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Confederate Flag Flies in South Carolina Primary

Confederate Flag Flies in South Carolina Primary The Civil War might have ended 143 years ago but the Confederate battle flag refuses to die as a political issue.

The Republican presidential candidates on Thursday moved to appeal to different types of conservative voters before the South Carolina primary, with Mike Huckabee using colorful language to declare the Confederate flag a states’ rights issue and Senator John McCain embracing a supply-side tax cut proposal.

“You don’t like people from outside the state coming in and telling you what to do with your flag,” Mr. Huckabee, a former governor of Arkansas, told supporters in Myrtle Beach, according to The Associated Press. “In fact,” he said, “if somebody came to Arkansas and told us what to do with our flag, we’d tell them what to do with the pole; that’s what we’d do.”

At a news conference on Thursday night, he said, “It is not an issue the president of the United States needs to weigh in on.” Mr. Huckabee, who did not say whether he considered it offensive to fly the Confederate battle flag, made his remarks as he toured the state with David Beasley, a former South Carolina governor, who had angered some conservatives by removing the flag from the Capitol dome in Columbia and displaying it elsewhere on the Capitol grounds.

And a radio advertisement paid for by an independent group used the flag issue to attack Mr. McCain, of Arizona, and praise Mr. Huckabee. “John McCain assaults our values,” it said. “Mike Huckabee understands the value of heritage.”

[...]

The Confederate flag issue — while not as prominent as it was in 2000 — has continued to surface. Fred D. Thompson, the former Tennessee senator who is staking his campaign on a strong showing here, said at a debate in November that “for a great many Americans, it’s a symbol of racism” and added that he was “glad that people have made a decision not to display it as a prominent flag symbolic of something in a state capitol.”

Mr. McCain, who has cited his own equivocations on the issue in 2000 as one of his failures of political courage, was met at several stops by flag-waving protesters. Asked about the flag at an event on Wednesday in Spartanburg, Mr. McCain said, “My answer, sir, is that I could not be more proud that the overwhelming majority of the people of this state joined together taking that flag off the top of the….” And his answer was drowned out by the cheers of supporters.

Fox has videos of Huckabee’s statements here.

Here’s the anti-McCain ad:

Huckabee and the commercial are right on three points:

  • The average guy with a Confederate battle flag on his pickup truck in indeed saying nothing more sinister than “I’m proud to be a Southerner.”
  • For most of these guys, it’s about respect for heritage and values rather than race.
  • This issue is none of the federal government’s business.

McCain’s right, though, that South Carolina did the right thing in deciding to stop flying the flag over the state capitol. The state has a large black population which, for good reason, sees it as a symbol of slavery, Jim Crow, the Ku Klux Klan, and other ugly parts of our past.

Not all that long ago, I agreed with Huckabee on the issue, finding the “heritage” argument dispositive. Hardy Jackson, my Southern History professor — and a proud Southerner — convinced me to change my mind with an elementary point: A core element of Southern culture (or, at least, its ideal) is civility. If flying the flag is deeply hurtful to a third of your population, it’s just downright rude to keep doing it. Let alone over your state capital.

So, Huckabee’s right that it’s not within the president’s power to tell South Carolina what to put on its flag. But McCain’s right that it’s a would-be president’s duty to speak out on issues that divide the country. There are all manner of things that are outside the scope of the president’s job where he can nonetheless lead by use of the bully pulpit.

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He has a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. Triumph says:

    I wish Huckabee would take a stronger stand in favor of this country’s heritage. The biggest inequity ever perpetrated in this country was the War of Northern Aggression.

    Until a confederate patriot plants our the Stars and Bars on the top of the White House, our country will continue to spiral downward into the abyss of moral degradation that commenced after the traitors forced our submission at Appomattox.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  2. B. Minich says:

    Another point about the Confederate flag is when they started flying it – in the 1960s, in a move that everyone saw as a response to the Civil Rights movement.

    Yet another reason South Carolina was right to take it down, and why Huckabee is wrong on this issue.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 2

  3. legion says:

    - The average guy with a Confederate battle flag on his pickup truck in indeed saying nothing more sinister than “I’m proud to be a Southerner.
    - For most of these guys, it’s about respect for heritage and values rather than race.
    - This issue is none of the federal government’s business.

    BZZZ. Logic Failure. Your first two points are generalizations – average guy, most guys. But your third point is an absolute predicated on the assumption of the first two: IF it’s about pride and heritage, THEN it’s not a federal case.

