the amendment purely out of political expediency.

Face it, Buck. John Barrow will say or do anything to get elected, just like Al Gore.

Buck Laughlin said...

I'm happy with any arguement that says John Barrow isn't liberal enough.

But Pub is right and wrong in his political analysis. He's right: Barrow's staff is keeping the story alive beyond what should have been it's reasonable shelf life. But unlike Pub, I think it's good politics to keep the story alive. The universe of 12th district voters who are concerned about the Constitutional nuances of protecting flag burners is small, and nobody ever lost a farmer's vote by standing up to a rock band.

Publius said...

Buck has a point. No farmer in Gibson, GA is going to hate on Barrow for telling a bunch of "long haired hippie dope smokin peace freaks" (as a former history teacher of mine used to say) to go to hell.

However, I still think it's bad politics, because of the appearance of a flip-flop, which is an attack that is not new to Barrow. (I'd list some other Barrow flip-flops, but I'm not in the business of doing the RNC's work for them)

The RNC attack piece (probably mail, maybe radio, probably not TV) will focus on the fact that he promised the Visitations a flag of their very own, just to burn. Then they'll highlight the fact that one week later, he says he'd never do such a thing. Then they'll finish up with my favorite attack ad line, "Well, John...which is it?"

Actually, this probably won't be a campaign issue, but I've got to criticize it for the same reason you'd jump on a wide receiver for dropping an easy pass. Sure, it probably won't make a difference, but I like to see the game played well. And team Barrow dropped an easy one early in the first quarter.

To close, I'm going to do something that I hate to do. I'm going to compare real politics to "The West Wing." Normally, that's not my style, but this time, it applies well.

A few episodes ago, Josh Lyman, who is managing the campaign of the Democratic nominee for President draws three boxes up on the white board. He labels one "National Security," the second is "Domestic Policy," and the third is "Miscellaneous." (I'm not sure if those were the exact labels, but that is the gist)

Point is, that box 1 is where the Republican wants to keep the focus, box 2 is where the Democrat wants to keep the focus, and box 3 is beyond either campaign's control.

For Barrow, those boxes could be labeled: "Stuff that leaves me open to the stereotypical attacks against Democrats," "Stuff that makes me look good" (transportation funding, for instance), and "Misc".

Right now, Barrow and the flag is in box 3, but a few smart moves by the RNC and it becomes box 1. Point is, it never was in box 2.

One more thing. Let me be super-clear on this. I'm not saying that Dems shouldn't talk about national security and homeland security. We should, because we're better at it than the other guys.

But that's a good argument for another day.

hillary said...

Wait, how is this a flip-flop? I'm as ready as anyone (readier than many) to call Barrow a douchebag, and his refusing to give the band a flag if anything makes him seem like more of one, but I don't see this as any sort of real reversal.

Publius said...

In reality, it probably isn't. Barrow hasn't necessarily been inconsistent with respect to this issue as far as reality goes.

But, I've always kind of felt that reality has about the same relationship to campaign politics that Jessica Simpson has to musical talent (i.e. a passing acquaintance at best)

Actual facts have never stopped the GOP from making unsubstantiated attacks in the past (remember Max Cleland?), and given how highly targeted Johnny B will be in 06, I can't imagine that they'll let the facts stand in the way of good copy this time either, if they choose to make this an issue.

So, in the real world, where we live, it isn't really a flip-flop, but in the bizarro world of political messaging, any unscrupulous political consultant could turn it into one. Heck, half of Kerry's flip-flops weren't reversals either.

hillary said...

Yeah, but he didn't even say he'd give them a flag. His office did. That seems like a relatively substantial difference to me. If it comes up, it won't be as a flip-flop but more as "John Barrow wanted to use your tax dollars to give a flag to noted flag burners The Visitations."

Publius said...

That's a good angle too, and just as likely.

But I know, judging from what you write and how you write about it, that you're not the target for any of this negative messaging anyway. Probably no one who reads AP is. Chances are, our voting histories are too lefty to be targeted, and even if not, we follow politics closely, ergo our bullshit phasers are set on "kill", as it were.

But, if I were the GOP consultant advising O. Maxie Burns (his real name, or least as it appears on the ballot), I wouldn't worry about the difference between Barrow and Barrow's office, substantial as it is. (Obviously, some young intern, or whoever got tasked with the job that week, screwed the pooch, causing major communications freakout in the Barrow suite)

If I were that consultant, and I were hell bent on making this an issue (not that its a particularly strong one) I wouldn't worry about distinctions, and I'd back it up with the argument that if John Barrow is going to take credit for legislation his staff writes, then he's got to be accountable for promises his staff makes, and by extension, Barrow's staff is Barrow himself. (Which is a pretty decent point either way)

Of course, if were a GOP consultant (perish the thought!), then I'd probably just run ads based on the Hillary message: "Barrow is the suck."

So how's he going to do in the new 12th anyway? Anyone?

RandomThoughts said...

The point I see in all this is that John Barrow did not show good judgement in leaving his office in the charge of someone this politically inept. Makes me wonder if he has no well-trained staff or if he just doesn't think visitors to his office are a high priority. Either way, the fault lies with him. He is responsible for the message of his office.

hillary said...

True. But people make mistakes. I'm inclined to be more forgiving of a screw-up than deliberate douchebaggery. Anyway, the point is well taken.

I think he'll still pull some votes, but it's not like he's a particularly likeable guy on TV.

(Also, you gotta say "teh suck." If you're gonna talk like the kids, you have to go all the way.)