Not the least of the lessons in political reality that popped out of the ballot box earlier this month was taught in Georgia, where an old controversy over the Confederate flag design in the state's official flag suddenly descended on a promising political career like a headsman's ax.
But even as anti-flag politicians learned one lesson, those who taught it seemed on the verge of forgetting it themselves.
Last year, Georgia Gov. Roy Barnes, a rising star in the Democratic Party, decided he'd prove how progressive he was and propose that the state flag drop its Confederate flag design. That sold well with the state's perpetual chip-on-the-shoulder crowd among black voters and impressed the bigwigs up north who really run the party. Despite a good deal of popular resistance, the legislature went along and changed the flag.
It's always an amazement to certain kinds of people that white Southerners take their culture and heritage just as seriously as a good many other ethnic identities. It tells you a good deal about the mentality of those who changed the flag that they never even suspected it would cause them a problem.
But, as they say in the South, "Forget, Hell!" On Nov. 6, angry white voters grabbed Gov. Barnes by his ears and cut his political throat. The New York Times called the election "one of the most stunning upsets this year." Mr. Barnes, it moaned, "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." Now his career is defunct, thanks to his blunder on the flag issue and the determination of the flag's defenders to pay him back. ["An Old Battle Flag Helps Bring Down a Governor," By Jeffrey Gettleman NYT, Nov. 6]
The Times and other commentators make no secret of the importance of the flag issue in the state. "There was this huge undercurrent of resentment and anger about the flag," Southern political expert Merle Black of Emory University told the Times. "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."
Well, who was on their side? The Republican candidate for governor, Sonny Perdue, for one, who campaigned on an explicit promise to hold a statewide referendum on the flag issue, as they did in Mississippi last year.
The Georgia white vote turned out like the Confederate army and went for the GOP. In one rural county where Gov. Barnes won 57 percent of the white vote in 1998 he received only 45 percent this year; in another, where he won 60 percent in 1998, he took a mere 39 percent. "The flag was definitely part of the equation," Georgia's Sen. Zell Miller, also a Democrat, told the Times. The equation just didn't balance for the governor.
Well, now, the Republicans should have learned something, too — that when they support and campaign on issues that their natural voting base cares about, they can win and win big.
Did they learn it? Maybe not.
Less than a week after winning the governorship on the flag issue, Mr. Perdue started trying to weasel out of his campaign promise. Having committed himself to supporting a referendum on the flag issue during the campaign, he tried to back out of that commitment during his post-election "victory tour."
"My goal is to have this state heal, to be reconciled from a standpoint of bitter partisanship and the issues that would divide us," the Stupid Party's candidate pronounced. The referendum idea "is something we will look at with the leadership once the leadership gets in place in the House and Senate and make a decision on how we will resolve the issue."
No, the referendum idea is what you promised to support to gain the votes that put you in office. Now it's time you followed through on what you promised to do.
It remains to be seen whether Mr. Perdue will be dumb enough to violate his own explicit promise on the flag and actually block a referendum. Common sense would tell you he won't, that doing so would destroy not only his own career but also hurt other Republicans in the state and the nation.
But you have to remember that this is the Stupid Party we're dealing with, and one of the main reasons it is that it almost always succeeds in missing the point of its own success. Republicans have already done that with the immigration issue for the last decade or so, and they've managed to avoid the Confederate flag issue until this year.
If Mr. Perdue and his party flub this one, they may find that their own careers are no brighter than that of the twinkling Democratic star whose light they just extinguished.
[A selection of Sam Francis' columns, America Extinguished: Mass Immigration And The Disintegration Of American Culture, is now available from Americans For Immigration Control.]
COPYRIGHT CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.
November 18, 2002