    Unfortunately, there is a non-zero number of racist asshats who really DO want to fly the flag to insult, intimidate, and ultimately threaten non-whites. In those cases, your third point falls flat, because the state authorities are clearly insufficient to the task of keeping said asshats in check (if not active participants in the asshattery themselves).

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  4. James Joyner says:

    a non-zero number of racist asshats who really DO want to fly the flag to insult, intimidate, and ultimately threaten non-whites. In those cases, your third point falls flat, because the state authorities are clearly insufficient to the task of keeping said asshats in check

    So . . . if a nonzero number of people have a sinister motive for supporting something which a decent majority wants to do, the federal government must therefore step in? I’m not seeing the logic here.

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  5. Grewgills says:

    The average guy with a Confederate battle flag on his pickup truck in indeed saying nothing more sinister than “I’m proud to be a Southerner.”

    Growing up in the south, my experience has been that he is generally also saying something about Yankees.

    For most of these guys, it’s about respect for heritage and values rather than race.

    OK, but what is that heritage and what are those values?
    A large part of that heritage and those values is about the right of one group of people to own another group of people and about all people “knowing their place.”
    My experience has been that prominently display the stars and bars is a good indicator that the person is likely a racist.

    BTW what subset of SC voters do you think this add will most appeal to?

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  6. Punditry says:

    Joyner on the Battle Flag Flap…

    James Joyner: McCain’s right … that South Carolina did the right thing in taking that symbol off of the state flag. The state has a large black population which, for good reason, sees it as a symbol of slavery, Jim Crow, the Ku Klux Klan, and o…

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  7. Punditry says:

    Confederates for Huckabee…

    Here's the ad some Confederate flag supporters are running in South Carolina in support of Mike Huckabee: (HT: Joyner) I find it amusing - but also more than a little appalling - that this ad was paid for by an outfit calling itself "…

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  8. R. Alex says:

    “My experience has been that prominently display the stars and bars”

    Almost no one prominently displays the stars and bars. It’s a common mistake, but since there are two different flags I think it’s important to get it right.

    The Stars and Bars is the first national flag of the Confederacy. It’s like the US flag except with three bars and a handful of stars. It’s not nearly as controversial because it never became associated with Jim Crow or white supremacy (or at least hasn’t been associated with it for a long time).

    The flag we’re talking about (shown by James above) is the Confederate Navy Jack (also called the Confederate Jack or Confederate Battle Flag). This is the one that the segregationists and whatnot embraced and the one that has become linked with southern pride or racism, depending on your point of view.

    Georgia took a lot of heat for having the confederate emblem on their flag. After much ado they changed their flag to something nearly identical to the Stars and Bars and no one really objected.

    You can see all of the flags here.

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  9. legion says:

    So . . . if a nonzero number of people have a sinister motive for supporting something which a decent majority wants to do, the federal government must therefore step in?

    Not necessarily, but you take two conditionals and state them on a par with an absolute. Again, IF it’s for pride of heritage, THEN it’s not a legal issue, but IF it’s to imply a threat to the safety of blacks in the vicinity, THEN it’s a crime. And IF the state of SC doesn’t respond appropriately, THEN it’s the fed’s responsibility to protect the safety of its citizens in the absence of a state gov’t that takes those citizens’ concerns seriously.

    Again, I’m not saying it’s absolutely a federal issue, but if either of your first two assumptions doesn’t pan out(‘most guys’ != ‘all people’), then your third statement doesn’t quite work.

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  10. mannning says:

    The people in SC today have spoken: the flag went down.

    However, it is a shame that some people see the flag as a bad symbol. The basis of the war was not slavery to begin with, it was economic aggression, and defense of the rights of Southerners. It became a slavery symbol later on, which actually sullies the flag’s symbolism, and sullies the memory of hundreds of thousands of good men, and thousands of true heroes of the South.

    Many Southerners revere the flag even today for what it meant to their families and friends–those who served with honor; those who were killed or wounded; and those who were left destitute–for all these years since the war. Such memories die slowly in the hearts of men.

    New generations of men that have little or no personal connection to the Civil War, or haven’t been taught the proper history of the war, are in the majority now, and they do not value much of this history; regrettably, they tag the flag’s symbolism with slavery and its other evil issues, and choose to let that be the sole hate-criteria for pulling down the flag.

    They thus destroy, bury or rewrite the history they do not like, as if a flag could bring back those days. How very infantile such an attitude is, much as Russia tried to rewrite history to suit its purposes.

    This ranks up there with the removal of the Ten Commandments, and other symbols some people do not like, from public places. Shall we remove all of our icons and symbols from view to please a minority? We would then be very clean, pristine, and bare of history. How about leveling all of our Civil War National Parks, such as Gettysburg, Manassas, and tens of others?

