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Brian, the guy who lives next door to me
Editor's notes
Jeff Whitten

I have been in newspapers so long I have lost touch with the uncommon man. And apparently the guy next door too. 

I know this because my first and last reaction to a recent campaign email for Brian Kemp, one of two Republicans so desperate to be governor they’ve just spent months being jerks about one another. And, well, I’m getting ahead of myself.

The email was sent July 8 and is one of a whole bunch from either Kemp or his opponent, Casey Cagle, since the two began trying to verbally filet each other into little pieces of Republican pork rinds during this, the longest runoff in recorded history. 

Anyway, embedded like gold was a quote allegedly from WJBF, an Augusta ABC affiliate. 

I remember looking at it, going “hah” and filing it away for after the election because I didn’t want to influence any votes either way. The quote, according to Kemp’s campaign, is this: 

“Brian is like the guy who lives next door to you, and you’ll find him on a Sunday afternoon walking across the grass with a drink in his hand. He will come sit on your front porch on a rocking chair and just chat with you.”

Oh, where to begin. 

For starters, Kemp’s nothing like my neighbors, who for the most part are the salt of the earth. Like me. 

Also important, they’re not running for anything. And like me, they don’t have time to go traipsing across somebody else’s grass toting a drink just to have a Sunday chat. 

I have no idea what we’d “chat” about, anyway. Were I to invade my neighbor’s lawn. I’d be like Cousin Eddie, decked out in turtleneck, white loafers and a leisure suit.  

Me: “Howdy. I came over to have a chat, and, boy, this drink sure is good. Wild Turkey and Sprite, gooo-ood stuff. Hey, here’s an idea. I’m hungry. How about we grill some ribs. You got any sisters?”

Neighbor: “Get off my porch.”

I also can’t imagine what would happen if Kemp came wandering up to my house. Me, peeking out the window: “There’s a rich white guy on our lawn with a drink in his hand. What do you think he wants? And what’s in that glass? And why didn’t he bring us one, too?”

Wife: “Oh, that’s just Brian Kemp. He’s running for governor. He doesn’t have anything better to do.” 

Me: “Well, I’m not going out there to talk to him. He looks like a smirking 45-year-old frat boy. Gives me the willies.”

Wife: “Honestly, Jeff, you should just go live on an island all by yourself.”

Me: “Soon as I win the lottery, woman.” 

Now, by most standards Kemp is well off, so why pretend he’s “like the guy who lives next door.” The only way he might be the guy next door is if we all lived in a gated community patrolled by lunatic accountants with AR-15s. 

You’d almost think they’re afraid we won’t like them if we know they’re wealthy — as if there’s something wrong with money.  

Besides. I want candidates to treat me like a grown up, I don’t want them padding across the lawn at all hours for a chat. If Americans did want a neighbor, we would have elected Fred Rogers president long ago and maybe for life. We might be better off had that happened, come to think of it. 

Truth is, most of us — and I’m not talking about the crazies on either side who think anybody who doesn’t share their politics is evil and stupid — are fair and open minded. Most of us love this country, even when we can’t stand each other. 

Most of us want all people to have good lives no matter what they look like or who they worship or what language they talk. Most of us don’t want to fight wars, or more of us would be in the military. What’s the total number of folks who’ve served in the military? Less than two percent, maybe? Maybe that’s the problem. More real soldiers might mean less war. 

But I digress. Most of us don’t want government to be our babysitters and tell us how to live, and most of us have too much to do to go around babysitting politicians. That goes for Republicans and Democrats and Libertarians and every other party I can think of. 

Empathy, and self-awareness, can go a long way in this world. Politics would be a lot more palatable if politicians would stop slinging mud at each other and horse manure at us. 

Just tell us what you think, what you can do, how you can do it  — and then step back, shut up and let us decide. 

In the meantime, unless you know how to get rid of mole crickets, please stay off my lawn. 

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