Bookman: No need to adjust your set if you don’t recognize TV Perdue

Columnist Jay Bookman writes that the Washington version of Sen. David Perdue is a loyal supporter of President Donald Trump, but the man claiming to be Georgia's senator in TV ads avoids mention of the occupant of the Oval Office. Zach Gibson - Pool/Getty Images

There’s a man on my TV set these days claiming to be U.S. Sen. David Perdue, but I sure don’t recognize him. He’s nothing like the David Perdue that Georgians have come to know over the last six years.

On TV, we see a people-oriented, compassionate Perdue, trying to pass programs to help Georgians; in Washington, we’ve seen a Perdue who actually spent his first Senate term trying to gut social and health-care programs. 

The TV Perdue says he will guarantee affordable health insurance for those with pre-existing conditions, while the senator up in Washington has voted eight separate times to repeal or undercut the Affordable Care Act, which already provides that guarantee. To this date, more than 10 years after passage of the ACA, neither President Trump nor members of the Trump Party have explained how they would replace it.

The Perdue on my TV set looks into the camera and tells us that “absolutely” we need police reform, calling for law-enforcement officers to be given de-escalation training and body cameras and to recruit police forces that look more like the communities they serve. The Perdue in Washington, on the other hand, has been a fawning supporter of Donald Trump, to the point of referring to Trump as “an American Churchill.”

However, when the original Churchill promised that “We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender,” he was trying to unite the British people to fight the Nazis, not urging them to start fighting each other. He was bringing the British people together, not dividing them.

As far as I can tell, the Trump name or image never appears in a Perdue ad. What we do see is the TV Perdue giving himself an awful lot of credit for doing not much at all. 

For example, we are told that when the coronavirus confronted us with “an unprecedented crisis,” “Senator David Perdue got to work. The Paycheck Protection Program helped thousands of small businesses save a million and a half Georgia jobs.” The script and imagery make it sound as if Perdue managed that feat pretty much on his own, overcoming great opposition, but in truth the legislation passed the Senate by 96-0 and passed almost unanimously in the Democratic House as well.

In another commercial, Perdue pronounces himself outraged by the alleged lack of respect for the U.S. military that he discovered upon arriving in Congress, telling us how he fought to get our service personnel the largest pay hike they’ve seen in more than a decade. 

Well, the pay hike was 3.1 percent; the vote in the Senate to pass it was 86-8. Without Perdue it would have been 85-9

The Perdue on my TV set doesn’t say a word about the massive tax cuts for the wealthy and for corporations that he and others in his party once celebrated as the crowning achievement of Trump’s term in office. And while the Washington Perdue still talks about the national debt as “the number one topic,” the TV Perdue is silent. He doesn’t say the things that he says in Washington, which is to insist that the problem can only be solved by cutting “entitlements.”

You know … Social Security? Medicare and Medicaid? Tax cuts for the wealthy and benefit cuts for everyone else – that’s how Perdue has attempted to govern, but it’s not the message that TV Perdue wants to campaign upon.

Perdue has been silent about a whole lot of important things. In 2018, during a meeting with congressional leaders, Trump launched into a racist tirade against Haiti and African countries that astounded many of his listeners. It was so bad that U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, normally a Trump apologist, felt obligated to speak up in that meeting to rebuke the president personally.

U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson of Georgia was not at the meeting, but later he too felt obliged to speak out.

“I did not hear it,” Isakson said, “but if it’s true, he owes the people of Haiti and all of mankind an apology. That is not the kind of statement that the leader of the free world should make, and he ought to be ashamed of himself.”

Perdue, who did attend the meeting, said nothing, claiming he didn’t remember the comments that others recalled with crystal clarity. 

It’s not news that politicians exaggerate their accomplishments and downplay their failures; members of both parties do it all the time, particularly as elections near. But you seldom see such a stark, black-and-white contrast between the actions of a politician in Washington and how that politician tries to portray himself to the voters back home. 

His campaign amounts to something of a confession. The TV version of himself is the version that he knows the people of Georgia need and deserve, the version that demonstrates moral leadership and advocates policies that will help the state thrive. But it’s the Washington version that is real, and that he ought to be judged upon.