    That flag will still fly high and proud in the minds of many Southerners.

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  11. James Joyner says:

    IF it’s to imply a threat to the safety of blacks in the vicinity, THEN it’s a crime. And IF the state of SC doesn’t respond appropriately, THEN it’s the fed’s responsibility to protect the safety of its citizens in the absence of a state gov’t that takes those citizens’ concerns seriously.

    Is anyone seriously arguing that SC’s flying of the flag in the number three slot on their flagpole was to signal that it’s okay to go out and harm black people? In 2000?

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  12. JohnG says:

    I thought the Feds had some pretty good guidelines already in place concerning using Fed power to stifle speech? Anyways, until there is some actual physical harm caused, I don’t see that the Feds can really do anything.

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  13. Tano says:

    “For most of these guys, it’s about respect for heritage and values rather than race.”

    What heritage and what values?
    The culture being defended in the civil war was a slave culture. The flag subsequently was a symbol of an apartheid regime.
    Southern heritage and values had an irreducible core of evil.

    You cant dismiss this as a celebration of values without acknowledging that the values in question centered on racial oppression and slavery.

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  14. Tano says:

    “The basis of the war was not slavery to begin “with”"

    And you have the nerve to criticize people who rewrite history? That is an absurd statement. The war was totally about slavery – the entire political history of the nation for the decades preceding the war were all about manuevering to insure that the political balance in Washington was maintained in such a way that slavery would not be threatened.

    “and defense of the rights of Southerners”

    Yeah, the right of southerners to enslave blacks.

    “That flag will still fly high and proud in the minds of many Southerners.”

    Yeah – those that are still bigots, or historical illiterates.

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  15. Chris Dias says:

    Those of us that so proudly serve in the US military and other US agencies, swore to defend the U.S. from “all enemies, foreign and domestic…”.

    The confederate flag represents a government that tried to overthrow the U.S. (our country) government…or in simpler terms “a domestic enemy”.

    Confederate flags share the same distinction as the flags of Nazi Germany, and the Japanese Battle flag.

    Try to fly a Japanese Sun flag in China or a Nazi flag in Germany or Israel. So why is it ok to fly a confederate flag on the very soil it committed insurrection? If Tim McVeigh or David Koresh had a flag that represented them (respectively) would it be ok to fly their flags? The confederacy was no better than McVeigh or Koresh so why display the flag of the confederacy?

    For these reasons alone confederate flags should be banned across the entire U.S., Citizens should love the United States of today and not failed-rebel-governments of the past.

    Bottom line: why celebrate a domestic enemy?

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  16. Tom p says:

    As a born and bred “southerner”, I have to say: Never mind history and all the different interpretations of it. Let us deal with facts.

    Fact #1: The vast majority of men fighting under that flag were not fighting for “southern honor” or “states rights” or least of all “slavery” (most of them had none… Why fight for what you don’t have and never will?)Sure, they told themselves the same old lies that every man going off to war does, but once that first bullet flies you are fighting for one thing and one thing only: The right to go home. (and yes, to a more or lesser extent, the right of the guy standing next to you to do the same)

    Fact #2: That flag = LOSER. They lost then, they lose now, and those who fly it still can’t get over it. They dream still, of a world that never was.

    The United States of America won. The Confederates lost. Which one are you?

    tom

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  17. Ugh says:

    The average guy with a Confederate battle flag swastika on his pickup truck arm i[s] indeed saying nothing more sinister than “I’m proud to be a Southerner German.”
    For most of these guys, it’s about respect for heritage and values rather than race judiasm.

    Fixed.

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  18. Paul says:

    My father’s family came to the South in the mid 1600s, several owned slaves and fought for the South. I grew up there and have had many occasions to reflect on this issue over the years.

    The people who fought for the Confederacy (at least those who weren’t essentially conscripted) did so for the same reason as in most any war — because they believed it to be the best (or necessary) course to give a better life to their children and grandchildren. To take down the flag as Gov. Beasley did does not dishonor their memory, it instead furthered the very same cause that they fought and died for — to have the courage to do what is now in the best interests of the future of the South.

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  19. mannning says:

    Well, Tano, you are right and I was wrong. I did not qualify my statement properly. Slavery was the underpinning problem all along.

    My incompletely expressed paen was inherited from the family and our circle of friends, since my GG Grandfather, who owned slaves, freed them in 1850, and supported emancipation throughout Tennessee, as did many others.

