The 12th District race and the art of public speaking

At the outset, the 12th District congressional race down in southeast Georgia was to be a straight-up test of whether the last white Democrat from the Deep South would be able to survive another two years in Congress.

But in the last few weeks, the contest between Democratic incumbent John Barrow of Augusta and Republican challenger Lee Anderson of Grovetown, has been transformed – at least for the moment — into something slightly different.

It’s now an argument over elocution, over whether the ability to speak clearly and think on one’s feet is a worthwhile talent to take to Washington – or whether glibness and smooth-talking should be considered part of the problem.

Anderson, a farmer and state lawmaker, concedes that he’s not a Toastmasters kind of guy. Not only that, he has a rural Southern accent so pronounced that it ought to be preserved in amber for future generations to examine and enjoy.

He speaks with a King James cadence that sometimes shoves grammar into the glove compartment and leaves it there. “My gift is one-on-one. My gift is getting the job done,” Anderson said in a telephone interview. “No, I’m not the best public speaker. Always said I’m not. And I don’t want to be.

U.S. Rep. John Barrow, D-Augusta, and GOP challenger Lee Anderson. AJC file

U.S. Rep. John Barrow, D-Augusta, and GOP challenger Lee Anderson. AJC file

“Look at what conditions we in now, I mean. Smooth-talking people are in Congress now – and see what kind of condition we in? People are fed up. People want someone that can communicate with them, that they can relate to, that’s struggling just like they struggling. They want someone to go to Washington and go to work, and not just have a nice talk.”

Debates aren’t usually an important part of a campaign. But in the normal course of ousting an incumbent, a challenger will demand a series of them in order to put himself on an equal footing with the candidate he intends to replace. Anderson has done the opposite.

The GOP challenger says he’ll debate Barrow only after the congressman declares, on television, that he intends to vote for President Barack Obama in November. (In a July interview with Daniel Malloy, the AJC’s Washington correspondent, Barrow did just that. But Malloy didn’t have a TV camera.)

If the object is simply to tie Barrow to Obama, why not simply haul the congressman up on stage and demand he explain himself?

“When he won’t be truthful to the people, why let him get on the air and tell other scenarios and situations where he’s not being truthful?” Anderson replied.

Anderson says he has no fear of debating Barrow, but his position has drawn criticism from the home front. “Republicans for the past three years have loved beating up on President Obama for using a teleprompter during even the most mundane speeches. What are we to say about a candidate who won’t even speak?” wrote Barry Paschal, publisher of the Columbia County News-Times on Wednesday.

Shortly after his selection as the GOP nominee for vice president, U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin was asked how he would match up against Vice President Joe Biden in next month’s national debate between the pair.

“I’ve been in Congress 14 years and this is what we do, especially in the House. The Senate, they don’t debate as often and as frequently. That’s all we do in the House, is we debate,” Ryan said.

Barrow says Ryan is spot on, and declares that he’ll meet Anderson on any stage, any time. Just as Anderson wants to tie him to Obama, Barrow wants Anderson to answer for Republican plans – put forward by Ryan and others – to make fundamental changes to Medicare and Social Security.

“They ought to sharpen the focus on what they’re proposing and who’s going to get screwed by it, but they avoid any opportunity to explain it. Instead, they basically say ‘So’s your old man,’” Barrow declared in his own, softer Southern accent.

Barrow would surely agree that a talent for public speaking is no guarantee of intelligence – else the world would be ruled by TV news anchors. But unlike Anderson, Barrow contends that talking is an essential part of the job.

“You have to be able explain the issues to the voters, explain yourself, explain the options to the voters and why you support what you do,” he said.

More importantly, a member of Congress is the voice of his district, Barrow added. In the 12th, he becomes the buffer between the Savannah River Site, a nuclear disposal area, and the U.S. Department of Energy. He monitors cuts to Fort Gordon in Augusta and Fort Stewart on the coast proposed by the Pentagon.

“If the word comes down that they want to cut out Fort Gordon, and it all comes down to your congressman trying to talk them out of it, who do you think would do the best job of doing that?” Barrow asked. “Words matter. Ideas matter. And ideas find their expression in words.”

Anderson says his no-debate position isn’t rock-solid. “We’re still considering it. We’ll still be looking at it,” he said. In the meantime, Anderson said, he’ll be concentrating on one-on-one conversations with voters.

- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider

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30 comments Add your comment

Look before I leap...

