Guest Column

Chambliss' comments still echo

Georgians wondering how Sen. Saxby Chambliss suddenly became national news for an aside in a Senate hearing can find clues in a report issued by the College Republicans.

He could argue the attack is unfair. 

After all, Chambliss, R-Ga., is cosponsoring two bills to strengthen the prosecution of sexual assault in the military. And he agrees with Democratic colleagues that commanders should not have the power to overturn a rape re-conviction. 

When it was his allotted time in the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing to question the chiefs of the military branches recently, Chambliss used the opportunity to lecture them about the need to reduce assaults. 

“There’s also got to be some kind of fear put into these young people that come to every branch of our service the very first day that they raise their hand and swear to defend the Constitution,” he said. “The fear has got to be that that chain of command that we allude to really is serious about making sure that these types of sexual assaults do not occur.” 

He created the ruckus with an aside about those young people. 

“The young folks that are coming into each of your services are anywhere from 17 to 22 or 23,” he said. “Gee whiz, that’s -- the level of -- the hormone level created by nature sets in place the possibility for these types of things to occur.” 

So, when Chambliss tripped over his own tongue, the Democrats quickly jumped on him. Never mind that he was in the midst of berating the chiefs of the military branches for not stopping it. 

Democrats instantly recognized it as an opportunity to paint Republicans as closed-minded, rigid and old fashioned and lumped it in with a comment by Macon conservative commentator Erick Erickson, who said on CNN “the natural world order” gave males the “dominant role” as breadwinners and women a “complimentary role.” 

Not only did Democrats call on the senator to apologize and resign even, they also bullied GOP candidates seeking to succeed the retiring Chambliss to put them on the defensive. 

“Republican leader’s extreme, anti-women comments are despicable and offensive to women in Georgia and across the country. Paul Broun, Phil Gingrey, Jack Kingston, Karen Handel, and David Perdue must immediately condemn Saxby Chambliss and Erick Erickson’s comments,” said Regan Page, a spokeswoman at the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. 

Broun, Gingrey and Kingston are Georgia GOP congressmen. Handel is a former Georgia secretary of state and are all declared candidates. Perdue is a businessman and political newcomer who is exploring his own run for next year’s Senate rate. So, why were Democrats so hasty to take 20 words out of context from the 784 Chambliss uttered at the hearing? 

A day earlier, the College Republicans National Committee offered insight when it issued a report saying the GOP needs to stop coming across as closed-minded and mean. 

After last year’s election, the College Republicans conducted a series of focus-group discussions and surveys and concluded that 18-30-year-old voters see the GOP in a negative light. A survey in March showed just 33 percent of young voters had a favorable view of the party versus 53 percent with an unfavorable one. 

When asked which attributes least described the party, the terms used most often were open-minded, tolerant, caring and cooperative. Those surveyed painted the Democratic Party as almost the mirror image as being best described as open-minded, tolerant and intelligent. 

“When someone purchases a product, in some ways they are buying into the value system espoused by the brand,” the authors of the CR report wrote. “With a list of attributes like that, who would want to buy the product the GOP is selling?” 

The tactics of the national Democrats show they understand that. 

Social issues like sexual assault and gay marriage are handy for use in creating an image for yourself or your opponent because matters like economics and national security are so complex and even experts disagree. 

Surveys show that gay marriage, for instance, isn’t as high a priority for young voters as jobs, but the CR study proved one-quarter of them would vote against a candidate who opposed it but otherwise agreed with the voter on taxes, defense, immigration and federal spending. 

That’s why the Democrats hurl accusations that Republicans are at war with women and lack tolerance. And that’s what Republican strategists have to learn how to counter and GOP politicians have to stop handing Democrats the opportunities for. 

(Walter Jones is the Atlanta bureau chief for Morris News and has been covering Georgia politics since 1998.)

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