This week’s Courier Herald column:
It’s not unusual to see campaign promises and pledges that diverge from reality. Campaign ads are designed to evoke emotion and feeling, both for a candidate and/or against an opponent. Most voters realize there is a “buyer beware” element with any advertisement, and especially campaign ads. And yet, when emotions run high and elections are near, many never look too far below the surface.
A look under the hood of Jim Barksdale’s ad currently running against Georgia’s Senior Senator Johnny Isakson deserves a much closer look. Barksdale is a relative unknown given that this is his first political contest. His record is one of a businessman, similar to Republican nominee Donald Trump.
Well, they both have trademark hats. Beyond that, Barksdale hasn’t lived a life in public pursuit of PR and isn’t exactly a household name. He has a political blank slate to define himself as he wants.
Both Barksdale and Trump, however, are appealing to populists by constantly slamming “bad trade deals” – the focal point of Barksdale’s latest ad. It may seem odd that the Republican nominee for President and Democratic nominee for Senate have part of the same core pitch, but this is 2016 where trying to make sense of campaigns using traditional logic and metrics has long proven to be folly.
In Barksdale’s ad, he slams Isakson for voting for Permanent Normal Trade Relations with China, the Central American Free Trade Agreement, and Trade Promotion Authority. It seems any trade deal done during Isakson’s tenure in Washington – 11 in all – are “bad trade deals”.
It’s not that Barksdale doesn’t understand the impact of trade on this country. His background is President and Founder of Equity Investment Corporation which he has run for thirty years.
It’s an investment advisory firm that manages investments through a mutual fund, compensated via investment management fees. The minimum investment in EIC is a post-populist $100,000. Thus, it’s not a firm catering to small investors working paycheck to paycheck nor those out of work because of “bad trade deals”. In fact, it’s a firm that invests in the companies who benefit from trade.
Thirteen of the companies in Barksdale’s Value Fund representing about 44% of total investments belong to the “Trade Benefits America Coalition”, an organization “dedicated to the pursuit of U.S. International Trade Agreements that benefit American businesses, farmers, workers, and consumers.” These include every day names like Target, Walmart, Microsoft, ExxonMobil, and Chevron.
Ten of his companies sit on the National Foreign Trade Council board. This is a group that supports the Trans Pacific Partnership because it “is in the United State’s interest”.
Trade has been critical to the growth of Georgia for decades. The Port of Savannah and Hartsfield Jackson airport give the state a logistics footprint enjoyed by none other.
From manufacturing interests locating along I-16 to distribution centers clustering from Macon to Metro Atlanta, from farmers moving their products for export to a Kia Plant that imports some parts to export even more cars, trade has become an integral part of what keeps Georgia moving and growing. It’s not surprising that companies like Coca-Cola, UPS, Home Depot, and Aflac all have leaders emphasizing the importance of trade.
Barksdale has to be aware of this fact. Almost half of his and his clients’ investments are in companies that are strong and outward proponents of trade.
Instead, his ad asks you to think small and to focus on what has been lost in days gone by. It’s an ad that appears to fear via nostalgia, not one that demonstrates what is working for Georgia.
He goes so far as to ask to “try finding a hat made in Georgia”. Well we all know there is only “Do. Or do not. There is no try”. Check out Bayly in Thomasville Georgia, where they make specialty hats for law enforcement, members of the military, and even hats for school band uniforms.
Or, if you’re looking for something more casual, you could try National Cap in Waycross, where they make screen print ball caps. They might even be willing to screen print some caps that say “Make Trade Great Again.”
If they do, I’m willing to send one to both Jim Barksdale and Donald Trump. It seems they both need a reminder that our economy is now interdependent with many who are well beyond our state lines and our shores.