Great cities, theoretically, should have great public discourse. With the primary election season all but over, we know our public discourse has a way to go.
In race after race, the debates have been tepid, uninspired, tedious, and second-rate.
We don’t win anymore. As a region, we lose out on infrastructure projects, play backbench on port funds, prepare to get jobbed out in the next round of military base realignments and closures … and we should be ready to lose.
Why? Because our political leaders, in debates, simply don’t bring the fire. In the 1992 Democratic primaries, candidate Paul Tsongas used to refer to one of his opponents as a “pander bear.”
This pool of candidates? More like “pander bore.”
I’ve seen debates involving candidates from House Districts 12, 13, 14 and 16 on the state level and multiple debates with candidates from Congressional Districts 4 and 5. And quite a few state attorney debates (on the public defender side, Matt Shirk is shook by debating Charles Cofer).
The common thread? There’s no policy difference between these candidates on anything meaningful. No compelling explication of political philosophy, almost anywhere, with some fields of candidates being about as intellectually compelling as a snipe sign. It’s worst on the right, of course — as candidates, in an attempt to play-act as a Donald Trump-styled conservative outsider, seem to have done their debate prep with a copy of None Dare Call It Treason in hand.
Space won’t permit me to name all of the worst offenders. But I can get to a few.
Arguably the most underwhelming debater — especially considering that he spent almost a million dollars to get to, like, 12 percent in the polls — has to be Ol’ Rawhide himself, Hans Tanzler, in CD 4.The Florida Times-Union’s Ron Littlepage calls him the “Ortega Cowboy.” Tanzler’s people served up a lot of hits painting “Liberal John” Rutherford as soft on guns, soft on illegals, and soft on Islamic extremism. It was almost enough to make you overlook the Geo Group, of private prison cartel fame, giving Rutherford money, perhaps in anticipation of a committee placement in D.C.
Speaking of underwhelming, there was Wes White in the State Attorney debate. The Nassau County cowboy serves up a lot of social media hits and gets really breezy and slick about calling for spurious grand jury investigations. But when push came to shove, he sounded more shook than Charlie Brown trying to ask the little redheaded girl out. White and Angela Corey have been attempting to elbow Melissa Nelson out of the race, for the crime of having supporters who aren’t either a) wearing tinfoil hats or b) aren’t getting ready to enter DROP (deferred retirement option program) and draw a public pension. Politicians are like pop stars: When they get old, they get desperate. And White and Corey are both Madonna at this point. But neither is a lucky star.
Also coming up short in the CD 5 debate is Al Lawson. His major case to Jacksonville voters still boils down to not being Corrine Brown. He’s been coached on local issues, but you don’t pick up on them without meaningful regular exposure. He wasn’t really able to go in on Corrine the way he should have. Last week was his chance to not just point out her moral failings, but make a closing case. Al erred on the side of amiability. The guy’s been a politician since disco was popular; he knows what he’s doing. But the move would have been to go for the knockout instead of winning on points.
However, despite the fact that Lawson chose not to go after her like he meant it, Corrine was still the big loser of the night. It started off when she got on the debate stage and, when asked about her indictment, she compared it to an unfounded charge of pedophilia (!!) against the moderator.
Then, in a presser afterward, when I asked her about the One Door charges, wanting to know who was responsible for the malfeasance alleged if she wasn’t (Ronnie Simmons? Carla Wiley?), she then reprised the pedophile metaphor, against mistaking loose talk with a 46-page indictment, before calling the charges “bullshit” and a “Peyton Place witch hunt.”
And then, at 7:22 the next morning, she posted effectively the same thing to her campaign webpage: “Let me ask you folks a question: What if I accused you guys of being pedophiles? I bet that didn’t feel too good, did it? Well, that’s how I feel, especially because I’m innocent.”
She added that she didn’t have to “prove” her “innocence,” in court or to the media, before finding a way to allegedly stand up a 99-year-old woman she allegedly was supposed to take to a supporter’s breakfast (Brown’s camp didn’t respond to my request for comment on those allegations).
So fine, in the context of that meltdown, maybe it didn’t matter that Lawson didn’t bring fire. For the other candidates mentioned, though, missed opportunities piled up like so many discarded mail pieces.