September 19th, 2012
6:00 pm

Lee Anderson may be the only person in Georgia who can speak and make the Real Housewives of Atlanta look intelligent.

oppo

September 19th, 2012
6:12 pm

i’m john barrow and I approve this message because i’m a trial lawyer and professional politician, who will say anything, compromise anything i believe in, and sell members of my family to get re-elected.

Anderson may be country, but he knows which end of the donkey he’s looking at when he sees barrow.

[...] Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog) [...]

td

September 19th, 2012
6:29 pm

He sounds a lot like Zell Miller to me.

ld

September 19th, 2012
7:15 pm

Remember, “Romancing the Stone”?

Anderson: “too happy” (and that syrup-southern accent “too contrived”).

ld

September 19th, 2012
7:16 pm

…and Zell was a turncoat.

td

September 19th, 2012
7:36 pm

ld

September 19th, 2012
7:16 pm

Zell was a conservative and the Democratic party left him, he did not leave the party.

Just Nasty & Mean

September 19th, 2012
7:43 pm

Barrow doesn’t know which side to support—he doesn’t want to associate with Obama democRats–like he does in DC—or act like a Reagan blue dog democRat. Talk about a dichotomy! the poor two-faced professional LAWYER and POLITICIAN is trying to straddle a split personality—all to keep power.
12th District–it is time to shuck this ear of corn and get a real Congressman w/out a forked tongue.

Kris

September 19th, 2012
8:35 pm

@ td @ ld

I no dog, jackass or elephant in this dog and pony show, I will however send a bail of hay to the donkey

Got to give credit to the Democrats taking a dump on zig zag…

re-elect President OBAMA

yuzeyurbrane

September 19th, 2012
9:27 pm

“Vote for me, I’m just a plain old dirt farmer like you folks”, said Boss Finley in movie “Sweet Bird of Youth”.

Wilbur@gmail.com

September 19th, 2012
10:09 pm

Democrats are pathetic. Barrow can only win by distancing himself from democrats…why not vote for what you really want…a republican. Barrow wants to seem like a republican while still voting for Speaker Pelosi and for the Obama administration when they really need him.

Kris

September 19th, 2012
10:36 pm

@ yuzeyurbrane

“Vote for me, I’m just a plain old dirt farmer like you folks”, said Boss Finley in movie “Sweet Bird of Youth”.

Is your dirt farmer in the 47%?

Buckhead

September 20th, 2012
12:14 am

I’d vote for John Barrow, despite his party affiliation in a heartbeat over a Lee Anderson who can’t put on a pair of boots without Joel McElhannon’s help any day.

Statesboro conservative

September 20th, 2012
1:13 am

I can’t belI’ve that someone as stupid as lee Anderson has the possiblility to be representative in the 3rd highest nationally elected office! In a time of such economic and fiscal crisis in our country the last thing we need is some hick who doesnt know what the federal reserve is and who says on election night “we have came together [in a southern accent thicker than Paula deans]“. The Idea of Lee trying to negotiate on behalf of fort Gordon or the deepening of the port is as frightening as the fact the he was on the board of education in Columbia county. If I were their superinetendant I would stop him from saying that, because if Lee wins I can see what people from all over the US will think of that school system! However if the nrcc is smart they will keep lee hidden in his office just like Joel McElhannon is away from TV cameras. Lee Anderson says being a good speaker isn’t needed to be a congressman, I agree, however if you can’t address the media and the voters during a campaign what do you expect to do in washington dc? I want a congressman who will try to get something done and who will have influence. That man is NOT Lee Anderson. Ga 12 will have to wait two more years to have a good congressman.

honested

September 20th, 2012
8:15 am

Y’ll, it ain’t fair makin’ this man get up agin’ this big word usin’, english speakin’ fancy thinkin’ man.

If’n he loses, only paul broun will be able to exemplfy the rubes south and east of Atlanta (the center of sin in the universe).

Alan

September 20th, 2012
8:28 am

And yet Anderson somehow manages to make a living farming. He’s got to have some good business skills. Is there anything more difficult than farming? This speaks well for Anderson. And given the situation the Harvard and Yale crowd has gotten this country into, Anderson can’t possibly do worse. So, yeah. A farmer instead of a Harvard lawyer. Currently there is only one active farmer in Congress. Anderson would be the second. It would be a better congress if there were more farmers and less real good talkers.

Thomas

September 20th, 2012
9:31 am

A common sense guy, A real people guy, A man you can truly understand if you’re from South Georgia. We need more, “You didn’t Build that” men and women leading this country instead of Silver spoon fed individuals who have sold their souls to big time dollars!

Rick

September 20th, 2012
10:02 am

Actually, Barrow didn’t vote for Pelosi for Speaker. He voted for John Lewis of Atlanta.

yuzeyurbrane

September 20th, 2012
10:19 am

Kris–actually, in the movie Boss lived in a dirt farm mansion. Great movie. I recommend it. Ed Begley, Sr. played Boss Finley and Paul Newman was either his son or son-in-law. Another great line was when it was revealed that Boss’s mistress had written “Boss Finley can’t cut the mustard anymore” in lipstick on the mirror in the ladies room of restaurant.

Alan–you insult farmers. I have known of plenty of UGA Ag School graduates who are quite smart and articulate. Now, as to credentials, if you had cancer would you look for the best credentialed man in that field or someone who had been at the bottom of his class? I personally want someone who is smarter than me elected to all high offices.

CobbGOPer

September 20th, 2012
10:20 am

Barrow should be careful. Those arguments – essentially “Do you really want this hick speaking for you in Congress?” – don’t generally play in rural Georgia where most people sound more like Mr. Anderson than they do Mr. Barrow. The fact Anderson didn’t even graduate college makes no difference. Just ask Lynn Westmoreland, a college dropout who’s now making national security decisions for us on the House Intelligence Committee. If that isn’t scary I don’t know what is.

Capitol Hack

September 20th, 2012
10:30 am

Anderson will not debate unless poll numbers really start to swing against him. A debate would be disastrous, mostly because he’s a terrible speaker but also because he’d have to explain all the federal subsidies he’s received as a farmer. You know, handouts from the fedrul gummint? (Romney would call him a “taker”.) I’ve got nothing against farmers, but everything against hypocrites who complain about taxes and demand government cuts for others while living on government subsidies.

Jon Lester

September 20th, 2012
10:31 am

Einstein once said, “if can’t explain something simply, then you don’t understand it well enough.” The problem with Anderson isn’t how he speaks, but that he actually believes all those GOP talking points, but can’t seem to adequately explain why. It may be a moot point, because the Romney/Ryan campaign seems to be doing in the whole party, which is obviously beyond Anderson’s control.

citizen

September 20th, 2012
11:54 am

I have such strong feelings for this country and our future standing on the world stage that it is VERY important for me to at least believe in the person wanting to represent me in Congress. Lee Anderson is too scared to debate John Barrow because he knows his answers will be weak compared to Mr. Barrow’s answers. He just wants you to vote for him because, well, he has the (R) by his name on the ballot.

Tracy Williams

September 20th, 2012
2:19 pm

I going to vote for John Barrow and hope the voters of the 12 district do liokewise. Anderson would be just another Republican Pawn.

Tracy Williams

September 20th, 2012
2:24 pm

I am going to vote for John Barrow and hope that the voters of the 12 District will do like-wise. Lee Anderson is just another Republican Pawn.

cc

September 20th, 2012
2:29 pm

Remember this: “Your morning jolt: James Earl Carter IV and the ‘poetic justice’ behind the Romney video
9:50 am September 18, 2012, by jgalloway”?

It has now been learned that the tape released was selectively edited in the portion where Romney spoke about the Muslims and terrorism. Listening to the entire audio portion reveals that the meaning of Romney’s comments were changed completely by the portion dimocraps said was ‘flawed’ and could not be used. James Earl Carter IV and/or the national dimocrap party (probably known by Obama) are confirmed blatant liars as they continue to deceive the American public with the aid of the very willing and compliant ‘news media’.

The above is NOT to state that Galloway knew this at the time the column was written and posted.

honested

September 20th, 2012
4:17 pm

cc,

Your pathetic apology for your messiah makes me sad.

honested

September 20th, 2012
4:23 pm

CobbGOPer,

That westmoreland is even a Congressman is a very, scary thought!

cc

September 20th, 2012
4:39 pm

honested@4:17 pm:
“Your pathetic apology for your messiah makes me sad.”
If you saw an ‘apology’ in what I posted, I urge you to attend some remedial reading comprehension classes. You have yourself a nice day . . .

Truth-O-Meter

September 20th, 2012
8:51 pm

What’s all the fuss about? He does not need to be a great speaker. He only needs to vote however Grover Norquist tells him to vote. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to do that!

And folks want to see the President’s transcript from law school. Pleeeeeeeze