The Confederate battle flag is in the news again—specifically the one that has flown from the state capitol dome in Columbia, South Carolina, by legislative resolution, every day since 1962. A combination of leaders of civil rights organizations, out-of-state-owned mass media, and big business powers has been trying to get the flag down for years. Every such effort has been voted down, even with Democratic majorities, and every poll shows quite overwhelming support for the status quo. (The flag flies below the Stars and Stripes of the Empire headquartered in Washington and the traditional Palmetto banner of South Carolina. Strangely, the federal district judges, who usually settle these matters, have kept out.)

Keeping the flag up was something of an issue in the last statewide elections, where every Republican candidate promised, repeatedly, to leave the banner of Southern identity and heritage exactly where it has been. (The party of Lincoln, by a strange twist of fate, is now more or less the conservative party in the South.) The Republicans won all the statewide offices and both houses of the legislature—for the first time since the last bluecoats left in 1877.

Suddenly, the flag issue, which seemingly had been put to rest, has been revived by the new Republican governor. one David Beasley, who has proposed that “it is time to bring the flag down.” By way of compromise, he suggests flying Confederate banners at the two Confederate monuments on the capitol grounds, though this “compromise” has already been rejected by black legislators.

In so doing, the governor, a former Democrat and self-described born-again Christian, has reversed the stand he took repeatedly in his campaign. According to his explanation, he was led to his new position by prayer (whether to the Almighty or to His earthly deputy Ralph Reed, whose Christian Coalition possibly gave Beasley his small margin of victory, is not clear). The less trusting suspect the advice of political consultants who think the young governor can position himself as a national figure, a foolish hope. But it is pressing for him to try to recapture some political momentum since there is widespread suspicion of administrative incompetence and chicanery. Moreover, this darling of the Christian Coalition is widely believed to have Clintonesque personal habits, and he has a father-in-law who operates an abortion mill in Alabama.

In many ways, battles over symbols are the most important political battles of all. The continuing effort to denigrate and suppress the protean symbol of the bloody St. Andrew’s cross of the Confederacy, known universally as the chief representative symbol of the American South, reveals much about the forces at conflict in present American society.

Beasley has enlisted all the former governors of both parties and the two United States senators behind his proposals, indicating careful advance orchestration. (None of them had proposed bringing the flag down when they were in a position to!) Whenever all the top old pols of both parties gather round to push something, it is positive proof that a fast one is being put over on the people. (Remember all the senile ex-Presidents who were herded together to support the NAFTA swindle?)

Opponents of the flag claim it is a symbol of slavery, segregation, white supremacy, and defiance of the federal government. It might just as well be argued that its raising had to do with the Civil War bicentennial. In fact, a symbol as large as the Confederate flag has many meanings, the most important being simply an expression of traditional Southern pride and distinctiveness. That is what it primarily means to the large majority of working- and middle-class citizens of South Carolina who feel that their own values will be betrayed at the behest of special interests, once again, if the governor has his way. And they believe, rightly, that the anti-flag people will only use this as a base to carry on further attacks, since there is hardly a monument or even a street name in the state that is not imbued with Southern history.

The conflict in South Carolina, in fact, comes down to a conflict between the establishment and the people. As always and everywhere, the Republican Party ends up carrying water for its opponents and betraying its constituents. As always, the establishment seeks to put over whatever “respectable opinion” has decided, no matter what the voters think. That is the only real political confrontation in America today.

But it seems entirely possible that the establishment, this time, will lose. The common term being applied to the governor’s action is “betrayal.” Nobody expects much of politicians these days, and the electorate will overlook much, but a “betrayal” is a serious thing that will be remembered and punished.

In this case, the establishment not only seeks to thwart the will of the people. It is also in a relentless pursuit of mediocrity and sameness. Columbia, South Carolina, must become indistinguishable from Columbus, Ohio, which is only a small and early step on the road to the New World Order.