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In Dixieland, where I ... yawn

Can a serious candidate for governor define himself by on old rag?


Let's look away, look away, I say, to Cobb County, where we find County Commission Chairman Bill "Stonewall" Byrne entrenched for the Second Battle of Kennesaw Mountain.

His troops are gathered around campfires, torching biology textbooks that teach evolution, shaking the dust out of their great-great-grandpappy's gray uniforms and their grandpappy's white sheets, and singing spirited songs as they gird their loins (I'm not sure what that means, but it sounds deliciously righteous and biblical) in the Never-Ending War Against the Satanic Forces of Northern Aggression.

Nothing "civil" about these warlike folks.

Arrayed against Gen. Byrne are some damn traitors to The Cause, who, masquerading behind downhome accents and a professed fondness for grits and barbecue, attacked All That Is Sacred. These scalawags (am I getting the Margaret Mitchell lingo right?) actually succeeded in striking that emblem of seceding, the Confederate Battle Flag.

Yes, that renegade, that Southern version of Benedict Arnold, Gov. Roy "Suspected Yankee Lover" Barnes, D-Hail Caesar, last year ripped the heart out of Dixie by slashing the Battle Flag from Georgia's state banner.

Shame, oh shame, shame, shame, shame. Ol' Jeff Davis almost toppled from his perch on Stone Mountain.

Now, Byrne, R-19th Century, is going to do something about it.

First, last month, Byrne and his ... ah ... confederates on the county commission voted to declare April a month of solemn memorial to the South. Can you say "doo-dah, doo-dah"? This is, lest we forget, the same ossified body that in 1994 declared the "gay lifestyle" a scourge on humanity.

"You can't change history," says Byrne, who attempts exactly what he says can't be done. "Stopping the celebration [of Confederate History and Heritage Month] would be the equivalent to stopping Martin Luther King Day."

Well, not quite, but I'll come back to that in a moment.

About that hallowed cross of St. Andrew that briefly flew over Confederate troops prior to its long gig at the state Capitol, Byrne tells me he has this challenge for Barnes (who, it is rumored in GOP circles, lovingly keeps a picture of William Tecumseh Sherman in his wallet): "The flag issue lingers. It prevails on the minds of voters. It will be a protest vote, moving people from Democrats to Republicans.

"My solution," offers the bellicose Byrne, "is let the people decide. If Barnes is re-elected, that's a referendum on the flag."

Let's ponder that deeply philosophical pronouncement for a moment.

Georgia faces mountainous problems dealing with the environment, avoiding water wars with Florida and Alabama, and trying to curb corporate criminals such as the Southern Co. from poisoning us. Our hardscrabble towns need economic sparkplugs -- ways for folks to make enough money to crawl out of poverty. The state's schools get a failing grade. Georgia's record with children is straight out of Charles Dickens. We spend gazillions on roads that only make congestion worse -- yet the state refuses to get serious about transportation alternatives to the gas-guzzlers.

And ethics, or more precisely, the abysmal lack of ethics -- no, let's rephrase that -- wholesale corruption permeates every layer of the public sector, from state Grand Poobahs on down to dogcatchers. We shouldn't throw the bastards out of office; we should toss them in prison. And then drop the jailhouse keys in the deepest part of the Chattahoochee.

Roy Barnes can and should be questioned on any of these sucking chest wounds afflicting Georgia. He has courageously stepped up to the plate and batted at many problems. He has run for cover on others. And, he is culpable, guilty as smelliest sin, with some.

Yet, Byrne wants to make the referendum on Barnes' stewardship of the state hinge on a piece of cloth. Slap my forehead, that's so damn hilarious it's hard to believe Byrne wasn't putting me on. But the gubernatorial wannabe is serious. He really is.

What's that you say? Oh, I forgot. This is, indeed, Georgia, a backwater corner of the Twilight Zone ("do-do-do-do, do-do-do-do") where today's very real calamities are ephemeral but romantic fantasies from 140 years ago are accorded the substance of granite.

