There are Georgians who lament the day the Cross of Saint Andrew, better known as the Confederate Battle Emblem, was ever removed from our state flag. I am not one of those people, not because I was unsympathetic to the sentimentality, but because what the state got in return was far, far more valuable.You must remember that in 1998, then-candidate Roy Barnes promised he would not cave to protesters demanding the flag be changed; he told voters it was not an issue. A few years later, he engineered the plan to bring the flag down. To say that one move was important in the next two election cycles would be a massive understatement; it was more like it triggered the first salvo in what would be an electoral bloodbath for Democrats statewide. A few days after the 2002 Barnes defeat, no less, The New York Times lamented the voters’ rebuke:
“In their first chance to vent their anger, white voters in rural areas turned out in record numbers to vote out Mr. Barnes in one of the most stunning upsets this year. The governor had been considered one of the brightest lights in the Democratic Party, a gifted speaker, moderate, strong on education and a possible contender for vice president or even president.
“Much of the state’s Democratic leadership was swept out on Tuesday, after a campaign that featured frequent visits for Republican candidates by President Bush and harsh advertisements against Senator Max Cleland, a Democrat seeking a second term.”
But the governor’s defeat was the biggest surprise of the night here, and in the morning-after search for answers, the flag issue surfaced as a leading explanation.
‘‘There was this huge undercurrent of resentment and anger about the flag, but I think we all missed it because it’s not something people discuss in the open,’’ said Merle Black, a political scientist at Emory University in Atlanta. ‘‘The Confederate flag is still a very powerful symbol. A lot of white voters felt Barnes was not on their side when he pushed to change it.’’
While the demise of Barnes and his left-wing buddies was an unexpected bonus of the unpopular campaign that saw the state flag change, there was built into the very legislation that was their undoing, very specific protections for Confederate memorials and monuments. Those protections are still in place today.
When newly elected Gov. Sonny Perdue began his efforts to replace the hideous, “politically correct” state flag that the Barnes team foisted upon the people of Georgia, the Legislature actually kept the language that had been presented to “placate” supporters of the old flag. That language articulately and specifically laid out a virtual guarantee that no other existing Confederate symbols in Georgia would be molested or disturbed in any significant sense. Their protection was guaranteed in perpetuity.
Let me state this as plainly as I possibly can: The Democrat leadership in Georgia led by then Gov. Barnes, and his Senate Majority Leader Charles Walker, negotiated a plan that saw the “offensive” state flag removed, and it was. To secure the participation of much-needed rural legislative support at the time, there was a guarantee written into law that forbid any further assault on Confederate monuments. And that part of the law, written by them, remains in place today.
Here we are 15 years later, and many of the same left-wing leaders want a do-over. One of the main targets to come down if they get their way is the Broad Street memorial dedicated to our Augusta-area Confederate war dead in 1878.
This week, the Augusta NAACP is hosting a rally at the memorial to call for its removal, inspired in part by the disgusting display of behavior and backwards thinking we saw in Charlottesville, Va. The violence and eventual death of a participant there came during a protest of the planned removal of a Robert E. Lee statue. The fallout of that poopshow has been well documented; here’s to hoping that locally, cooler heads and better decisions prevail.
May I be the first to say that if one single Nazi sympathizer or white supremacist appears at the get-together, they should be ignored rather than encouraged by attention, and allowed to quietly crawl back under the rocks from which they came. The less said about those idiots, the better.
For the anti-monument protesters, take your complaints to the Georgia state Legislature, which is the only body with the authority to act on your requests. But understand, the “big compromise” that was made on your behalf 15 years ago was supposed to have ended all this acrimony. If you have a problem with the deal your team cut, take it up with them — you may be able to find them at the retirement home where they keep defeated politicians.