In just a few weeks, all 21 senate candidates in Georgia’s clown car of a special election are set to begin their debates, bringing a spectacularly chaotic race to its logical conclusion: A messy public battle between several people who have no business opining on the key issues of the day.
Both races in Georgia have garnered some national attention, particularly in a year when Democrats only need to secure three or four seats to gain control of the Senate. In the more pedestrian race, which pits the Republican senator David Perdue against the Democrat Jon Ossoff, polls have suggested the race may be close in a traditionally conservative state—a margin that’s drawn political action committees and other outside spenders to pour over $83 million in recent months. And in the special election, which has drawn almost two dozen candidates who will all appear on the ballot without the limiting or sanity-inducing factor of a primary, any of the 21 people running who received more than 50 percent of the vote could theoretically win.
Atlanta Magazine has quite aptly referred to the whole situation as a Battle Royale.
Of the 21 fighters, which include a handful of perennial candidates, a former Trump administration official, a Green Party candidate, and a Libertarian, only a handful are projected to poll well enough to make it, mercifully, to the second round of debates: They include two aggressively Trumpian conservatives; a respected Black pastor running as a Democrat; a progressive lawyer; and Matt Lieberman, the son of Joe Lieberman and a man so committed to not reading the room he’s still in the race after the president of the state’s NAACP urged him to drop out following the discovery of his novel about a white man’s maybe-imaginary “slave.”
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As of last week, Democrats were urging the latter two candidates to leave the crowded race and throw their support behind Reverend Raphael Warnock, a clear front-runner, and a preacher at the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church. Warnock presided over the church’s memorial service for Congressman John Lewis in July and is a lifetime member of the NAACP. Both Democratic candidates have so far refused to step aside.
The Republican side of the unwieldy election has also insisted on splitting party loyalties, albeit between two compulsive personalities vying to be the most adored by Trump’s base. The most recently controversial of these candidates has been Kelly Loeffler, the deeply conservative and extremely wealthy Second Amendment advocate picked by Georgia’s governor to temporarily occupy the position vacated by Senator Johnny Isakson late last year. You may remember Loeffler as the politician who billed herself as “more conservative than Attila the Hun” in a recent campaign ad, filming a baffling bit in which a dutiful stenographer translates the notorious warlord’s various grunts into “fight China,” “attack big government,” and “eliminate the liberal scribes.”
“FYI Attila the Hun was an open-borders globalist who killed Christians and practiced postnatal abortion,” Loeffler’s closest Republican challenger, Doug Collins, wrote in response to the ad, not to be outdone. Collins, who President Trump originally endorsed to take the seat Loeffler currently occupies, also recently tweeted his thoughts and prayers for the “more than 30 million innocent babies that have been murdered during the decades that Ruth Bader Ginsburg defended pro-abortion laws,” doubling down on the sentiment when asked to comment on it in the press.
But perhaps more bizarre than even the harnessing of Attila the Hun’s legacy as a foil for conservative ideology is the case of Matt Lieberman, billed as an outsider candidate to shake up politics as usual in Georgia. This is a weird thing to claim, coming from a Connecticut-bred graduate of Yale and son of former vice presidential candidate and long-time senator. But to date, Lieberman’s most consistent news coverage has been generated by his 2018 self-published book, by all accounts a very racist piece of work masquerading as a reckoning with whiteness and race. As Lieberman told MSNBC recently, he decided to write Lucius in the wake of the white nationalist terrorist attack in Charlottesville, Virginia: “in the wake of Charlottesville, in horror at Charlottesville… It’s an anti-racism book,” he said. This does not, in fact, appear to be true.
As LitHub recounted recently, Lucius chronicles the relationship between a Jewish nursing home volunteer and a 90-year-old white man named Benno, the latter of whom has either imagined or literally owned a “slave” named Lucius. From the sound of it, the novel largely comprises of Benno telling stories about his adventures with Lucius to his young friend, which his audience of one receives with excitement. LitHub’s rather unimpressed review recounts the heavy deployment of “Magical Negro” stereotypes—the maybe-enslaved Black man at the heart of the story literally speaks to animals—as well as the “ahistorical and gratuitous incorporation of African American Vernacular English provides racist flair.” LitHub continues:
Benno recounts an incident three years earlier, when in their eighties, Benno and Lucius stumble into a Klan rally. Though the Klansmen threaten Lucius and shout the n-word multiple times, Benno describes them as “basically good people.” One can only assume that Lieberman selected a James Baldwin quote with the n-word as an epigraph to inoculate himself from criticism for so freely and carelessly dropping the n-word in this scene.
Benno’s saga is enslavement porn that Tree finds inspiring. “With Benno, I didn’t want to look away.” Elsewhere in the book, Tree makes this repugnant observation: “If Lucius wasn’t real in our world, and if Benno loved him and was loved by him in the only world in which the friendship lived, well, it’s hard for me to get upset… We’re all looking for something like that.”
According to Lieberman, his book is “an honest examination of enduring racism against Blacks—which is real, harmful and totally infuriating,” as the candidate told HuffPost, adding, “I know my approach to this delicate subject is not palatable for every reader.” When the publication spoke to James Woodall, the president of Georgia’s NAACP chapter, he said the book contained “racist tropes”: “In my personal opinion, this would just exacerbate a tough time for us as a state. He should drop out of the race. If he wants to be an author or a writer, he should just do that.”
As a reminder, all of these candidates are set to take the stage to hold a rousing debate in just a few weeks.