If Hillary Clinton is elected president in November, U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson predicts that he and his fellow Republicans in Congress won’t go into lockdown mode, refusing to compromise and legislate as they did in response to the election of Barack Obama.In fact, in an interview with the AJC’s Jim Galloway and Bill Nigut of Georgia Public Broadcasting, Isakson predicts that “the next two years are going to be exciting regardless of who gets elected president, because we have problems that we can’t put off solving any more.”
“I don’t think it will be like the post-Obama election at all,” Isakson said. “The one thing you have to remember is that for five years (Clinton) was secretary of state while we were in the Senate. We had to work together an awful lot as members of the Foreign Relations Committee and also as members of the Senate Armed Services Committee. So I don’t think it will be the same.
“Barack Obama was somewhat of an unknown – he was a senator, but only for a year-and-a-half before he was elected president. She is a known commodity, and I think there’ll be more camaraderie in terms of attitudes toward working together than there might have been in the early days of Obama.”
I don’t doubt that reflects Isakson’s personal inclination and hope. I’ve covered him since his days in the Georgia General Assembly, where the respect that he enjoyed across partisan lines made him an effective agent of compromise. It’s a role that he would clearly like to play again, this time on a national scale. That’s probably the primary reason that he has chosen to run again, even though he’s fighting Parkinson’s and will be 72 years old when he starts his next six-year term.
Unfortunately, I think Isakson badly misreads his own party and his fellow Republicans in Washington, particularly in the House. They have spent the last quarter century demonizing Clinton, turning a centrist politician into an evil harpy who leaves corruption and dead people in her wake. The GOP base believes that to its core, and on Republican talk radio and elsewhere, they are being told that the republic cannot survive a Clinton presidency, that if she manages to win the election the response must not be compromise but obstruction, investigation and impeachment.
Whatever personal camaraderie Clinton might enjoy with Isakson and a few other GOP senators won’t outweigh that legacy of hate that the GOP has invested so much in creating, and it’s a real shame. We’ve gotten to the point where Americans younger than 40 have no adult memory of a time when Congress functioned in a somewhat responsible manner, when it was still capable of acting as the compromise-forcing machine that the Founders designed. Their only frame of reference is the dysfunctional institution that they see in Washington today, where Republicans have turned compromise into a synonym for treason.
And while Isakson knows what we’ve lost and knows the damage it has done to the country, he hasn’t shown the leadership to stand up to the worst elements of his party. Publicly, Isakson has not fought for a Republican Party that is capable of governing; he has fallen silent at a time when his voice and those of others could have been useful. And if he doesn’t dare to speak out, who will?
The answer has been no one, and we reap the harvest.