    Once that movement failed and Tennessee joined the Confederacy, my GGGF, who was a commander of Tenn guard troops, believed he had to defend his family, farm, state and the Confederacy from Northern invasion, so he joined the CA as a Colonel. He appointed one of his former slaves to manage the farm, and took four free black volunteers with him as his personal guards. He lost an arm in one of the battles under Hood, and his guards brought him home.

    The point of the story being that defending his home and state was his objective, not to fight for slavery at all. I believe that this motivation to defend their homeland was true for most Southerners that signed up to fight, not the least reason being that the number of slave owners in the South was on the order of only 330,000 out of a population of some 5 million whites. These people were rather poor farmers or clerks themselves for the most part, and had no slaves. They were pawns in the larger economic and political games going on over their heads.

    In the larger picture between the state governments and the Federal Government, however, the issue of slavery was the overarching cause of the conflict.

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  20. Tano says:

    manning,

    This seems to be the recurrent story in wars. The individual fights for a myriad of different reasons, some honorable, some not. Some may fully embrace the political goals of the leaders, some may just want an adventure, some may feel a sense of duty to country or state, some just get swept up in the spirit of the times and feel it is the thing they are supposed to do.

    Your gg grandfather seems like a remarkably honorable man – who managed to transcend the culture of his time and step away from the institution of slavery, I imagine at considerable cost to himself. And yet, in the end, for other and very legitimate reasons, he ended up fighting for a regime that was focused on doing what he didnt want done.

    I guess it is an eternal dilemma. I had relatives in Germany who ended up fighting for the Nazis, although they didnt particularly buy into the ideology – being just average farm folks who thought about their crops, not about politics or jews or things like that. Their country called and they served.

    We hold values that put a premium on personal responsiblity and the individuals need to take moral responsiblity for their actions, but in the case of war the soldier must make himself a servant of the moral calculus of the political leadership.

    I dont have any problem with people honoring the service of their ancestors, for the reasons that those ancestors used to justify their efforts. But when the goals of the war were evil, then I think great care must be made, especially by those doing the honoring, to distinguish exactly what it is that is being honored. Especially in the case of the civil war where the goal of the war was to enslave the ancestors of ones neighbors.

    The battle flag may well have been the banner under which honorable men sacrificed, for their own reasons, but it is also a symbol of the regime and its larger goals.

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  21. BOB MORROW says:

    LONG LIVE THE CONFEDERATE FLAG,SO SAVE YOUR CONFEREATE MONEY THE SOUTH SHALL RISE AGAIN.I HOPE. WHAT’S NEXT TO COME DOWN THE LINCOLN MEMORIAL, VIET*NAM WALL, STATUE OF LIBERTY,GOD HELP US WHEN THAT HAPPENS.

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  22. [...] as much of that lately as I used to. The first place I read much about it in the blogosphere was at Outside the Beltway, where James Joyner has an excellent post on the issue based on a New York Times article. Before I [...]

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  23. mannning says:

    Tano, you pinpoint the dilemma of many Southerners that are torn in half by their desire to honor their ancestors, yet these ancestors were tarred by their participation in the slavery goals of the South’s leaders simply by joining up. And, never mind their own motives.

    In my eyes, the Confederate Battle Flag stands even today for the true honor of my relations, and I believe it is the same for many, many others.

    It is a new century, and perhaps such symbols as the CBF cause too much controversy for it to remain a useful conveyor of true honor over a State Capitol. But, there are times and places where she still flies proudly, such as here in Richmond on occasion.

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  24. Biff says:

    The point of the story being that defending his home and state was his objective, not to fight for slavery at all. I believe that this motivation to defend their homeland was true for most Southerners that signed up to fight

    That’s almost certainly true, but it doesn’t absolve them of moral responsibility for what they did. These are men who for the most part (your ancestor being an exception) didn’t think of lifting a finger to free their fellow human beings who were enslaved, yet thought it was worth fighting and dying to preserve the independence of a nation whose existence was entirely predicated on slavery. There are moral values that should rank higher than patriotism.

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  25. from the south says:

    The discussion of whether the civil war was right or wrong misses the real point. The flag was raised over the State House in Columbia in the 1960s, and the battle flag was added to the Georgia State flag in 1956, both as a reaction to the civil rights movement. The war is a pretense in the debate, used because it sounds a lot more noble to defend your home than to kill young children by bombing their church.

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  26. mannning says:

    Objectively, and with the great distance from that time we now have, it is easy to make moral judgments against any and all CA soldiers. I believe that to be wrong, unjust, and mean spirited.

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