“THE SADDEST life is that of a political aspirant under democracy. His failure is ignominious, and his success is disgraceful.” - H. L. Mencken, 1929
A truly seasoned political player chuckles to herself at accusations of hypocrisy. The joke is she never truly believes the entirety of her own words out on the campaign stump in the first place — at least not beyond their usefulness at the moment. Best not to believe in one’s own propaganda too much, especially for the sake of one’s sanity. Indeed, a political player smiles when she is called out for unprincipled behavior because what remains hidden to the public eye are those deeper principles required to win political power.
Call them hypocrites if you wish, but the practical men and women who run the political scene have little time for those who define integrity as a shallow consistency in one’s public political speech. No, what matters behind the political scenes generally goes unsaid and yet remains understood by those keen enough to know the rules of the game; integrity means being loyal to the cause even at the expense of appearing disloyal to truth and consistency.
That said, I hope Katie Britt is chuckling to herself.
Her decision to decline to debate Mo Brooks under the circus big top before the June 21 run-off election for US Senate is both politically savvy and downright hilarious for those of us with a warped Machiavellian sense of humor.
Yet, some longtime political watchers did not find Britt’s decision wise or humorous.
For example, former Alabama talk radio host, Matt Murphy, had this to say on Twitter:
“I’m in TN now, & have kept my opinion on AL Senate race to myself…Until now. Katie Britt has disqualified herself by refusing to debate her Senate opponent. Her justification was to say he wants a ‘circus.’ Shameful politi-speak. She is afraid to face the voters. Period.”
Matt Murphy makes a fair point, but I personally think this latest move by Britt to balk at debating Brooks is hardly disqualifying — though it’s incredibly disappointing.
It’s not disqualifying because it’s a common, tried-and-true tactic in Alabama politics. Why debate when you already have a strong lead in the polls? Why meet your opponent directly on the field of battle when a run-out-the-clock, war of attrition will do the trick?
After all, Kay Ivey didn’t debate this cycle, and she was rewarded. Tommy Tuberville didn’t debate last cycle and he was rewarded. Richard Shelby hasn’t debated an opponent in God only knows how many moons, and yet his name is etched onto stone buildings all over this state like it’s some kind of commandment from Mount Sinai.
Point is: to decline to debate as a clear front-runner has been shown time and time again to be a wise political decision that the voters of Alabama do not punish (unless you’re Mike Durant; more on his ill-fated choice later).
Britt’s decision not to debate is disappointing because “new blood” would mean something different than the old guard’s bloodless approach to politics. I can only suspect the elder vampires who have run Alabama politics for far too long still have their fangs in this process to some degree.
All that said, I hope Katie Britt is seasoned enough as a political player to laugh at herself, especially as I now summon past Katie Britt to play the role of accuser to present Katie Britt.
Just this past April of 2022, Britt had plenty to say about Mike Durant’s refusal to debate in an interview with Jeff Poor:
"I think the Alabama voters deserve to see all of the candidates on the stage at the same time, talking about issues that are important to them… You know, when you see a 30-second TV clip, you don't get to know where the actual candidates stand on policy issues. You don't get to dig deep into those. You don't get to understand where their priorities are or what they want to do for the people of Alabama… To Congressman Brooks' credit, he has agreed to be a part of these, just like I have. But Mike Durant has been totally radio silent… I mean, what does that tell you? I think it tells you that, well, he clearly has something to hide."
Katie Britt was right: Alabama voters do deserve to see the candidates on the stage at the same time, talking about the important issues.
Katie Britt was correct: 30-second TV commercials don’t allow voters to fully understand a candidate's positions on policy issues or to dig deep on a candidate's priorities.
So, what does Katie Britt’s refusal to debate tell you? Was Katie Britt right just a couple months ago to think it tells you that, well, she has something to hide?
I’m not calling Katie Britt a hypocrite because I don’t believe she is a hypocrite — not deep down where it counts. In fact, if the cat keeps jumping the way so many experts are predicting, I happily expect to call her Senator Britt soon.
If Katie Britt does have something to hide, I suspect it’s simply her ambition. Of course, she’s not alone in this. No big deal. The job does call for it. Oh look, a politician who wants to win! And like all politicians in our democratic system (including Mo Brooks), Britt is required to camouflage such ambition in the name of service to the people.
There’s certainly nothing wrong with ambition — it makes the political world go round — but given Katie Britt’s recent refusal to debate, I suppose I was a fool to have thought the new generation’s ambition should be made of sterner stuff.
Joey Clark is a native Alabamian and currently, the host of the radio program News and Views on News Talk 93.1 FM WACV out of Montgomery, AL M-F 9 am-12 noon. His column appears every Tuesday in 1819 News. To contact Joey for media or speaking appearances as well as any feedback please email email@example.com. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of 1819 News. To comment, please send an email with your name and contact information to Commentary@1819news.com.