Commentary Magazine


Topic: Confederate flag

Sanctuary Cities Should Go the Way of the Confederate Flag

Last month, a vile racist entered a Charleston church and murdered nine worshippers in cold blood. After it was revealed that the killer was an unreconstructed sympathizer with the Confederacy as well as Adolf Hitler, pictures of him draped in the banner of the rebels helped generate a backlash against the symbol. That strikes some who revere it as part of the South’s heritage as unfair, but they must come to terms with the fact that the Charleston massacres changed forever the way Americans think about the flag. That’s the way it is with symbols. They mean one thing to one generation but then something very different to another. It’s with that truism in mind that we should regard the current debate about sanctuary cities in the wake of the murder of a San Francisco woman by an illegal immigrant that was released by local police without informing federal authorities. Just as the tragedy in the Emanuel Church was the end of an era in which the Confederate flag would fly freely in public space, so, too, should the unnecessary death of Katherine Steinle mark the moment when cities lie San Francisco that have claimed to be sanctuaries for illegal immigrants and the politicians that have embraced the idea in the past like Hillary Clinton, need to throw the concept into the dustbin of history along with the Stars and Bars.

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Last month, a vile racist entered a Charleston church and murdered nine worshippers in cold blood. After it was revealed that the killer was an unreconstructed sympathizer with the Confederacy as well as Adolf Hitler, pictures of him draped in the banner of the rebels helped generate a backlash against the symbol. That strikes some who revere it as part of the South’s heritage as unfair, but they must come to terms with the fact that the Charleston massacres changed forever the way Americans think about the flag. That’s the way it is with symbols. They mean one thing to one generation but then something very different to another. It’s with that truism in mind that we should regard the current debate about sanctuary cities in the wake of the murder of a San Francisco woman by an illegal immigrant that was released by local police without informing federal authorities. Just as the tragedy in the Emanuel Church was the end of an era in which the Confederate flag would fly freely in public space, so, too, should the unnecessary death of Katherine Steinle mark the moment when cities lie San Francisco that have claimed to be sanctuaries for illegal immigrants and the politicians that have embraced the idea in the past like Hillary Clinton, need to throw the concept into the dustbin of history along with the Stars and Bars.

In her CNN interview on Monday, Clinton joined the pile on San Francisco officials that released Francisco Sanchez, a man who had been deported five times, allowing him to commit the murder of Steinle. But while those involved in that decision bear the responsibility for what happened along with the murderer, the role that the sanctuary city idea had in these awful events should not be ignored. Yet rather than shrugging off this crime as an aberration, it is actually the product of a movement that Clinton once wholeheartedly defended. Clinton endorsed sanctuary cities in both 2007 and 2008 during her first run for the presidency saying, as Breitbart helpfully recalls for us, that “local law enforcement” should not “act like immigration authorities.” But if they had in San Francisco, Katherine Steinle would not have been gunned down.

Sanchez said he knew that once he was in custody on an unrelated crime, San Francisco would not turn him over to immigration authorities although federal law requires them to do so. That city, and the many others that have also adopted the sanctuary concept, have established policies that treat immigration laws as invalid statutes that may be flouted at will. What San Francisco needed was a legal culture that would have compelled the Sheriff’s Department keep Sanchez locked up until the feds could detain and deport him. Instead, it treats immigration laws with contempt.

Let’s be clear about what has driven the sanctuary city movement. It isn’t merely sympathy for illegals, many of which do only want to find work and better lives than the ones they left behind. Rather, it is a belief on the part of the political left as well as Hispanic activists that immigration laws shouldn’t be so much changed as they should be ignored. That’s the same spirit that drove President Obama to make an end run around Congress and grant amnesty to millions of illegals by executive order. Just as San Francisco (and ever other municipality with similar policies) effectively annuls the law every time it lets a person who should be reported to the federal government go free, so, too, does Obama’s orders not to enforce the law act in the same way.

That ought to change immediately. The death of Steinle should set off a backlash every bit as angry as the one against the Confederate flag that would force every city in America that calls itself a “sanctuary” for illegals to change.

But instead of concentrating on Katherine Steinle, to the extent that the nation is focusing on illegal immigration, it is talking about the over-the-top comments about Mexicans made by Donald Trump. While Trump’s shtick is hard to ignore, it is telling that most of the liberal mainstream media is far more exercised about his exaggerations about the crimes of some illegals than the actual murder of a woman whose death was directly caused by the sanctuary city concept.

Sanctuary cities ought to go the way of the Confederate flag leaving the idea’s once ardent supporters like Clinton as shamefaced as those that cling to a symbol of racism that has outlived its welcome in the public square. If they don’t, the fault will be with a political and media culture that is far more worried about the sensibilities of illegal immigrants than they are about the safety of all Americans.

