Joe Conason's Journal

The confederate flag gets officially downsized -- and the GOP disappoints those crucial Dixiecrat rubes.

Published May 8, 2003 9:05PM (EDT)

Confederate blues
The Republican fleecing of Georgia's Confederate rubes concluded this morningwith a new, comparatively inoffensive flag flying over the statehouse. Now perhaps Ralph Reed, the departing state GOP chairman (and former Christian Coalition director), will compose a new state motto to go along with the flag as his final gift to the Peach State. "So long, suckers," would be quite appropriate. After all it was the clever Reed who led the campaign that made Sonny Perdue the first Republican governor there since Reconstruction days  with an obnoxious pledge to bring back the Dixiecrat state flag that was ditched in 2001 by Democrat Roy Barnes.

Unlike that old flag, today's new banner contains no sign of the irksome St. Andrews Cross that recalled the Confederate battle flag. The banner created by Barnes relegated the controversial image to the bottom of the flag, among other icons.

Perdue opportunistically denounced Barnes for ridding the state of the segregationist flag, created in 1956 as a symbol of resistance to civil rights. He also promised a citizen referendum on the issue. But the new Governor began to back away from his promise less than a week after his victory last November.

As a campaign issue, bringing back the Dixiecrat flag was a winner, especially among rural whites. As actual policy, however, reinstating the rebel banner could have caused serious legislative trouble, threats of tourist and convention boycotts, and various other headaches. So behind the scenes, former President Jimmy Carter helped to negotiate the compromise between black and white politicians that resolved the issue last week.

That gave Perdue an opportunity to abandon his promise and blame the choice of a new flag -- based on the state's old Confederate banner but without the offensive "battle flag" insignia -- on the state legislature. When the Governor signed the bill authorizing the new innocuous flag this morning, Ralph Reed was nowhere heard nor seen.

Naturally, the Sons of Confederate Veterans and other neo-Confederate groups are outraged by Perdue's "betrayal." He had not only remained silent while the compromise was worked out, but ignored neo-Confederate pleas to veto the bill. Fewer than a dozen SCV members reportedly demonstrated at the statehouse this morning.

Dixie nostalgists won't find much comfort in Perdue's unconvincing explanation of why he signed the bill authorizing the new flag. "I am disappointed that Georgians will not have all the options on the ballot," said "slippery Sonny," as his former fans now call him. "I can understand the disillusionment of those who have worked for a referendum on the post-1956 flag." They're quite disillusioned with him for running a demagogic campaign and then dumping their issue when it became inconvenient.

Still, it's a happy ending because all the players are getting what they deserve: the state and its people have a new symbol that permits unity across racial lines; the prevaricating Governor is exposed to his erstwhile supporters; and the neo-Confederates will have to gaze upon the fluttering evidence of their defeat whenever they turn their eyes upward at the state capitol, the county courthouse, and the post office.
[2:52 p.m. PST, May 8, 2003]

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By Salon Staff

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