Case in point: I called up James Bridwell, one of the promoters of a Confederate memorial service earlier this month at Stone Mountain. Bridwell, a teacher from Moultrie, is congenial and earnest. And he's definitely got both feet planted in the vapor of historical fiction, not the solid red clay of history.

"Our goal is to preserve and emulate the virtues of Confederate soldiers," Bridwell told me of the April memorial events.

OK, what were these virtues? I asked. Bridwell stumbled about seeking an example, so I suggested "chivalry." Heck, I've seen Gone With the Wind no fewer than 83 times. ("Why, Ashley, y'all are just so gallant.")

"Yes, chivalry," he said with relief.

This was too easy. Moultrie, as we know, is just a few score hog-hops (88 miles to be exact) from that great symbol of Southern chivalry, Andersonville, where at Camp Sumter, about 13,000 out of 45,000 Union prisoners of war died hellish deaths. It was hardly a place of honor.

Let's be fair. Southern soldiers were, by and large, honorable, brave men. So were the boys in blue (a fact I know pains a lot of people hereabouts). Robert E. Lee was, by far, a finer example of humanity than Ulysses S. Grant. So what? There was an abundance of scoundrels on both sides.

And, if you want a kick-ass general of the sort favored by that Nemesis of Evil, George W. Bush, Sherman (What collateral damage? What women and children?) was The Main Man. Kill 'em all and let God sort 'em out -- forget that namby-pamby chivalry crap.

I'm not sure why there are many good people who refuse to let go of something that happened so long ago. Maybe the South needs to get a life.

Or, maybe there's something more sinister at work. It would be easy to write off the obsession for Things Southern by politicians such as Byrne as a thinly disguised appeal to racism. But I don't think Byrne is a racist, and I don't think that's his intent. I like Byrne -- he's certainly much more real than the two-dimensional media facade Barnes projects.

But Byrne did make that remark comparing Confederate history month to the day honoring Martin Luther King Jr. It is a dishonor to both to make such a comparison.

Honor Lee and Davis as men whose inherent noble natures were sacrificed in a misguided attempt to hold onto an ideal whose reality never existed. Their flag is the symbol of a grand and bloody mistake, nothing more.

I find it simply absurd that some Georgians get in so much of a lather about "the flag" that they memorialize the absurdity on T-shirts and bumper stickers. That inanity reaches the stage where the preferred action is to administer Thorazine when people begin to froth with comparisons of Confederate Memorial Day and MLK Day.

The leaders of the Confederacy were, let's face it, traitors to the United States. They defined treason. They sought to destroy One Nation Under God. However worthy their soldiers, leaders of The Lost Cause were no different in their intended outcome than the British were in their immolation of the nation's Capitol and White House during the War of 1812, the Japanese were in their attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, or al-Qaeda's mullahs were in launching kamikaze flights into the World Trade Center.

So, please, let's not mistake what we're talking about. The misguided people who sport "United We Stand" decals next to Confederate flag emblems are committing non sequiturs of near-felonious proportions.

Worse is the lame excuse that "slavery isn't the issue" and racism doesn't soak the affliction of Southern romanticism. There were, indeed, many grievances involved in the Civil War, but slavery was paramount. That only about 10 percent of Southerners owned slaves isn't the issue -- they conned their dirt-poor brethren to die on the battlefields to preserve the horrible institution of human bondage. And, to be clear, it was the white elites who fostered virulent racism in later generations -- keeping poor rednecks at the throats of poor blacks made dominance of both easy.

MLK Day celebrates the expansion of liberties to all citizens. That's true patriotism, not a fete for turncoats.

Meanwhile, Mr. Byrne, please look for a better issue with which to crucify Gov. Barnes. Those causes are there and they're not Lost Causes.

Senior Editor John Sugg proudly proclaims his Southern roots dating back to the 1830s in Key West, whose residents consider Georgia a "northern" state. Sugg, assuming the lads in sheets haven't come for him with tar and a rail, can be reached at 404-614-1241 or at

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