Bookman: Of Georgia’s voter surge, Trump’s COVID and health care

Columnist Jay Bookman writes that as President Donald Trump boasted this week he is polling better than he did when he won in 2016, he wasn't even ahead in reliably red Georgia. Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Scenes from America, in a nice fall week in October of 2020…

More than 125,000 Georgians stood in long, socially distant lines – some for five hours, six hours, eight hours, even 11 hours – to cast their ballots on the first day of early voting this week. Another 111,000 voted Tuesday, and half a million have already voted absentee. 

“To sum it up, Georgia voters are excited, and setting records every hour,” as Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said Wednesday. “And this is all during a pandemic, lest we forget.”

The turnout is inspiring, a demonstration of faith in and commitment to a democratic process that some Americans have seemed ready to abandon. The vote remains “the most powerful non-violent tool we have in a democratic society,” as the late John Lewis taught us, and people are clearly eager to use it. 

If we’re truthful, however, those lines are more than just a demonstration of voter faith; they are also motivated by just a touch of desperation, because if democracy can’t halt this chaos and this outbreak of hate, what other options do we have?

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Down in Florida, President Trump resumed his trademark political rallies this week, drawing together thousands of red-hatted, mask-free fans even in the midst of a pandemic that days earlier had threatened Trump’s life.

The president was lucky to survive; each day, the virus takes the lives of another 800 or 900 Americans. Maybe those victims lack Trump’s good genes and strong constitution, as the president would tell the story; more likely, they lack Trump’s personal team of the nation’s best doctors, with access to cutting-edge treatments. But the death toll is now approaching a quarter million.

In his speech Monday night, Trump didn’t dwell much on that tragic number. Instead, he told the faithful that he’s going to win and win big in 2020, “by a lot more now than we were four years ago.” He’s leading in Florida, he said, although polling averages show him trailing there by almost five points; he also claimed to be leading in Minnesota, where polls say he’s trailing by nine.

We’re going to win a lot of states big,” Trump bragged. “We’re leading in Arizona (he’s down four). We’re leading in Nevada (down 6.4). We think we’re leading in Pennsylvania (down 7.2). We’re leading in North Carolina (down 3). We’re leading all over the place.”

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According to publicly available polls, Trump’s not even leading here in Georgia, where the fivethirtyeight.com polling average has the president down by less than a point. Given Georgia’s history, Trump is still the favorite here, but the closeness of the race helps to explain why he felt it necessary to schedule a rally in Macon on Friday. He clearly fears the state is in play.

It also helps to explain why U.S. Sen. David Perdue, long one of Trump’s most shameless courtiers, has gone silent in his flattery as he faces a tough re-election fight of his own. It was telling that in an hour-long debate with Democrat Jon Ossoff this week, the name “Trump” never passed Perdue’s clenched jaw.

Instead, Perdue accused Ossoff of pursuing “a radical socialist agenda,” a phrase he had clearly been coached to recite at every opportunity because his advisers believed it so devastating. Ossoff has a “radical socialist agenda” because unlike Perdue, he acknowledges that mankind is causing highly destructive climate change; he has a “radical socialist agenda” because he also believes that Georgians have a right to affordable health care.

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The idea that access to health care ought to be a right in a modern, prosperous society has been one of the few policy ideas capable of penetrating in this personality-centered campaign, and it has important implications down ballot. Our Republican governor and Republican legislators have stubbornly refused to allow expansion of Medicaid in Georgia, denying insurance to roughly half a million people. As a result, Georgia has the second highest rate of uninsured in the country, behind only Texas. 

Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr, also a Republican, has joined a lawsuit now before the U.S. Supreme Court that seeks to overturn the Affordable Care Act entirely, including provisions guaranteeing coverage for pre-existing conditions. Should that lawsuit succeed, an additional half-million Georgians would lose access to health insurance in the middle of a pandemic. If it’s a “radical socialist agenda” to think that would be a very bad idea, count me in.

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Up in Washington, most Republicans continue to project a muted optimism about the election, but what they’re doing contradicts what they try to say.  Under Senate Judiciary Chair Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, they are rushing through the confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett to the U.S. Supreme Court, intent on getting Barrett seated before the election. The haste is not a sign of Republican confidence in their long-term electoral future. 

Graham in particular is acting like a Civil War plantation owner who knows the war is lost, and is rushing to bury the family silver and jewels before Sherman and the advancing Yankees show up. And it’s no small irony that Graham saw it coming four years ago. 

“Trump is a kook,” he warned his fellow Republicans back in 2016. “I think he’s crazy. I think he’s unfit to be president.” And in a now-infamous tweet, he predicted that “If we nominate Trump, we will get destroyed, and we will deserve it.” 

That prediction hasn’t yet come true, and certainly it has taken longer to play out than Graham expected, longer than a lot of us expected.  But you know, karma is an itch, man, and sometimes you have to wait a while to scratch it.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go vote.