1982

I was amused by the number of Daylight Video commenters who were transported back into the very different world of 1982 by that Marvin Gaye video. The same thing happened to me when I watched it.

But then 1982 was a big and scary year for me. My first gubernatorial employer, whom I absolutely loved, was term-limited, and “my” candidate to succeed him was defeated in the Democratic primary by Joe Frank Harris, who with Fob James of Alabama was the last of the big-time Christian Right Democrats. I survived the transition thanks to an intervention from a law school classmate, and stuck around for quite a bit of the Harris Administration (though after a while via an exile to state agencies). Joe Frank wasn’t a bad man by any stretch of the imagination, though his habit of vetting appointees for their religious observances was annoying and in some cases probably illegal. He did one vitally important piece of progressive work by pushing through a school finance equalization initiative that helped ensure Georgia did not suffer the kinds of gross racial inequities in public education funding that were so common elsewhere. And he did little harm in other areas, though it was pretty hard to screw up when the explosive growth of Atlanta in the 80s kept state coffers full to overflowing.

It now seems quaint that I actually worked in politics at a time when some Democrats were to the right of some Republicans, and Democrats still dominated politics at every level. The great ideological realignment of the two parties and of the South, which made the region the hard-core base of a hard-core GOP, occurred at very different paces in different states. In Georgia, it didn’t really happen until 2002, when Republicans won the governorship for the first time since Reconstruction, and also began a brisk conquest of the legislature, punctuated by the party-switching among rural white officeholders (who included the first two GOP governors) that had been happening elsewhere in the South since 1964.

Now on my relatively frequent trips to Georgia I barely recognize anything, and the politics are very black (Democrats) and white (Republicans), a phenomenon us Georgians used to associate with the benighted state of Mississippi. Sometimes when I’m in downtown Atlanta I pass the site of the long-closed 688 Club, where on many occasions after a long day in the righteous offices of Joe Frank Harris I spent a late night listening to Iggy Pop or REM or Joe “King” Carrasco and the Crowns, or The Roys, or John Cale, or Pylon, or my favorite, the Heathen Girls, or–I dunno, probably many bands whose names are lost in the mist. Meanwhile the Top 40 stations were playing songs like “Sexual Healing,” which seemed a big step up from what they were playing in the Disco Era. The music of 1982 can always return via YouTube or a new cover. But the politics are indeed gone forever.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.