Commentary

Bookman: No guts no glory if Herschel weasels out of Warnock debate

July 28, 2022 1:00 am

Herschel Walker signed autographs in July 2022 for fans at a livestock auction house in Athens. Ross Williams/Georgia Recorder

Back in the primary, Herschel Walker wanted nothing to do with a debate against his Republican opponents, but at least he had a lame excuse of an excuse. With polls showing Walker with an insurmountable lead among Republicans, he could shrug off calls for a debate on the grounds that none of his opponents had earned the right to share a stage with him.

Brave Sir Herschel also made it plain that what he really really wanted – in fact, he was itching for it – was the opportunity to take on the Democratic incumbent, Raphael Warnock, face to face. Then the world would see that Herschel the politician was just as competitive and dominant as Herschel the athlete had been.

“I’m ready for Sen. Warnock,” as Walker put it back then. “When he’s ready to debate, he calls the time, he makes the place. I’m ready to go.”

The time has come, and to the surprise of no one, that turns out to have been an act of bluster. Three Walker-Warnock debates have been scheduled by traditional Georgia debate sponsors – one in Savannah, one in Macon and one in Atlanta – and Walker has agreed to appear in none of them. The big, bad bulldog has turned into a yapper, one of those little dogs that yaps and yaps and yaps as long as it’s on a leash, but suddenly falls silent and takes cover under the bed when released. 

Since it’s still July, and the election isn’t until November, Walker can’t even fall back on the “scheduling conflict” excuse. Instead, his spokesperson has been left to explain that they’re unhappy with debate proposals because “Team Herschel doesn’t care about the old way of doing things and we don’t buy into past political debate traditions.” 

It is entirely unclear what new-fangled debate conditions they have in mind. Maybe schedule it for after the election?

The old way of doing things has certainly had value, as conservatives are supposed to appreciate. In fact, with voters increasingly trapped within their own information silos, debates are more important than ever. They offer the rare opportunity to watch as competing world views collide, without filters, and to test assumptions. “Is my candidate really as good as I’m being told? Is their candidate really as bad as I’m being told?”

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A confident candidate embraces that test. A scared candidate ducks it, as David Perdue did in 2020.

Furthermore, agreeing to debates is a fundamental act of respect for the democratic process and for the voters whom candidates seek to represent. If you’re asking people for their vote, if you’re humbly putting yourself forward as someone worthy of the high office you seek, the least you can do is submit to the job-interview process.

Likewise, refusing to debate is an act of disrespect, for the office and for voters trying to inform themselves. 

Again, none of this should be a surprise, because Walker’s candidacy itself is an act of disrespect. It’s predicated on the belief that football heroics from 40 years ago are all the qualifications needed to be a U.S. senator from Georgia, and football heroics from 40 years ago are all the qualifications that Walker possesses.

Well, that, and an endorsement from Donald Trump. Under Trump, the GOP has finally become the big-tent party that it supposedly wanted to be, but this particular tent is a carnival tent and Trump is its carnival barker. 

“Step right up,” the top-hatted Trump tells the crowd. “See the most colossal collection of misfits and miscreants ever assembled for the entertainment of man. We’ve got clowns and contortionists, tightrope walkers and snake charmers. See the man with no spine, the woman with two faces!”

And now, the candidate with no guts.

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Jay Bookman
Jay Bookman

Jay Bookman covered Georgia and national politics for nearly 30 years for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, earning numerous national, regional and state journalism awards. He has been awarded the National Headliner Award and the Walker Stone Award for outstanding editorial writing, and is the only two-time winner of the Pulliam Fellowship granted by the Society of Professional Journalists. He is also the author of "Caught in the Current," published by St. Martin's Press.

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