A new style

August 25, 2002

IN GEORGIA last week, voters retired two well-known members of Congress -- one liberal, one conservative, both apparently embarrassing.

Both had feasted on the far extremes of American politics. Their decisive rejection by the voters seems part of a national pattern -- one that discourages politics that reward right- or left-wing flamethrowers.

Both Democratic Rep. Cynthia A. McKinney and Republican Rep. Bob Barr were adherents of that school of politics in which one says anything at all, confident that a docile constituency would want nothing more than political or racial orthodoxy.

"We're not that stupid," said one of Ms. McKinney's former supporters.

In many other states, including Maryland, voters have shown an eagerness to have done with the old style. Refreshing.

In Georgia, the spiking of these two loose cannons was aided by redrawing of district lines that put both in less hospitable territory. In Ms. McKinney's case, Republicans crossed over, as permitted by law in open primary states, to end her career. Her rejection, though, was across the board.

Her sharp tongue undid her. She accused President Bush of ignoring warnings of the Sept. 11 attacks because, she said, his friends in the defense industry would profit from a war, to cite the most egregious example of her offenses.

Republican John Linder, a 59-year-old dentist, cruised to an easy victory over Mr. Barr, who had led the effort to impeach President Clinton. Both incumbents, they were thrown into this race by redistricting. They differed little on fiscal and social issues like cutting taxes, gun control and abortion. So style seems to have been the over-riding consideration.

Baltimore voters will have a chance to join this trend this year. In the city's 44th Legislative District, state Sen. Clarence M. Mitchell IV faces a challenge from state Delegate Verna L. Jones. Senator Mitchell, from a family of civil-rights pioneers, will run as a senator who took a loan from interests he has sworn to consider impartially. While the loan was in the news, Senator Mitchell described himself as a "freedom fighter" -- as if that should protect him from criticism for inappropriate financial dealings.

Delegate Jones, though a freshman, has shown the kind of good sense and independence voters want. Some influential black leaders are supporting her against the senator, whose performance has not always honored the legacy of his grandfather, Clarence M. Mitchell Jr.

To defeat a Mitchell in Baltimore -- no easy feat -- surely would qualify as another sign of the new political style.

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