The Confederate flag, which had been in a place of honor (though not sovereignty) above the South Carolina capitol for almost 40 years, was removed in the stealth of the night of June 30/July 1.
The removal was made possible because all but a handful of Republicans in the legislature, who had pledged not to touch the flag, showed the white feather and accepted, as Republicans are wont to do, a “compromise.” Curiously, the GOP members had a change of heart right after the filing deadline for primary opposition had passed.
A Confederate flag (a version other than the universally familiar one) will supposedly now be flown next to a monument on the capitol grounds, while the state will build an African-American monument and establish a Martin Luther King, Jr., holiday. And, in a provision kept quiet by the legislators and media until the last moment, Confederate flags will be removed from the legislative chambers, where they have hung from time immemorial.
It is not a compromise, because the NAACP has not lifted its boycott of the state. Though more than the customary payoffs were made to get the “compromise” through, the Black Caucus has already declared war against the flag that is to go on the monument. The bottom line is that the Republican leadership had a chance to say “No” to political correctness in a way that would have garnered international attention—and they chickened out.
Perhaps the only surprise is that they held out as long as they did, given the pressures brought to bear. The President of the United States visited us and told us that people who honor the Confederate flag are backward-looking and should seek a better life. Given the source, we have some doubts about exactly what was meant by a “better life.” But we were not in doubt when he likened those who honor the rebel banner to Serbs: We know what happened to them.
Students rioted at the University of Washington and burned our flag. Apparently, they were aroused to passion after an Asian-American student wrote a defense of the flag in the campus rag. Southerners have always been at a tremendous disadvantage in these matters. It would never occur to us to tell people in Washington State what to do. Why, we can go for months without even thinking of them. But they sure are concerned about us.
Of course, they are naturally righteous against our notorious racial oppression. We are known sinners who always need correction, and they are just the folks to do it. This excuse worked better 40 years ago. Has anybody noticed lately that the most segregated states are Massachusetts, New York, and Illinois? Or that there is a net migration of black Americans back to the South?
A Southerner may be forgiven for suspecting that there is something going on here that does not have much to do with objective conditions. We might even suspect there is a little something psychologically wrong with people whose lives seem to revolve around correcting other people who live at a distance. It is not a part of our regional character, but it definitely is of theirs.
Surfing the net during the controversy, I came across a diatribe against our flag by a certified academic. According to this learned gentleman (and he is rather typical), the South is a demonic culture responsible for all the evils of the known world. He is alarmed that “the Southern gun culture,” as typified by the Oklahoma City bombing, is in danger of taking over the whole country.
Now, let’s see. A weirdo from New York, trained as a killer by the U.S. government, comes to the South and blows up several hundred people. Ah, the evil “Southern gun culture” at work again. Doubtless, the Unabomber from Harvard and Berkeley is just one more example.
It’s an old story. The abolitionists proclaimed the depravity of Southerners and their own whiteness of soul while they were financing looting and killing on a mass scale in Missouri. In films, the dangerous killer has a Southern accent, of course. The facts are that most of the notorious mass murderers of recent years have been Yankees who roamed the South for their victims, like that nice Mormon boy, Ted Bundy. Yes, what an ideal place America would be if we could just finish wiping out those Rebs!
No doubt the 150,000 Yankees who move to South Carolina every year are braving the perils out of unselfish dedication to missionary work. In fact, I’ll bet the academic mentioned above would jump at the chance to labor at enlightenment in one of our colleges.
We Southerners are, in many ways, a simple people. We like to think of ourselves as Americans and don’t even notice the hate we get. Many of the turncoats in the legislature blathered at length about their dedication to the United States. That misguided sentiment, and a vague (and false) hope that removal of the flag would enhance racial conciliation, were the only decent motives involved in their betrayal.
If it is difficult to see what the Republican leadership hoped to gain (although visions of federal judgeships and assistant secretaryships in the Bush administration danced in many heads), it is easy to see what the NAACP got out of the controversy. Formerly wracked by debt and leadership scandals, it is now riding with full coffers and great momentum. Its leaders don’t see the “compromise” touted by Republican leaders: They see victory.
