Selling slavery on a license plate

     Jason Carter, the grandson of former President Jimmy Carter, is running for governor of Georgia (Nasser Nasser/AP Photo, file)

    Jason Carter, the grandson of former President Jimmy Carter, is running for governor of Georgia (Nasser Nasser/AP Photo, file)

    Jason Carter, a Democrat who aspires this year to win the Georgia gubernatorial job once held by his grandpa Jimmy, was asked on MSNBC the other day whether he supports his state’s decision to design a snazzy new Confederate flag license plate.

    In response, he bobbed and weaved to the point of incoherence:

    “These issues that folks on the national level want to talk about a lot, are the kinds of things that Georgia needs to put behind us. Do people have the right to put on their car what they want? Of course they have that right….I don’t know that the state can discriminate on the basis of what they say….I don’t know that we could block (that license plate), frankly. But I think people, again, have a right to do that….This is something for national folks to talk about. In Georgia, we’re moving on.”

    Clearly the presumptive Democratic nominee didn’t want to burn his fingers on this hot-button issue. The guy is running for governor, after all, and he didn’t want to alienate the Georgians who are jonesing to buy that new taxpayer-financed Confederate license plate…which sells for $80, with ten of those bucks earmarked for the Sons of Confederate Veterans….

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    Hey, wait a minute.

    This is 2014, right? Didn’t Chief Justice John Roberts decree last summer that racism is over, that “things have changed in the South”? If so, why the heck has Georgia designed a new (optional) license plate that advertises racial oppression, that harkens back to a white supremacist regime that fought to keep human beings in chains?

    How sad it is that so many Confederate nostalgics still wield so much political clout. Even now, Democrats like Jason Carter are terrified to tell those people to stick their toxic regalia in a museum where it belongs. Carter, currently a state senator, clearly remembers what happened to the last Democratic governor, Roy Barnes. Back in 2001, Barnes made the political mistake of removing the Confederate stars and bars from the official state flag; one year later, irate voters – led by the Confederate nostalgics known as “flaggers” – threw Barnes out of office.

    Georgia, by the way, is not alone in touting this symbol of human enslavement. Eight other states – Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and Maryland (which had strong secessionist sympathies) – offer Confederate plates, too. Georgia has done it for years, but because the state has switched to a new plate-manufacturing process, a redesign was necessary. So instead of banning the flag (as even Texas has done), the Georgia Department of Motor Vehicles decided to make it even more prominent.

    Naturally, the flaggers still insist that the Confederate iconography isn’t racist at all – Georgia’s Sons of Confederate Veterans commander says, “What’s the big deal?” – and that they’re merely trying to honor their “heritage.” But what they resolutely refuse to recognize – and what politicians like Carter are too cowed to point out – is that the heritage they seek to honor was institutional tyranny, the buying and selling of “inferior” human beings.

    It’s right there in the original Confederate documents. Article I of the Confederate constitiution decrees that no law shall ever be enacted “impairing the right of property in negro slaves.” On the eve of war, the Confederate vice president declared that the government’s “cornerstone rests upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery – subordination to the superior race – is his natural and normal condition.” During the war, the president, Jefferson Davis, said that slavery was “the proper condition of all of African descent.”

    Certainly the current Georgia governor, Nathan Deal, isn’t going to denounce that heritage. Asked not long ago whether the state should still be offering Confederate plates, he simply said, “I don’t think that it is something that we should be that concerned about.” Which makes sense politically, because Deal has a GOP primary coming up, with a challenger on his right flank. No way is Deal going to pick a fight with the flaggers.

    How tragic it is that taxpayer dollars – from black citizens as well – are still being spent to honor the Confederacy. Perhaps that money would be far better spent on mandatory screenings of 12 Years a Slave.



    Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1

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