Why Jim Barksdale’s silence isn’t necessarily golden

In this 2015 file photo, Jim Barksdale examines the star chart on the ground at the feet of the new Albert Einstein monument at Georgia Tech. John Spink, jspink@ajc.com

In this 2015 file photo, Jim Barksdale examines the star chart on the ground at the feet of the new Albert Einstein monument at Georgia Tech. John Spink, jspink@ajc.com

Over the weekend, Jim Barksdale began behaving like the Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate that he’s been on paper for more than a month.

He ate breakfast with members of the NAACP in Atlanta. On Sunday, Barksdale dropped in on the congregation of Antioch North Baptist Church in Atlanta, which was mourning the death of local community activist. Barney Simms was gunned down in his own yard last week, apparently for his Lexus.

Barksdale’s Facebook page has now demonstrated a heartbeat. Over the last few days, the candidate has touted his 2015 role as the lead donor for a monument to Albert Einstein on the Georgia Tech campus. He’s congratulated Elon Musk for the successes of his private space venture.

Barksdale has even expressed worry about the debt load carried by this generation of college students. “The chains we are placing upon our students through unconscionable interest rates and high debt are unacceptable,” he wrote for the benefit of his Facebook friends.

On Tuesday, 42 days before the May 24 primary, his newly hired campaign manager, Dave Hoffman, returned a journalist’s phone call. It was the Barksdale campaign’s first known contact with a member of the Fourth Estate. The candidate himself has yet to stand – or sit – face-to-face with a reporter.

Granted, we journalists can be intimidating, what with our loaded pens and such. Ask Donald Trump. And Mr. Barksdale is a neophyte in what can be a ruthless blood sport.

But after many more practiced hands had passed on the opportunity to challenge U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, Georgia Democrats thought they had found their version – not of Trump, but of David Perdue, who is now the junior U.S. senator from Georgia. Like Perdue, Barksdale is a middle Georgia native. Like Perdue, he’s a business success – founder of Equity Investment Corp. Barksdale serves on the board of the Atlanta-based Carter Center, and so must also be presumed to have connections to that sector of the state Democratic party.

Most importantly, in a season which could feature a busted Republican presidential ticket – opening untold possibilities for Democrats everywhere, Barksdale is a self-funder.

Don’t get me wrong. Barksdale could very well be a diamond in the rough. But he already has made a miscalculation that must be dealt with, and quickly.

It sounds counterintuitive, but it is a mistake in politics to confuse silence with safety. To think that, if you do not participate, the conversation stops. It doesn’t.

During that period in which Jim Barksdale couldn’t bring himself to tell voters who he was, Google was happy to do it for him. And Google now has Jewish Democrats in Georgia talking.

In May 2010, Barksdale was part of a 28-member delegation assembled and sent to Israel and the Palestinian territories by a Washington-based group, Interfaith Peace-Builders. The group advocates a non-violent but negotiated settlement between Israel and Palestinians. In a brief YouTube clip, Barksdale is the fellow with the beard, touring the Palestinian city of Ramallah, near Jerusalem.

“Jim Barksdale went on a fact finding trip to Israel and the West Bank in 2010 to learn more about one of the leading foreign policy challenges facing the world,” Hoffman wrote in an email that arrived Wednesday afternoon.

The Barksdale campaign chief would not comment further, but fortunately — for us and for the candidate — a spokesman for Interfaith Peace-Builders did.

The group has been sending delegations to the Middle East for 15 years. Barksdale, like everyone else, paid his own way, said program director Mike Daly. Barksdale has not provided any financial contributions to the organization.

While Barksdale was on his two-week visit to Israel, a group of pro-Palestinian supporters that included former Georgia congresswoman Cynthia McKinney attempted to deliver supplies to the Gaza Strip via the Mediterranean Sea. The Israeli Navy intercepted them.

“We had no connection to that group,” said Daly of IFPB.

Barksdale isn’t ready to discuss Israeli-Palestinian relations, perhaps for good reason. The topic is a sensitive one on multiple levels. As McKinney demonstrated before her final defeat in 2006, the issue can reflect racial tensions in Georgia that are better left unstirred. And while former President Jimmy Carter is now a beloved figure among Georgia Democrats, his continued analysis of Middle Eastern dynamics still rankle some.

But there is an even more practical reason for Barksdale to worry. If Donald Trump is the Republican nominee, if Johnny Isakson should somehow prove vulnerable, the decision to pour national money into Barksdale’s venture will be made in Washington.

Probably by Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., the U.S. Senate’s most prolific fund-raiser and one of Israel’s most steadfast allies on Capitol Hill.

This is one case where silence is the opposite of golden.


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