On Jan. 5, Georgia voters will decide the runoff for their two U.S. Senate seats. Their votes will determine whether Republicans retain control of the Senate or whether Democrats gain a 50-50 tie, with Vice President Kamala Harris the tie-breaking vote. The race is a microcosm of America’s struggle to find a way forward and of Georgia and the South’s struggle to build a new South.
The two Democratic challengers reflect the new age still waiting to be born. Rev. Raphael Warnock, senior pastor at Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, the congregation led by the late Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., is a distinguished heir to the King tradition. Thirty-three-year-old Jon Ossoff, educated at Georgetown and the London School of Economics, was born and raised in Atlanta, interned for the late Rep. John Lewis and served as a national security staffer to Rep. Hank Johnson. He has been CEO of Insight TWI, a London based documentary maker that focuses on detailing corruption in foreign countries.
Both Reverend Warnock and Mr. Ossoff have put forth a moderate platform for change. Both support immediate action to forestall an economic collapse as the pandemic spikes. Without assistance, states and localities will be forced to cut services and lay off employees like teachers and firefighters.
Both Reverend Warnock and Mr. Ossoff support strengthening the Affordable Care Act, by adding a public option and reducing prescription drug prices, but oppose Medicare for All. Both call for bold action to deal with the reality of catastrophic climate change, but oppose the Green New Deal. Both are for lifting the minimum wage, and for assistance to small businesses.
Their Republican opponents are the sitting senators — Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue. Both are multimillionaires. Both were charged with insider trading, selling stocks after receiving private briefings on the threat posed by the pandemic. Both dubiously claimed that their advisers made the trades without their knowledge. Both tout themselves as Donald Trump supporters. They oppose the Affordable Care Act, and support alternatives that would leave hundreds of thousands of Georgians without health care. Both, lavishly supported by oil and gas interests, refuse to consider climate change a major threat. Ms. Loeffler, the co-owner of the Atlanta Dream, a women’s professional basketball team, loudly denounced support given to the Black Lives Matter movement, leading her players to wear T-shirts saying Vote Warnock. Neither Mr. Perdue nor Ms. Loeffler bother to offer a serious agenda to address the problems that Georgians face. They joined Republican leader Mitch McConnell in blocking the rescue act in the midst of the pandemic.
Neither Ms. Loeffler nor Mr. Perdue have a clue or a care for working for poor people in Georgia. So how do they hope to get elected? Both have adopted the same strategy: echo Donald Trump’s divisive race-based populism and benefit from systematic suppression of the vote. They’ve booked nearly $200 million in vicious attack ads against their opponents, painting them as a threat to all things American. Mr. Perdue falsely paints Mr. Ossoff as a “radical socialist.” In a classic anti-Semitic trope, Mr. Perdue’s campaign released an ad that lengthened Mr. Ossoff nose. Ms. Loeffler paints Reverend Warnock as a “radical” who will “change this country forever,” nonsensically promoting herself as the “firewall in stopping socialism in America.” In her stump speech, in less than 45 seconds, she wildly links the distinguished minister to Obama’s minister Rev. Wright, Fidel Castro, George Soros, and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
Ms. Loeffler and Mr. Perdue won’t admit that Joe Biden won the presidential election, nor that he won Georgia. Adopting Donald Trump’s baseless claims of fraud, they wrote a joint letter calling for the resignation of the Georgia secretary of state, a conservative Republican supporter of Donald Trump. He scorned the demand as “laughable.”
What isn’t laughable is the long lines that Black voters had to suffer in order to cast a vote in the primaries and November election. For years, Georgia — controlled by Republicans — has passed various measures to suppress the votes of minorities and the young, including gerrymandering districts, requiring photo ID, aggressive purging of voter rolls, and more.
Neither America nor Georgia can move forward until the growing majority that is desperate for change overcomes the systematic efforts to divide and suppress. This country cannot begin to address the threats it faces — the pandemic, the economic collapse, corrosive and extreme inequality, catastrophic climate change, racial inequity, growing insecurity and a declining middle class — until those standing in the way are defeated. Ms. Loeffler says the “future of the country is at stake on January 5.” Of her many delusions, that one may be the closest to the truth.
Rev. Jesse Jackson can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter: @RevJJackson.