Chattanooga, TN is an area rich in Civil War history, as well as numerous other events and eras. It is really no surprise that the largest local paper, the Chattanooga Times Free Press, is usually littered with pictures, articles and notes about the past. The Civil War usually garners the most attention in the fair city, so it came as no surprise when a picture of a Confederate Battle Flag popped up on my feed last week. What is surprising, is that the flag is depicted as a modern symbol of the Tea Party.
Clay Bennett is the political cartoonist for the Chattanooga Times Free Press. If I had to categorize Clay’s politics, I would probably label him as a Democrat. The majority of his cartoons are left leaning in my opinion, but I will admit that he is fair. He does not shy away from opportunities to point out the flaws of President Obama or other Democratic Party members. That being said, one of Clay’s latest cartoons, “I Voted,” displays a “I Voted” pin identifying the Tea Party with the Confederate Battle Flag.
One is left to wonder what Clay’s message is. I have not read nor heard about any Tea Party rallies in Chattanooga as of late, so I cannot comment to whether or not this is a message intended to critique local events. My belief is that this is a much broader message. Which begs the question: what is the message? Some would undoubtedly claim that it is a Marxist, Politically Correct, Leftist agenda “to denigrate the intelligence of those they disagree with, at one time or another, to one degree or another — especially Southern heritage folks.” These people are usually angry, old, petty, and take up residence in Florida. I think it has more to do with the efforts of certain political figures associated with the Tea Party, who are ‘taking up arms’ against Civil Rights legislation and race relations in the U.S.
Representative Ted Yoho (R. – Fla.) is among the young voices of Tea Party affiliated candidates who question the constitutionality of the Civil Rights Act. There was also last year’s “Million Vet Protest March” where, during a government shutdown of monuments in and around the National Mall, protesters converged on the White House where one man brandished the CBF. Many people associate this march withf the Tea Party given that it hosted some of the same political darlings of the party. Then, of course, who can forget the Tea Party poster child Rand Paul and his interesting comments about the Civil Rights Act? It’s little wonder that media pundits and certain politicians argue that Tea Party types are the same people who led the fight for segregation during the Civil Rights Era.
Though I tend to think this might be the core of Clay’s message, for me, his political cartoon also highlights those who openly wield the Confederate Battle Flag as a symbol of Southern Heritage. For several years now the VA Flaggers, one such Southern Heritage group, have been flagging numerous historical sites and museums in Virginia, and throughout the South, in an attempt to “restore the flag and restore honor.” Of course, this fight has recently turned into throwing up battle flags along highways in random places. These types of people usually ignore accurate history of the flag’s past, opting for a white washed version of history where heroic soldiers fought for freedom (while keeping others in bondage). The most non-surprising thing about these people, is that they usually share common beliefs with active Tea Party proponents.
A lot of today’s “Southern Heritage” groups advocate that their ancestors fought for the same things that they themselves politically advocate today: smaller government, low taxes, fighting against tyranny, etc. It appears the only thing that parallels with the past is that their ancestors fought to maintain the institution of slavery and the current Tea Party claims that Civil Rights legislation is unconstitutional and an example of an imposing federal government. Both are examples of race relations gone wrong.
I have not been alone in arguing that “heritage” groups are guilty of presentism. Heritage advocates routinely project their political beliefs onto the past in an attempt to justify their claims. Rarely do these claims hold up to objective analysis, but like-minded individuals rarely disagree with one another. Of course, if you disagree with the heritage types then they have a plethora of words, that they deem demonic, to insult you with. After all, if you think the war was about slavery, you are just a politically correct leftist that has been brainwashed by your Marxist college professors. I guess it is safe to say that Clay drew a cartoon that provokes debate and interpretation; and for that, I salute him. Now, back to the thesis.