There’s a newly deployed weapon in the newly intensified culture war over the Civil War: lobbyists.
As reported by Jim Galloway in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Georgia Chapter of the Sons of the Confederate Veterans, in an email to its membership, announced it has hired “a professional lobbying firm” (not identified in the email) to make its case for Confederate monument protection and preservation to lawmakers in the upcoming session of the General Assembly.
Regardless of one’s convictions (or ambivalence) about the whole Confederate monuments thing, it’s a shrewd political move: If politics is the arena you decide to play in, this is a big part of the game.
The SCV email includes a link to a website that offers tips for savvy and diplomatic persuasion. For example: “Always be polite and professional. We are all fed up and angry with what’s going on … just don’t get nasty. That will hurt our efforts.” Again, good politics. The link also takes a stand against vandalism and calls for tougher laws against it.
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Other parts of the recommended game plan could be more problematic. Currently, Galloway notes, authority over such monuments rests with the state — the jurisdiction the SCV would like to see prevail. But state lawmakers from each chamber, Sen. Elena Parent, D-Atlanta, and Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver, D-Decatur, say they want legislation giving local governments authority over monuments in thoses communities.
This debate potentially involves some real complications over ideology, to wit: One of the lobbying tips on the website urges SCV members to oppose “the state giving any authority to the liberal mayors, city council members and county commissioners to remove any monuments in the name of ‘public safety’ or if they deem them to be ‘offensive.’”
For one thing, the legislature might have a bit of a constitutional problem limiting local authority to politically acceptable officials. For another, defense of or discomfort with Confederate symbolism is not necessarily defined along stereotypical political lines. (Republican former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley comes readily to mind.)
For yet another (speaking of stereotypical political lines), the traditional “liberal” stance is supposed to be for strong centralized, top-down government, while “conservatives” believe the folks at home know better. But that’s an increasingly familiar political paradox that is by no means limited to the Sons of Confederate Veterans.
One more element of good politics and informed history both the SCV and the General Assembly would do well to keep in mind:
The law giving the state authority over monuments was approved in 2001, when Georgia removed from its state flag the Confederate battle emblem put there in 1956 in political defiance of integration. Whether state lawmakers or local governments ultimately have decision-making power over Confederate monuments and other historic symbols and artifacts, the history of the monuments themselves matters profoundly. Political statements about civil rights that pretend to be about the Civil War have long been a big part of our problem.