I will bet that the campaign against Confederate symbols is building toward a demand for reparations for slavery. You heard it here first: After the elections, expect a Democratic bill for ten billion dollars a year for ten years. The Republicans will compromise with nine billion dollars and federal gun confiscation.
The public obsession with the domestic servitude that existed in this country (and others) up until a century and a half ago has reached the dimensions of Bolshevik indoctrination. The National Park Service is now de-emphasizing battles at its battlefield parks and emphasizing slavery. That slavery was the most important issue in American history, or even the most important issue in the War of Southern Independence, would astonish Lincoln, Grant, and Sherman.
Yet the victory in the banishing of the rebel banner from honor in South Carolina does not go to African-Americans or even to their official leaders. It goes to the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce, which spent hundreds of thousands of dollars and carried out a lobbying campaign of vicious intensity over a period of years.
The state Republican Party, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Chamber of Commerce, doubtless hopes to make the best of the situation, expecting that the NAACP will get the blame and that the voters will forget the GOP’s betrayal. They are politicians, and politicians (unlike statesmen) always look at short-range benefits, the next poll, and the next brown bag of cash. The GOP, however, may be surprised. A Republican governor has already been kicked out for betraying defenders of the flag, and in a non-binding referendum, over 70 percent of Republicans voted not to remove the flag. The most popular bumper sticker in South Carolina now is “No Votes for Turncoats,” followed by “Take it Down” (next to a picture of the Stars and Stripes).
Our flag was not only international news but a major issue in the presidential campaign comedy. Of course, Al Gore is against us, though he comes (nominally) from a state replete with Confederate observances and symbols. The statesmanlike Mr. Bush opined that the flag was a matter for South Carolinians alone to decide, which allowed him an easy victory in the primary. Traditionalists and pro-flag people, however, don’t trust Bushes and were poised to vote for Alan Keyes. Two or three days before the election, in a move obviously orchestrated to benefit Bush, Keyes attacked the flag and Bob Jones University, leaving the field open to the governor from Connecticut (er, Texas).
Regarding the sincerity of Mr. Bush’s neutral position on the flag, let me mention merely that Bush’s number one campaign man in South Carolina is the same fellow who has headed the massively funded, pro-business anti-flag campaign for the past several years.
But the real comic relief was provided by Senator McCain, who, like many more prominent Americans than are willing to admit it, has Confederate ancestors. His position was that he understood why people honor the flag, implying that it was okay with him. After the election, he made a special trip back to tell us that he had lied to help his chances in the primary, and that the flag of the Confederacy is evil and must be banished (as if anybody cares what he thinks). The comedy is heightened when you realize, which he apparently did not, that his lie did not help him at all because the Bush people had made sure his real opinion was widely circulated.
So our legislators have agreed with those who say that our flag is a symbol of hate. They caved in to pressure, but this is what Republicans do. Remember how Nixon campaigned against the Democrats, and then adopted all of their programs and their unpopular war? You can no doubt recall your own favorite Republican treason against conservative voters.
We made a mistake in allowing the politicians to frame the issue as merely one of “heritage.” Heritage can be acknowledged in one place as well as another. Those of us who wanted to keep our flag where we could see it every day did so because we realize that the bloody St. Andrew’s Cross has not so much to do with history, the Civil War, or slavery. It is, rather, the most potent symbol in the world today of a spirit of resistance to all that is summed up by the label “New World Order”— and it is universally recognized as such.
The showboating mayor of Charleston organized a march from the sea to the capitol to protest the flag, with various sports figures and other celebrities. It was a media event, with only three people actually marching, although crowds were brought out for the cameras. The “marchers” reached the capitol and held their rally in front of 400 people, reported in the media as 2,000. On the other side of die capitol, pro-flag people gathered, about 400 of us, reported by the media as 200. (Wc were at a disadvantage because it was a workday.) The press missed, of course, the real news—the real history being made. On the pro-flag side, two dynamic, articulate black men spoke out for the flag! Meanwhile, on the anti-flag side, a bunch of pasty old politicians and academics mumbled their leftist incantations.