OPINION: Herschel Walker and election enter the red zone

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

It’s Labor Day weekend and time to officially kick off two vital seasons: Football and elections.

And thank goodness we here in Georgia have the legendary Herschel Walker to cover both realms.

Walker had been canonized for leading the Bulldogs to the 1980 national football championship. That was their last title, of course, until he decided to run for the U.S. Senate and the Dogs up and won again.

You think that’s a coincidence?

Walker has an innate relationship with Labor Day because he always has been werkin it. He was a football juggernaut turned ballerino, bobsled pusher, MMA fighter, poultry peddler, FBI-trained law enforcement agent, motivational speaker and businessman who successfully used being a minority to his advantage. Now he’s aiming to add United States Senator to his bulging resume.

Well, much of that is truish. It turns out the law enforcement claims were made up and his business career is a mixed bag of overstatement, creditor lawsuits, exaggeration, stretched truths and reinvented realities — which means Herschel might be a natural at politics.

Walker has always been a premier competitor, and politics is a sport where unabated ego is wrapped into the package. It’s an undertaking where you must go out there and put yourself on the line, saying “Hey, look at me.” You must tell the world how wonderful you are and how radical and awful your opponent is. If you get more votes than your opponent, you’re a winner. Get less and you’re a loser. And Herschel Walker is no Loser.

People largely dislike out-and-out braggarts, so politicians must master the art of humble bragging, and Walker’s story has been heroic. He was a poor kid from a small town who stuttered, but through force of will and hard work built himself into a football dynamo, high school valedictorian and college graduate who ended up in the top 1% of his UGA class.

It turns out the latter is a Whopper, the valedictorian claim is unproven and the dynamo thing is absolutely 110% (as they say in sports) right on the money.

But being able to pancake a cornerback in the open field does not make one a Senator. But it sure doesn’t exclude you, either. Celebrities like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Ronald Reagan, Fred Thompson, Clint Eastwood, Al Franken and Jesse Ventura all successfully shifted from their former careers to the political sphere. Republican voters seem to like celebs more than the Dems, and that’s what Walker and that whacky Oz fellow in Pennsylvania are banking on.

Celebrities are crossing boundaries all the time. I’m sure that Walker saw former Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville’s success in becoming a U.S. Senator in Alabama and thought, “Heck, I can do that.”

A key part of shifting to the political world is learning the knack of speechifying, and actors, football coaches, wrestlers and even former gridiron battering rams are generally pretty good at that.

Walker is homespun, plain talking and likable. That is, of course, unless you encounter one of his alternate personalities and then there might be trouble, as evidence by claims of abuse of his former wife.

The AJC’s Greg Bluestein asked Walker’s GOP primary opponent, Gary Black, if he would support Herschel if he became the party’s nominee for Senate. “No,” Black said. “Anybody who has put his hands on a woman like he has and has not taken responsibility has not earned my vote.”

Black has still not come aboard with the Walker campaign, which is unusual because primary candidates often say all sorts of things in the heat of battle but then, in a call for party unity, join up with the person who thumped them.

Walker’s team says he has owned up to his prior acts of violence by telling the world about his embarrassing struggles with mental illness. Now, they say, it’s just troubled waters under the bridge.

In all, voters should look for a candidate to elucidate the issues important to them. Walker’s opponent, Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock, has been pushing him to debate, thinking Walker would stumble and bumble when forced to talk clearly about policy matters and the nuts and bolts of government.

Walker has been elusive in agreeing to a debate but has said he’ll do one in Savannah next month. Gamesmanship over terms and rules while setting up debates is nothing new in politics. Candidates make all sorts of crazy demands to avoid them or stack the rules in their favor. So I fully expect Walker to agree to a debate so long as his opponent displays his Heisman Trophy behind him on the stage.

He’s certainly been colorful in his efforts at explanation. He has dismissed efforts to clean up the air because “when China gets our good air, their bad air gotta move. So it moves over to our good air space. Then, now, we’ve got to clean that back up.”

I mean, why even try to fix it?

He doubts evolution. “Why are there still apes?” he wondered. “Think about it.”

Upon further pondering, I recall that Fred Flintstone had a pet dinosaur, so that throws even more doubt on evolution.

And, yes, Herschel, you can use that one on the trail. Free of charge.