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How An Act of Grace Changed the Republican Party

As those of us who were not directly touched by the horrifying massacre in Charleston begin to move on, it’s worth trying to put some of the events in a broader context. How the Republican Party became the dominant party of the Old Confederacy – first benefiting from it, then struggling because of it, and finally distancing itself from one of the Confederacy’s most toxic symbols – is among the more fascinating political stories of modern times.

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As those of us who were not directly touched by the horrifying massacre in Charleston begin to move on, it’s worth trying to put some of the events in a broader context. How the Republican Party became the dominant party of the Old Confederacy – first benefiting from it, then struggling because of it, and finally distancing itself from one of the Confederacy’s most toxic symbols – is among the more fascinating political stories of modern times.

It starts just over a half-century ago, after President Lyndon Johnson signed the 1964 Civil Rights Act and told an aide, “We have lost the South for a generation.” Actually, it was two generations — and counting.

Prior to the Civil Rights Act, the South was a Democratic stronghold. Democrats held all of the governors’ offices and Senate seats in the region. Yet by 1972, Richard Nixon carried more than 70 percent of the vote in the Deep South. Today, it’s rare to find Democrats holding top political offices in the South. The sweep has been nearly complete.

With a vise-like grip on the South came a large number of electoral votes but also baggage, most especially having to do with the symbols of the Old Confederacy. This was true in South Carolina, where Democrats were responsible for first flying the Confederate flag over the state capitol in 1962 but which Republicans soon became associated with.

The flag became a political problem for Republicans as the nation became more ethnically and racially diverse and less culturally accepting of the symbols of slavery. For several election cycles, Republican presidential candidates refused to criticize flying the Confederate flag on state grounds for fear of losing the South Carolina primary. This stance, however, sent an alienating message to minorities and suburban voters: Key Republicans were publicly agnostic when it came to a symbol of white supremacy and secession. In a rather odd historical inversion, the party of Lincoln became identified with the symbol of slavery.

And then, in the blink of an eye, it was over. An issue in which the battle lines had been long drawn changed suddenly changed. Why?

As many people have pointed out, the proximate cause was a tragedy: Nine African-Americans gunned down during a Bible Study at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston. The alleged killer, Dylann Roof, is a racist who had been photographed posing with the Confederate flag. But, by itself, that set of facts wouldn’t have changed much at all since no one could plausibly blame the Confederate flag for the massacre.

Something else was at play: The way the people of Charleston responded in the aftermath of the killings. No riots. No violence. No unrest. Instead, there were calls for unity and solidarity. But even that, by itself, would not have been enough.

The key event occurred when the relatives of people slain were able, less than 48 hours after the killings, to speak directly to Roof at his first court appearance. It was a sublime moment. Grieving family members spoke in honest, unaffected ways about the grief and heartache of their loss, and yet they somehow found it within themselves to bestow forgiveness on the man who had killed their beloved.

The people and the politicians of South Carolina, having witnessed this profound demonstration of grace, wanted to find a way to extend it to others. They did. South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley – who had previously rebuffed efforts to remove the flag from the grounds of the state legislature – reversed her position, acknowledging that what had occurred “calls upon us to look at this in a different way.” She added, “By removing a symbol that divides us, we can move forward as a state in harmony and we can honor the nine blessed souls who are in heaven.”

This change in policy didn’t come about because of pressure and coercion and intimidation from without; it arose from a change of heart from within. So powerful was it that other states, including Alabama, Mississippi, and Georgia, took steps to put aside the symbols of the Confederacy.

While not nearly as historically significant and on a vastly smaller scale, there are some parallels to what happened a few weeks ago in Charleston and the Civil Rights era, when the most direct challenge to segregation came from within the Christian tradition and the black church. There was a profound dignity and strength in how those opposing segregation carried themselves.

Martin Luther King, Jr. eschewed violence and spoke instead about justice and love. “The strong person is the person who can cut off the chain of hate, the chain of evil,” King said in a stunning 1957 sermon on loving your enemy. “Somebody must have religion enough and morality enough to cut it off and inject within the very structure of the universe that strong and powerful element of love.”

A few weeks ago, in a courtroom in Charleston, a handful of saints decided to cut off the chain of hate and injected the element of love. In doing so, they moved hearts in a state and a nation. They caused people to alter old assumptions. They changed American politics.

They even changed the Republican Party.

