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News - Mouths wide shut

McKinney, Walker don't deserve Democrats' silence

It's time for Democrats to abandon their traditional theme song here in Georgia. Out with "Happy Days Are Here Again." Instead, bring on "The Sound of Silence."

Why the need for a new tune? Well, after U.S. Rep. Cynthia McKinney put forward her deluded drivel that President Bush may have ignored warnings about the Sept. 11 attacks so his friends could profit from the military-industrial complex, most right-thinking people roundly denounced her. But Georgia Democrats — except for Sen. Zell Miller, God love him — were suddenly mute. Where was King Roy Barnes? Where was Sen. Max Cleland?

A similar curious silence descended after the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported in excruciating detail on Senate Majority Leader Charles Walker's penchant for extracting private profit from public service. Talk about a living, breathing argument for ethics reform.

But top Georgia Democrats weren't talking. Where was King Roy (again)? Where was Mark Taylor? Silence, like a cancer, grows. GOP leaders, to their credit, did blister McKinney after she parked herself on the Grassy Knoll. But chances are that they won't make Walker an issue in Senate races across the state this year (as they should).

Why all this deafening silence? We all know why — we're just too cowed by political correctness to admit it. McKinney and Walker are being spared criticism they richly deserve because they are black. Uh-oh. Now I've gone and done it. I have spoken the political truth that dare not speak its name. (And now you know why I had to stop being a Democrat.)

Republicans won't go full bore after Walker because they're terrified of being labeled racists. Democrats won't go after arguably the most powerful black politician in Georgia because they're afraid of the backlash from black voters. That fear is based on a, frankly, racist assumption that black voters won't be as offended by Walker's behavior as white voters. Democrats such as Barnes and Cleland don't publicly distance themselves from McKinney's idiocy because they think they need the votes of her supporters to win statewide.

True, she does have a following in a segment of the black community that subscribes to a particularly nutty strain of left-wingery. But the assumption that most black people share McKinney's wacky ideology, and thus will punish Democrats who criticize her, is, again, racist.

If she were white, Democratic leaders wouldn't so easily conclude that her constituents are ready to defend her bizarre theories in the voting booth. They wouldn't be nearly so afraid to criticize her, and they wouldn't be nearly as willing to subvert the public interest by supporting her continued stay in Congress.

In its investigation, the AJC found that Walker's family members and associates, as well as companies in which he has a direct interest, have profited from contracts with state agencies and pork barrel spending that he's sent back home to Augusta. Walker, despite sitting in a safe Senate seat, also has amassed a campaign fund in the high six figures, and the paper raised questions about how that cash has been spent and whether Walker complied with state disclosure rules.

Given the sad state of Georgia's weak ethics laws, Walker probably hasn't done anything criminal. And if the good voters of his Augusta district want to keep sending him back to the Gold Dome, that's their right and their business. But when his fellow Senate Democrats keep him on as majority leader, it becomes your business and mine.

Of course, a generation or two ago in Georgia, a black man wouldn't have risen to majority leader and a black woman couldn't have been elected to Congress. The fall of those racial barriers has been a welcome advance for this state. But having righted those past wrongs, we've now entered a new and disturbing phase in the history of racial politics where legitimate criticism is stifled because of skin color.

McKinney and Walker shouldn't be penalized simply because they are black. But neither should they be protected by it.

richard.shumate@creativeloafing.com

Richard Shumate is a writer and recovering Democrat in Buckhead, where a vision softly creeping left its seeds while he was sleeping.??





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