Apr. 13, 2003: Embedded in the Political War Zone

Maybe it’s the whole war thing, but I have decided it is high time that I become an embedded journalist. The term “columnist” no longer carries the panache it once did. Embedded journalists wear neat stuff like gas masks and helmets and goggles. Columnists wear loafers with no socks. Embedded journalists make journalism professors swell with pride, and I want so very much for them to swell up over me, too.

Frankly, I don’t think the transition will be that difficult. All the embedded journalists that I have seen on television in Iraq over the past few weeks have claimed they weren’t sure where they were or where they were going. The Woman Who Shares My Name will tell you these have been my problems for more years than she cares to recall.

Without revealing my exact location, I can confide that I am embedded in a war zone known as the state Legislature. According to my glow-in-the-dark Timex, the combatants – Democrats and Republicans – battled for twelve minutes on the budget deficit, eight minutes on reforming public education, two minutes on what lobbyist’s cocktail party to attend, a nanosecond on how to slow down truckers and SUVs on our state’s highways and 24 hours a day, seven days a week on the design of the state flag.

Republican Governor Sonny Perdue is still trying to figure out who the enemy is. Before a recent and critical tax vote, he tried to rally his party faithful by saying that any Republican who was not with him was “in the foxhole with the French.” I have no idea what that meant and I don’t think the Republicans did, either, but they correctly assumed that being mentioned in the same breath with the French wasn’t necessarily a compliment, so two-thirds of the Republicans in the House voted with the Democrats and defeated Perdue’s tax proposal.

The biggest battle, of course, is over what to do about the state flag. A part of the governor’s strategy in bringing up the flag issue was to begin a “healing process.” Some healing. Right now, all he has accomplished is to make everybody in the state mad at everybody else. Governor Perdue even brought in former President Jimmy Carter to help resolve the crisis. Carter’s suggestion was to blame the whole thing on George W. Bush. There was one glimmer of hope when Republican Bobby Franklin, of Cobb County and a former hard-line flagger, suggested a compromise. Franklin proposed a version of the pre-1956 state flag. The new flag would have two red stripes and a white stripe in between with the words “In God We Trust” on one side of the flag and “tsurT eW doG nI” on the other. Clearly, this would be a flag you could pick out of a crowd.

The flag fight is far from over. Black legislators are up in arms over the possibility that Georgia voters will reject the compromise flag at the polls next March. If that happens, there is a good chance that the Confederate battle flag would be placed on a later ballot and voted in as the new state flag. Their concern is shared by the Atlanta business and political establishment, who fear that the city would no longer be considered for such prestigious events as the National Hip Hop Festival, the Gay Olympics and the annual gathering of the Association of Black Square Dancers.

The legislative wars in Atlanta aren’t the only battles that have been raging in our state. The long awaited Martha Burke-led demonstrations against the Augusta National Golf Club and their all-male membership finally took place in a weed-infested field near the club. Those in attendance estimate the crowd at 1500 people – 100 protestors and 1400 embedded and hyperventilating journalists. Jesse Jackson failed to show because he couldn’t think of enough words that rhyme with “Augusta.”

Being an embedded journalist has been an interesting experience, but I must shuck my helmet and goggles and get back to being a columnist. Writing columns isn’t glamorous work, but it is important and necessary. Who else is better equipped to grapple with life’s imponderable questions, like: What does “tsurT eW doG nI” really mean?