 

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Three Ways Conservatives Can Move Forward After Last Week

1. Know Thine Enemy. The problem isn’t someone on Twitter who gloats about Obamacare and gay marriage and the triumph of left-liberalism. The problem isn’t even disgusting people who spit on a priest walking past the gay pride parade in Manhattan this weekend. The problem is governance by an unelected elite. Read More

1. Know Thine Enemy. The problem isn’t someone on Twitter who gloats about Obamacare and gay marriage and the triumph of left-liberalism. The problem isn’t even disgusting people who spit on a priest walking past the gay pride parade in Manhattan this weekend. The problem is governance by an unelected elite.

John Roberts ruled, effectively, that the IRS had the power to define Obamacare however it needed to in order for it to work. He is unelected, as are the IRS officials whom he so empowered (and the bureaucrats who will be empowered by this precedent in future cases). It was the notorious Jonathan Gruber of MIT whose imprudent public statements revealed Obamacare’s design was to force compliance at the state level and lie about it.

Similarly, in the case of gay marriage, a matter of cultural controversy was resolved, with the imperial words “it is so ordered,” by five unelected justices of the Supreme Court. The “right to gay marriage” has now become constitutional, something non-gay marriage never was. The change in prevailing views on gay marriage wasn’t happening quickly enough for the justices so they hastened it — in effect imposing a revolutionary change that could simply have been evolutionary if allowed to work its way over the next decade through an altered country.

I support gay marriage, but I don’t support this way of doing business. I support the death penalty, too, but that doesn’t mean I support posses stringing people up and hanging them. And even if I didn’t support gay marriage, I would find its legislative successes impossible to argue with, whereas Justice Kennedy’s ludicrously sentimental and lawless opinion can and will be argued over for decades.

2. Invoke basic American governing rules and the rule of law. What unites these policies, and certain strains of Obamaism, is the impatience with the democratic process and the rule of law. That was what liberated the president from the customary bounds of executive power when he announced he was imposing the rules of the Dream Act under the logic that because Congress wouldn’t make this law he so wanted he’d just make it himself. Conservatives can easily unite under the banner of the notion that we are a nation of laws and that we are being captained into lawless waters whose rocky shoals could entirely upend the ship of state.

3. The problem is Washington. What happened with the Confederate flag in South Carolina last week is a good example of how change can come about quickly and almost without controversy so long as Washington is not involved. When Washington gets involved, the battle lines harden, the money machines get cranking, and the system becomes sclerotic to benefit the players. Obamacare is a Washington tentacle. The Supreme Court’s imposition is a Washington tentacle. Keeping the focus on the Washington aspect of the problem is necessary to frame the difference between Right and Left.

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Erasing History? There’s an App for That

There is no cause so noble it can’t be made ridiculous by 21st-century activism. The Confederate flag debate is fast becoming another chapter in the Complete Idiot’s Guide to Taking Offense. According to toucharcade.com, Apple has removed American Civil War games from its App Store because they show the Confederate flag. They don’t celebrate the South or encourage racism. They simply show the flag in its proper historical context. “As of the writing of this story,” writes Tasos Lazarides, “games like Ultimate General: Gettysburg and all the Hunted Cow – Civil War games are nowhere to be found.”

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There is no cause so noble it can’t be made ridiculous by 21st-century activism. The Confederate flag debate is fast becoming another chapter in the Complete Idiot’s Guide to Taking Offense. According to toucharcade.com, Apple has removed American Civil War games from its App Store because they show the Confederate flag. They don’t celebrate the South or encourage racism. They simply show the flag in its proper historical context. “As of the writing of this story,” writes Tasos Lazarides, “games like Ultimate General: Gettysburg and all the Hunted Cow – Civil War games are nowhere to be found.”

But if swastikas are your thing, you’re all set. As these still shots from the iPhone version of Wolfenstein 3-D reveal, Apple is still ok with games that show the Nazi symbol:

 

Hitler swastika

The point is not that those of us offended by Nazism should now fight to enjoy the same sanitized game environments as those who are troubled by the Confederate South. It’s that this micro-policing—indeed self-policing—of the culture does not spring from serious moral reflection but from headline-driven cowardice.

Taking a stand against the honoring or legitimizing of evil is a moral obligation. As the writers on this blog have said repeatedly, take down the Confederate flags that fly over state capitals. But erasing all representations of a particular evil is a moral offense that turns justice into self-righteous sport. What’s more, it cuts us off from dark realities that we forget at our own peril. Worst of all, the obscurantism will never stop. Once we decide we’re simply uncomfortable with historical reality, history becomes a grand project of erasure. What makes video games different from movies or books or television shows? In the end, they’ll all be smothered by the big “shush.” And the Union will have won a strange victory for freedom indeed if it prohibits all reference to its greatest blow against human bondage.

