Jul. 4—MARIETTA — The country has a choice to make, U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock said in a talk to the Cobb County Democratic Committee on Saturday.
Warnock, D-Georgia, was the keynote speaker at the party's annual Herb Butler Fourth of July picnic held at IAM Local Lodge 709 in Marietta, a barbecue that saw a parade of candidates and elected officials turn out and speak.
Independence Day weekend is a time to remember the American story and how the country is knit together "by a grand and noble idea," Warnock told the crowd.
The Fourth of July, he said, is the American family's reunion, and "all families have a complicated story."
Warnock said he was thinking of the speech Frederick Douglass gave prior to the Emancipation Proclamation, titled "The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro."
"And he said it was yours not mine. And he didn't say that out of any lack of sense of patriotism. But he said it because he was wedded to that grand American ideal that 'we hold these truths to be self evident.' Thomas Jefferson said that all men — and he meant men — that all men are created equal. That they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights. And he didn't mean all men. Some men."
Yet the wonderful thing about it, Warnock said, is Jefferson put the right words on the paper, language which Martin Luther King Jr. called 'noble words, sublime words etched into eternity.'"
Visit Washington today and you will see the Jefferson Memorial, "with the complicated history that it represents," Warnock said, "the way in which it pushed us closer toward our humanity."
Staring back from the other side of the river is the statue of Martin Luther King Jr. "who is looking directly at Thomas Jefferson as if to say 'Did you mean what you said when you said what you said?' He pushed us closer toward our ideals."
The nation is now in another moment when it gets to decide which America it's going to be. Who would have thought, Warnock said, that Georgia would elect two Democrats who flipped the U.S. Senate, sending the state's first Black senator and first Jewish senator to that august body.
Somewhere in Glory, he said, King and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, who used to march together, were smiling.
The morning after his victory over U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler, R-Georgia, Warnock said all the morning news shows wanted to interview him. He was feeling pretty good after a hard-fought campaign and knew he had arrived when he landed on "The View" with Whoopi Goldberg. That was the morning of January 6.
"And by lunch time the other side of our complicated American family story against which Rabbi Heschel and King and so many others were doing battle, righteous battle, the ugly side of that history tried to reassert itself," he said. "The most violent assault on our Capitol since 1812. Police brutalized. People died. Racist and anti-Semitic signs pushed through our Capitol. All driven by 'the big lie' that they stole the election."
The premise behind 'the big lie,' as everyone knows, is that certain people don't count and shouldn't get to determine the country's future, Warnock said.
"The pushback against this new America that's emerging in Cobb County with your increasing diversity, and your diversity is your strength," he said. "And so here's where we are. We can talk about this deal and that deal, and I don't mind talking about that — that's important. We can talk about the policy that matters, but what really matters is the soul of the country. What matters is the character of the country. Here we are somewhere between January 5 and January 6."
Warnock later touched on such policy issues as passing the American Rescue Plan, which he said put shots in people's arms and delivered resources allowing schools to reopen. He spoke of passing the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill to provide funding for bridges, roads, highways and broadband. He talked of the need to pass his jobs and competition bill to create and support Georgia jobs by investing in the state's workforce and research capacity, fix supply chain issues and combat inflation. And he said he asked Congress to suspend the federal gas tax back in February, which is 18 cents per gallon of regular gasoline.
Despite all the battles and challenges, Warnock said there is always hope, "even in the midst of a runaway Supreme Court that doesn't respect the reproductive rights of women, doesn't respect the need of the EPA to protect us ..."
Warnock realized that hope as he was sitting in the Judiciary Committee two rows behind Ketanji Brown Jackson, who on Thursday was sworn in as the first Black woman to serve on the Supreme Court.
"It only occurred to me then that had Georgia not stood up the way that it did, she would not have even been sitting in the room. You did that," he told the crowd.
The day Jackson was confirmed to the high court, Vice President Kamala Harris handed out paper, encouraging those in the chamber to write a letter to someone about the historic occasion. Warnock wrote to his five-year-old daughter.
"In the long history of our nation she is the first Supreme Court justice who looks like you with hair like yours," Warnock said in his letter. "While we were confirming her, a friend of mine, the vice president of the United States, suggested I write a letter. By the way, in the long history of our country, she's the first vice president who looks like you with hair like yours. I write just to say that you can achieve, you can become whomever you decide to be. Love, Dad."
In the end, Warnock, who faces Republican Herschel Walker in November's election, said legislation is a letter to our children.
"And I came to Cobb County just to suggest that each of us ought to take a moment during this weekend and ask ourselves, what do we want that letter to say? Do we want to push our country closer toward January 6 or toward January 5? I choose January 5. I choose freedom. I choose truth telling. I choose justice. I choose a country where a kid who grew up in public housing can become a United States senator ... I choose us. I choose all of us. Happy family reunion. God bless you," he said as the audience roared with applause.
Jacquelyn Bettadapur, chair of the Cobb Democratic Committee, said a little over 200 people turned out to the celebration, calling it a success. Bettadapur said her takeaway from Warnock's talk is that all elections are about choices.
"And he clearly defined that choice whether we want to be a country of January 5th or a country of January 6th. I would add, do we want to be a country prior to 1973 when Roe v. Wade was decided, or do we want to be a country where women have autonomy over their own bodies? Those are some of the clear choices that we're making in this election," she said.