Goodbye Bob Ed

© Jay Harden

At one time or another, all of us imagine what we would do as President of the United States. Most often we do this when we are not running -– in an election year, for example. This exercise in grand fantasy brings out the issues closest to our hearts, if anyone cares to listen. I, too, have my ax to grind: just one of the things I would do as President that needs doing and would not get done otherwise – along with brilliantly resolving routine national crises as soon as they arise.

It is easy – and justified – for you and me to say with satisfaction: I went on vacation to the Masters this year, or to the beach at Hilton Head. But who among us says with equal satisfaction, oh I went on vacation in The South. Why would anyone want to vacation in The South? You know, that part of the U.S. that misguided itself into a temporary state of separation from the real United States way back when. You know, that backward part of the country the rest of the nation must obligingly carry like the proverbial millstone around the neck. Within such common considerations of The South lies a disconnect that still exists to this day, 140 years later.

It’s time we address this dark, still hurting part of our national psyche and completely heal it. As President I would put forth this issue for national debate and challenge the Congress to right an old wrong and end our ongoing emotional Civil War just as Abraham Lincoln intended. The loss of Lincoln did a greater disservice to the nation that the Civil War itself. Lincoln intended to restore the economy of the broken South (forced to howl, as Sherman promised) and make it equally prosperous, but retribution replaced his vision of redemption. His vision still makes pragmatic sense to assure that the Union is never again threatened from within. With his death came policies of revenge and punishment so pervasive their harmful ripples abide today in the heart of The South and in American attitudes elsewhere.

If living today, what would Lincoln do? He would pay the Confederate war debt, considering it good insurance. He would grant economic incentives to assist The South in restoring its destroyed agricultural and industrial infrastructure. To help a defeated people return home in the heart, regain self-respect, and replace a failed culture, Lincoln, by his own words and actions, would breathe life into his wisdom of “malice toward none, with charity for all.” These things were never done, but still need to be. One hundred and forty years of neglect have not given America its needed restoration. The present time is no more or less tumultuous than then, yet the remedy remains waiting.

I was born deep in The South: as fate would have it in the town of Fitzgerald, Georgia. My hometown was created in 1896 as a colony of reconciliation and named for a Union drummer boy. Chartered by both Union and Confederate veterans, this living experiment in healing endures today. The founders laid out the city in quarter mile blocks. All agreed the main street, running north-south, be named Main Street. The central street, running east-west, was named Central Avenue. Then they got downright ecumenical. All the streets parallel to Main and west of it were named after Confederate generals. (I lived on South Lee Street.) Likewise, those east of Main were named for Union generals. And, yes, there is a Sherman Street. In a further compromise they named the streets north of Central after rivers, and those south after trees. (Grandma lived on Magnolia.) And, in my boyhood, there was the Blue-Gray Park and the Lee-Grant Hotel (once the largest one of wood, now gone). You could say I grew up in a culture of conciliation and compromise.

After my schooling, I traveled this country and the world courtesy of my Uncle Sam and learned what others thought of The South and, more important, how this great country of ours continues to disdain The South for its lack of relative progress, and doing so for the very reason that The South lacks it proportion of progress toward the American Dream.

I, for one, do not wish to be known first of all as a Southerner. My primary identity is American, not Georgian. (Though for a few football weekends each fall, I confess to being know, secondly, as a Bulldog. Sic ‘em Uga, woof, woof!) I am glad there are no more Presidents like Thomas Jefferson and Generals like Robert E. Lee, who considered themselves first Virginians. But I do wish for a President who, in a long overdue act of forgiveness, makes a purposed -effort, of finite length, to bring economic and emotional equality to The South that has simply suffered for much too long.

The South hopes, and still needs, for Lincoln’s intentions to finally become real. And in the decisions of my secret, fanciful, present-day presidency, I would make that happen, so one day very soon Americans across the land will simply appreciate The South, not judge it.  I will know the job is done when the capitalization disappears and The South becomes merely another lovely direction people take.