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A Welcome Tipping Point for Republicans and the Confederate Flag

As everyone knows by now, in the wake of the massacre at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina lasted week, allegedly perpetrated by a racist, Dylann Roof, there have been renewed calls to remove the Confederate flag from state grounds.

Among Republicans, those calls have come from prominent lawmakers from South Carolina, most especially  Governor Nikki Haley, who is playing a significant role in transforming this debate. Among those running (or are likely soon to run) for president, Jeb Bush and Rick Perry signaled early on they wanted the flag taken down. Scott Walker, after days of hesitation, then followed. So, now, has Rand Paul. (Here’s a good score card of who stands where.) Read More

As everyone knows by now, in the wake of the massacre at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina lasted week, allegedly perpetrated by a racist, Dylann Roof, there have been renewed calls to remove the Confederate flag from state grounds.

Among Republicans, those calls have come from prominent lawmakers from South Carolina, most especially  Governor Nikki Haley, who is playing a significant role in transforming this debate. Among those running (or are likely soon to run) for president, Jeb Bush and Rick Perry signaled early on they wanted the flag taken down. Scott Walker, after days of hesitation, then followed. So, now, has Rand Paul. (Here’s a good score card of who stands where.)

Yet several others – including Ted Cruz, Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee, Bobby Jindal, Ben Carson and Marco Rubio – have said it’s a decision best left to South Carolinians. They have so far remained basically neutral when it comes to rendering a judgment on the Confederate flag.

They shouldn’t. In politics there are a lot of hard calls; this isn’t one of them.

As the old arguments in favor of allowing the Confederate flag to fly on state grounds crumble before our eyes — they already seem bizarrely antiquated — it’s worth recapitulating the reasons the debate has changed in such a decisive way. The first one has to do with the history of the Confederate flag. For all the talk from defenders of the flag who insist otherwise, it was a symbol of slavery, white supremacy, and the dissolution of the Union. The flag was fundamentally about hate, not heritage; about subjugation, not Southern ancestry. There is a reason white supremacist groups embrace the Confederate flag as their symbol, and it doesn’t have to do with its aesthetic appeal.

The second reason has to do with the history of the Republican Party. It was founded in the 1850s by anti-slavery activists and in opposition to the Kansas-Nebraska Act. Its slogan in 1856 was “free labor, free land, free men.” The first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln, was America’s “great emancipator” who freed the slaves. So the Confederate flag was never a symbol associated with the Republican Party – including in South Carolina, where the flag was first flown over the statehouse in 1962, at the request of Democrats in the state like Governor Fritz Hollings and Representative John A. May. Yet the Republican Party has somehow found a way to get itself attached to this toxic symbol of division and repression.

The third reason it’s an obvious decision to call for the Confederate flag to come down is political. Among those who have a reaction to the flag, more than three times as many  say they have a negative reaction as a positive reaction.

Beyond that, the United States is rapidly changing. It’s becoming increasingly non-white. One reason Republicans are consistently losing presidential elections is that they are doing dismally among minorities. For example, in 2012 the Republican nominee won just 17 percent of nonwhite voters. (The white share of the eligible voting population has been dropping by about two points every four years, and next year minorities may make up a record 30 percent of the vote.) Republicans are unlikely to endear themselves with this rising demographic if they refuse to take a stand against flying the Confederate flag.

There is, finally, the issue of civic comity. The Confederate flag not only represents the ugliest part of our history; it is a symbol that makes many Americans feel like outsiders in their own land, alienated from their fellow citizens. Not giving that kind of offense is a basic commitment of democratic life.

But there are still holdouts. In his appearance on NBC’s Meet the Press on Sunday, presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee, who in 2008 finished second to John McCain in the Republican primaries delegate count, claimed the Confederate flag is not an issue for someone running for president. Governor Huckabee told host Chuck Todd, “if you can point me to an article and section of the Constitution in which a United States president ought to weigh in on what states use as symbols, then please refresh my memory on that.” Set aside the fact that people running for president weigh in on matters beyond the scope of the Constitution all the time. (A few weeks ago Huckabee spoke out on the matter of Caitlyn Jenner’s sex-change operation, an issue on which the Founders were silent.) It seemed entirely lost on Governor Huckabee that the Confederate flag was the symbol of a rebellion against and violent assault on the very Constitution Mr. Huckabee invoked.

