January 29, 2023

By Robin Givhan / The Washington Post

Herschel Walker is an abomination of a civics class. But he’s more than that. He’s an affront. His is the politics of disrespect.

He is a sadness. He is a wound.

A long list of troubling allegations has dogged Walker as he faces Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock in a December 6 runoff in Georgia. Walker has been accused of domestic violence, pressured former girlfriends into having abortions, failed to recognize and care for several children, and misled the public about the success of his business acumen. He is also known for rambling speeches, incomprehensible answers to direct questions, and a deeply troubled relationship with the English language. In a speech to his supporters as the Nov. 8 election results trickled in, he likened his campaign to a pile of poop and himself to the dopey title character in Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.

He’s been the punch line for a host of comedians, who have highlighted the sordid allegations that surround him like a storm cloud and his tendency to get lost in his own sentences. In a Saturday Night Live monologue, Dave Chappelle described Walker as “conspicuously stupid”.

Walker is also a Republican. He is a candidate for a party that did an autopsy after its defeats in the 2012 election and found that in order to prevail going forward it needed to win over a more diverse group of voters and candidates to its orthodoxy. One could interpret that as the party had to seek out the best and the brightest, but because of Trumpism, Republicans offered Walker, who has described himself as a “country boy, you know. I’m not that smart.”

Walker compared himself to Warnock, the senior pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, the home church of Martin Luther King Jr. Warnock is a graduate of Morehouse College; Walker lied about graduating from the University of Georgia. Walker is black. And if he prevails over Warnock, who is also black, he would join a tiny minority of black men in the Senate: Cory Booker, DN.J., and Tim Scott, RS.C.

Walker, a former soccer player, was born in 1962, which places him in a generation that often heard a kind of mantra from their elders about what it takes to succeed in life. The message was not simple, that they had to do whatever was required; they had to do that and more because society tended to underestimate them, dismiss them, ignore them. They had to be better than their white counterparts just to be considered equal. The striving to the top was not only an individual striving, it was also a collective striving. Excellence was a form of deep gratitude, a thank you to the elderly who marched and bled and died to clear a path. Not preparing was an insult. Lying was a sin. Losing focus was pure laziness.

Walker is a disappointment. Not as a former Heisman Trophy-winning athlete or a conservative, but as a black man fighting nationally to get a second black Republican in the Senate to widen the conversation so conservative black Americans are better heard and understood can help turn scarcity into abundance.

Rather than embodying the best and brightest, Walker embodies muddled willingness, nonchalant mediocrity, inexcusable indifference to the truth.

If Walker’s campaign were to succeed, he would not necessarily be the person in the Senate who is least resourced or most likely to deliver an incomprehensible speech. But consider Walker’s earlier comments. While arguing that the Biden administration is spending too much money to fight global warming, Walker asked, “Don’t we have enough trees here?” When discussing climate change, he suggested that “bad air” is coming from China change places with “good air” in Georgia. Walker is not alone in his ignorance. He’s not the only one who thinks climate change is a joke. But he’s quite possibly the most ill-equipped and most incomprehensible black man in the Senate.

And while that shouldn’t matter, it does. If there were justice in this world, Walker should be able to be as weak as a flickering lightbulb, and his success or failure should be little more than a measure of how much Georgia voters partisan politics estimate. There are black conspiracy theorists and election deniers, all of whom deny the validity of their untruths. But when there are so few black men — or women — in a room on Capitol Hill, each is of outsized importance. They actually speak for the masses. Her voice is a voice that heralds the existence, importance and possible contributions of so many others, some who look and think like her; and some that don’t.

In politics, the best and brightest black people often don’t run. And when they do, they don’t always win; no matter how prepared, how experienced or how eloquent. Sometimes mediocrity wins. Sometimes average wins. And that’s okay.

But being twice as bad is no measure of progress.

Robin Givhan is a senior critic writing on politics, race and the arts. A 2006 Pulitzer Prize winner for criticism, Givhan has also worked for Newsweek/Daily Beast, Vogue magazine and the Detroit Free Press. Follow her on Twitter @RobinGivhan

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