Aug. 26, 2002: Farewell, Dear Cynthia: The Problem Was Y-O-U

Honorable Cynthia McKinney

Somewhere in Outer Space

I apologize for bothering you at this awkward time, but I wanted you to know that I am here to offer my support in these difficult days. It is the least I can do. You have provided so much fodder for this column over the past several years that I owe you, big-time.

I am going to miss your outrageous behavior and your off-the-wall comments. I am going to miss the annual ritual of watching you try to hug the president on national television before every State of the Union speech. Seeing you elbow your colleagues to get to the aisle and smile that loopy smile of yours as the president walked by became a tradition in our home, like watching the Rose Parade. You became an important part of my life. I always knew that when I grew tired of picking on Ted Turner or proponents of the old state flag, I could count on your doing something totally bizarre that would be worth a column or two.

Perhaps a good place to start would be to offer an in-depth analysis of your recent defeat in the Fourth Congressional District at the hands of Judge Denise Majette. Your father, Representative Billy McKinney, said on television that the problem was “J-E-W.” While it is difficult to disagree with someone who built his reputation fostering racial harmony as your Dad has (remember when he called your opponent in your last election a “racist Jew”?) I would offer an alternative theory: The problem was “Y-O-U.” The voters were tired of you and your mouth.

Blaming your defeat on Republicans crossing over and voting against you is easy, but that theory won’t fly. If you look at how well the GOP has fared in Georgia over the years, you are giving them much more credit than they deserve. This crowd enjoys fighting with each other too much to worry about what Democrats are doing. You got beat because you lost touch with your constituents. You got beat because you assumed that black people are monolithic and think and act in lockstep. That outlook is not only wrong, it is insulting. The people told you so with their votes.

You got beat because you forget the advice of the late Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill, who said, “All politics is local.” Despite a lapse in grammar, his admonition was right on. Your constituents weren’t impressed with your opinions on the Middle East – most of which were wrong anyway. Your conspiracy theory that the White House promoted war just to enrich the defense industry was way past nutty. Obviously, they weren’t impressed when you paraded Jesse Jackson and Louis Farrakahn around the district just before the election, as if they had something substantive to contribute to the campaign. Your constituents wanted somebody in your office to return their calls and answer their letters and for you to come home on the weekend and shake their hands and find out what was on their minds. You ignored them because you were too busy trying to be a national figure. If that nation was Saudi Arabia, you may have succeeded.

Just as whites booted out the abrasive Bob Barr in favor of low-key John Linder, blacks decided that your grandstanding style of politics didn’t fit their needs anymore – if it ever did. Your constituents want an effective representative, not a showboating publicity hound.

Now that your political career is in the dumper, you say you may go back to school and finish work on your PhD. Good for you. Most of the important stuff to learn, though, doesn’t appear in the textbooks. Perhaps the most important lesson I gleaned from my college experience came from one of the most influential professors in my life, Dr. Raymond Cook. One day during my freshman year, I stood up in his literature class and offered my opinions on a particular poem, providing clear evidence that I had no idea what I was talking about. Dr. Cook scolded me severely in front of the class. Then he pointed his finger at me and said, “Mr. Yarbrough, always think before you speak.” I never forgot that. Dr. Cook’s advice saved my career more than once. I have the feeling, Representative McKinney, that it could have saved yours, too.

Your humble scribe,
Dick Yarbrough