To their credit, in just a few days a rapidly growing number of Republicans – Governor Haley and the presidential candidates I mentioned, RNC chairman Reince Priebus, Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, 2012 presidential nominee Mitt Romney and others, with many more to follow – have urged the Confederate flag be taken down. We’re clearly at a much-welcomed tipping point. The tragic event in Charleston, and the extraordinary grace demonstrated by the families of the victims, seems to have allowed long-standing arguments to gain traction in ways they never had before. And for those Republicans who are still agnostic or ambivalent when speaking on this issue, they need not be. They should view this as an opportunity to finally put to rest an issue that has bedeviled their party; to stand four-square against a symbol of cruelty and, in so doing, remind voters that theirs is the proud Party of Lincoln.

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As the Flag Comes Down, the Civil War May Finally Be Over

Let’s hope South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley finally put an end to the debate over the Confederate flag Monday afternoon with her announcement that, “It’s time to move the flag from the Capitol grounds.” Long viewed by African Americans and others as an offensive symbol of racism, the flag became an issue again last week when a lone wolf racist terrorist entered the Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston and killed nine black Americans at prayer. Alleged murderer Dylann Roof had embraced the flag and other symbols of the Confederacy on his website where he also spewed racist and anti-Semitic hate. The response from some was that we should respect the flag as part of Southern heritage and a piece of history. But, fortunately, the impulse among some in South Carolina to reject these calls as Yankee interference was overcome both by grief over the murders and common sense. But beyond the imperative of the moment to make some symbolic gesture against hate (that also simplifies things for Republicans who feared to cross conservatives who might still revere the flag), the governor’s decision signals that, even in some parts of the Southern imagination, the Civil War is finally over. This isn’t political correctness or revisionism; it’s closure that was long overdue. And it’s absolutely vital if we are to rise above a persistent racism that President Obama cited in an interview that, like many of his pronouncements on race, seemed designed more to inflame sentiments than heal them.

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Let’s hope South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley finally put an end to the debate over the Confederate flag Monday afternoon with her announcement that, “It’s time to move the flag from the Capitol grounds.” Long viewed by African Americans and others as an offensive symbol of racism, the flag became an issue again last week when a lone wolf racist terrorist entered the Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston and killed nine black Americans at prayer. Alleged murderer Dylann Roof had embraced the flag and other symbols of the Confederacy on his website where he also spewed racist and anti-Semitic hate. The response from some was that we should respect the flag as part of Southern heritage and a piece of history. But, fortunately, the impulse among some in South Carolina to reject these calls as Yankee interference was overcome both by grief over the murders and common sense. But beyond the imperative of the moment to make some symbolic gesture against hate (that also simplifies things for Republicans who feared to cross conservatives who might still revere the flag), the governor’s decision signals that, even in some parts of the Southern imagination, the Civil War is finally over. This isn’t political correctness or revisionism; it’s closure that was long overdue. And it’s absolutely vital if we are to rise above a persistent racism that President Obama cited in an interview that, like many of his pronouncements on race, seemed designed more to inflame sentiments than heal them.

One must respect the respect for history on the part of those who, like our John Steele Gordon, see honoring the legacy of those who fought for the Confederacy as distinct from the pro-slavery cause or the post-war atrocities committed in the name of the so-called “lost cause.” As our Max Boot rightly pointed out earlier today, the myths about the Confederacy helped fuel a political culture that created despicable Jim Crow laws and segregationist practices that were a blot on America’s honor for a century.

Part of the debate about the symbols of the Confederacy was an attempt to paint the Civil War as being a conflict primarily motivated by the defense of state’s rights as opposed to slavery. That was always dubious history, but it fed the idea that that two sides to the war were essentially both justified or at least not involved in a conflict between good and evil. It is true that the North had no monopoly on righteousness, especially when one takes into account the crucial role those in the free states had in keeping slavery alive and even profitable. But lost in the attempt to bridge the divide between the two sides and make them both equally heroic, if not right, was the fact that those who fought for the Confederacy were fighting to keep slavery even if they were not slaveholders. Though we cannot judge them by the standards of our own day (a scrutiny that even Lincoln might not withstand), neither should we accept the conceit that both sides were engaged in an equally glorious endeavor. African-Americans rightly believed that the embrace of the Confederacy was not only offensive but also a denial of the basic truth that in a war over slavery. We should not be honoring both sides equally.

For a century, some southerners kept the war alive. At first, it was to rationalize their mad decision to destroy their region in a war that couldn’t be won. Then, it was to justify Jim Crow. As Max wrote, that South is dead. It lives on only in the fever swamps where extremists like Roof rage and neo-Confederates confuse legitimate contemporary arguments about the abuse of power by the federal government with illegitimate ones against the efforts of the Lincoln administration to preserve the Union. