Once They Were Giants

Come November, Democrats will likely expand the slender majorities they now hold in the Senate and House. What are the odds that Georgia’s delegation will regain some of its lost prestige in a time of Democratic control? Not good.

My colleague Bill Shipp, who rode herd over this piece of journalistic real estate for some years, used to lament that they just didn’t make congressmen from Georgia like they used to.

Whether you agreed with their politics or not, you had to concede that Georgia had people with clout walking the hallways of the U.S. Capitol. Sam Nunn knew more about national defense issues than any of his Senate colleagues. Newt Gingrich built a Republican majority and ran it for nearly five years as speaker of the House.

Richard Russell, despite his segregationist leanings, was nevertheless one of the giants of the Senate during the post-World War II years. Even Zell Miller, for all his zig-zagging and party-hopping, dominated the political media like no other first-term senator you ever saw.

When these guys talked, people listened. They may have been appalled at what they heard, but they still listened.

But, as Shipp noted, the ranks of the state’s delegation have been thinned considerably. In this new millennium, Georgia’s congressmen don’t have the stature and influence of their predecessors.

Come November, Democrats will likely expand the slender majorities they now hold in the Senate and House. There is a decent chance that the voters could elect a Democratic president as well.

What are the odds that Georgia’s delegation will regain some of its lost prestige in a time of Democratic control? Not good.

Sen. Johnny Isakson, 10 or 12 years ago, was the kind of moderate Republican who would have done rather well at cutting deals with a Democratic majority. But he has had to move so far to the right to accommodate his base of support in Georgia that I don’t think he could do that anymore. All the more reason to think that Johnny will come marching home to run for governor in 2010.

Sen. Saxby Chambliss owes his status in the Senate to his unflinching support for practically everything George W. Bush has ever proposed, no matter how disastrous. Under a heavier Democratic majority, Chambliss stands to shrink a little more in importance. Democrats haven’t forgotten and will never forgive him for the TV spot he ran in 2002 linking Max Cleland, a decorated Vietnam veteran, to Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein.

About all you hear out of Rep. John Linder these days is his call for a 30 percent national sales tax and a dismantling of the IRS. He couldn’t even get that passed, however, when Republicans held firm control of Congress and the White House. With Democrats in command, he’ll only get a sympathetic hearing from Neal Boortz.

Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, a very likeable guy during his tenure in the Georgia General Assembly, had the bad luck to leave the legislature just as the House shifted to GOP control. Lynn could have been speaker of the Georgia House – which would have ensured at least one less divorce among the legislative leadership. In Washington, he’s going to be relegated to the back bench for quite some time.

Rep. Jim Marshall would normally be in good shape as a middle Georgia Democrat whose party controls the House. Unfortunately for him, Marshall is disliked by the folks who are running the progressive wing of the Democratic Party these days – they scornfully refer to him as a “Bush dog.” He didn’t help himself any by being the only House Democrat who voted every time against expanding the children’s health insurance program last year.

Rep. Jack Kingston is one of the more erudite critics of congressional Democrats, so he’ll at least get lots of airtime on Fox News and other conservative media outlets. Jack may even have the time to buy a few more of those American flag lapel pins to which he attaches so much importance.

Rep. John Lewis is still revered as a “living saint” for his record as a civil rights leader, but can anyone name a single thing he’s accomplished in Congress when it actually comes to, you know, legislating? Me neither. You shouldn’t expect to see much from him, even with a stronger Democratic majority.

Bottom line: If you’re waiting for signs of greatness from our congressional delegation, you’re going to have to wait a while longer. No matter which party is in control.

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