Is it possible for the upraised middle finger wielded by so many of you in metro Atlanta’s traffic lanes to become — in say, the next 100 years or so — a greeting of welcome and brotherhood?
Your answer to the question, believe it or not, could determine what kind of future Democrats have in Georgia. At least in the near term.
At the state Capitol, we are on the verge of yet another culture war over our state flag. Early this month, while they were emasculating Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle in Macon, Senate Republicans took a spare moment to declare that all members of that chamber will be required to recite a daily pledge of allegiance to the Georgia flag.
The author of the proposal, state Sen. Jeff Mullis, R-Chickamauga, said he had no intention of igniting a debate over state sovereignty. But inside and outside the Senate, those who would like to see the federal government shrink to its 19th-century waistline will certainly see it as a sign of favor.
Two important Senate Democrats, both African-American, are having none of it. “An abomination,” said Minority Leader Robert Brown of Macon.
“I think what is being done here is symbolically saying we are somehow not a part of that country that remains America,” Brown said.
Emanuel Jones of Decatur, chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus, thinks likewise.
But two other Senate Democrats, both white, said they would have no problem with a pledge of allegiance to the state flag — and we will get to their reasons in a bit.
Last Monday, the executive committee of the state Democratic Party held its post-disaster assessment of the November elections.
About 30 attended in person, including many of those on the statewide ballot. An additional dozen or so listened in via a conference call.
It was not a happy group.
African-Americans, the unquestioned base of the Democratic Party, spoke of being underappreciated. White Democrats from rural Georgia complained about being ignored.
Many pointed that, even though Roy Barnes, the nominee for governor, had a desperate need for female voters, little support was offered to the party’s most prominent female candidates — Carol Porter, the candidate for lieutenant governor; Georganna Sinkfield, secretary of state; and Mary Squires, insurance commissioner.
Georgia Democrats are fractured and demoralized, and they will spend the next two months searching for new leadership and a new direction. A racially tinged fight over the state flag and the Tenth Amendment when the General Assembly convenes in January would come at exactly the wrong time.
It doesn’t necessarily have to happen. Those who forget history aren’t just condemned to repeat it — they are eternally destined to get angry at the wrong things.
The current flag of Georgia was, in fact, patterned after the first national flag of the Confederacy. A state version of the Stars and Bars was adopted in 1879, not long after the departure of the federal troops who had occupied Georgia since the end of the Civil War.
It was indeed a middle-fingered salute. Similar gestures came from other Southern states.
But in Georgia, the power of the insult diminished over the next seven decades — to the point that a new middle finger was required in 1956 during the South’s fight to preserve segregation. Georgia’s all-white Legislature adopted a new flag featuring the inflammatory Confederate battle emblem.
With the adoption of the ‘56 flag, the old flag assumed a new meaning. State Rep. Tyrone Brooks, D-Atlanta, an African-American, began to advocate a return to the Stars and Bars — to the point that white legislators began referring to the first flag of the Confederacy as the “black” flag.
This is why Barnes pleased very few when, as governor, he finally brought the ‘56 flag down in 2001, replacing it with a blue banner.
Barnes lost his 2002 re-election bid to Sonny Perdue — who promised a vote on the ‘56 flag and its Confederate battle emblem.
The 2003 fight to sabotage the new governor’s pledge could be called the last great Democratic victory in the state Capitol. The most influential but silent figure behind the effort was Jimmy Carter — one of the few times the former president ever inserted himself into state affairs.
Carter insisted on a return to the Stars and Bars flag — the middle finger of 1879 and the “black” flag of the 1980s. State Rep. Bobby Franklin, a Cobb County Republican, produced an initial design. State Sen. George Hooks, a Democrat from Americus and occupant of Carter’s old Senate seat, perfected it.
African-American lawmakers lined up in support. Kasim Reed, the future mayor of Atlanta, engineered the new flag’s passage in the Senate. Terry Coleman, the last Democratic speaker and a Carter protégé, cast the deciding vote in the House.
Hooks is still in the Senate and has declared that he’s eager to lead the first pledge to the state flag. State Sen. Jason Carter, D-Decatur, who was elected this spring and is the grandson of the former president, says he will recite the words gladly.
If Democrats want to avoid a damaging split, they will have to reframe the situation handed them by the GOP.
Yes, the notion of sending even a subtle signal of rebellion would be unacceptable to most Georgians. As Barnes noted during his campaign, the Yankees do have nuclear weapons now.
But the idea of watching Republicans swear daily fealty to Jimmy Carter’s flag — this is something that people might pay to see.
- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider