Former governor takes aim against attack campaigns

By Greg Gelpi

Issues, not slogans, should take the center stage of political debate.

Sharp division as evidence by the presidential election is harming the country, former Gov. Roy Barnes said.

Barnes spoke to an overflowing crowd at Clayton College & State University Tuesday about the state of politics and politics in the state as part of the university's Lyceum speaker series.

Although on opposite ends of the political spectrum, Sean Walker and Melissa Carter, both of McDonough, agreed with Barnes' take on the divisiveness of President George Bush and Democratic Nominee John Kerry's campaigns.

"The issues aren't coming to the surface because they're just saying everything negative, negative, negative," said Carter, the president of Clayton State's Young Republicans. "He hit it right on the nail."

The division of the presidential candidates united Clayton State students against attack ads.

"He hit a lot of points that haven't been touched," said Walker, the president of Clayton State's Young Democrats.

Illustrating his concern over division, Barnes pointed to the histories of Atlanta and Birmingham, Ala., in the 1960s.

Both metropolitan areas were similar in size at the time, but the two took different paths because of state leadership.

While Alabama Gov. George Wallace declared resistance to desegregation, Ga. Gov. Carl Sanders vowed to accept the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling on civil rights. Barnes said to look at the size of the two cities today.

The "politics of personal destruction" are ripping the country apart, Barnes said. "I don't think it's good for our nation, and I don't think it's good for our state."

Campaigns are no longer about facts, but about who can attack an opponent best, he said.

It's our fault, though, for the predicament the nation finds itself in and the caliber of leaders running for president, Barnes said. Politicians' only daily fear is not being re-elected, and voters must be vocal in holding the country's leadership to higher standards.

"We may be Democrats and we may be Republicans, but in the first instance we are all Georgians and we are all Americans," Barnes said.

Rather than personal attacks, Kerry and Bush should be discussing relevant issues, such as the $500 billion the country borrowed this year, he said.

"There is no easy reason, but I tell you it deserves a better answer than slogans," Barnes said.

Barnes also commented on the decline of education in the state, touting his record on education and denouncing state funding cuts and the decision to increase class size.

"I would have scraped the gold off the capital before I cut education funding," Barnes said.

Although the mud has been slinging on both sides of the aisle, this presidential campaign has been no dirtier than other campaigns, said Joseph S. Trachtenberg, Clayton College & State University political science professor. It's "typical" that "bad new gets a larger audience" than does good news.

Political debate has turned to questions about character rather than issues, he said. Both are "highly intelligent," and military service isn't the issue.

He agreed with Barnes that the election will be close.

"I don't think it's over by any means," Trachtenberg said, adding that it's important for everyone to register to vote.

Both Barnes and Trachtenberg said that, unlike most presidential elections, debates will play a large factor in helping voters decide who to support.

Barnes served 26 years of public service, first being elected at the age of 26 as one of the youngest state legislators. He practices law in Cobb County.