As a “Yankee” from Buffalo, New York who moved to Georgia on December the 14th, 1976, I came to this state fresh off the heels of my United States Air Force basic training and technical school. I can still remember landing at the Macon Municipal Airport and experiencing the unusual smell of a certain paper mill, an odor which would help to define my stay in middle Georgia for the next 17 years.
Since arriving in Georgia nearly 33 years ago (we moved to Athens in 1993), I have since married a native Georgian and have become somewhat acquainted with both the demographics as well as the politics, both past and present, of the Peach state. And while I can unequivocably state that I love the state of Georgia to the point that it is nearly always on my mind, there are certain Georgians whose actions and words clearly trouble me.
I could go through the list of Georgians who reigned supreme in the heyday of De Jure segregation. Individuals like Lester Maddox, Richard Russell, Tom Watson, Eugene Talmadge, and former University of Georgia President O.C. Aderhold, who allegedly lied under oath when asked whether the university that he was at the time leading had in any way forcefully prohibited African Americans from attending, readily come to mind.
But there is one individual who is threatening to out-do them all as the biggest bigot that the state of Georgia has ever produced. His name is Newt Gingrich, the former Speaker of the United States House of Representatives and a man who has no compunction about railing against any progressive policies that the Obama administration seeks to implement. And while this may be summed up as good adversarial politics by many, his most recent comments are threatening to cement his reputation as a hate-mongerer in the mold of a Bull Connor, a Jim Clark, a Richard Russell, a Tom Watson, or one of the other many segregationists/reactionary politicians who played on the fears of people rather than encouraging their hopes.
If you’ll notice I didn’t mention the name of former Alabama Governor George Wallace, whose defiantly infamous “segregation now, segregation forever” statement at the school house door of the University of Alabama made him the poster child of reactionary politicians. I intentionally failed to mention him because I believe that he managed, whether because of a potential assassin’s bullet which left him paralyzed and wheelchair bound for the remainder of his life, or whether purely out of a pricked conscience, only eternity knows, to live his final days and eventually die on the right side of history. Although he is one of the most well-known of the Civil Rights-era segregationists, he must be given the benefit of the doubt that he eventually listened to the better angels of his nature. We can only hope and pray that Mr. Gingrich will do the same and that hopefully it won’t require a personal tragedy to bring him to that point.
To be sure Mr. Gingrich has endeared himself to both the right wing of the Republican party as well as the Tea Party to the point that some see him as a viable 2012 presidential candidate. A regular commentator on the FOX television network as well as radio shows such as Sean Hannity, the former House Speaker enjoys unlimited access to a wealth of media outlets with which he is able to pontificate about the glories of social conservativism, while at the same time denouncing the evils of progressivism. Again, to a certain extent we would love to be able to celebrate his right of political expression, but it becomes very difficult to do so when he makes statements such as the following:
If Democrats pass health reform, “They will have destroyed their party much as Lyndon Johnson shattered the Democratic Party for 40 years” by passing civil rights legislation.
Sooooooooo . . . according to the former House Speaker, passing landmark civil rights legislation in the 1960′s was a mistake. So that means that if we follow his logic trail the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which guaranteed equality of treatment on the basis of both sex and race was a colossal mistake. Also, according to this Repubican sage, the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which aimed to overcome legal barriers at the state and local levels that prevented African Americans from exercising their right to vote under the Fifteenth Amendment (1870) to the Constitution of the United States and significantly widened the franchise and is considered among the most far-reaching pieces of civil rights legislation in U.S. history, was also an affront to the U.S. Constitution. That would mean that Congressman John Lewis, whose head was split open as he and others attempted to march across the Edmund Pettis Bridge from Selma to Mongomery, Alabama, on March the the 7th, 1965, was mistaken to attempt such a stride toward freedom. This would also mean that poll taxes and literacy tests (does Mr. Gingrich have former Rep. Tom Tancredo’s cell phone number?) should be reinstated. And to add insult to injury, it would also mean that the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. went to Memphis, Tennessee in support of sanitation workers and eventually died in vain.
Mr. Gingrich, if you really hope to be taken seriously as a political pundit by others besides those on the right-wing fringe, or to even one day sit in the Oval Office as more than an invited guest, you really need to examine whether or not you will have the capacity to represent all Americans and not just those who hold your extreme right-wing views.
That’s my opinion; what’s yours? (c) 2010, Sherman Crockett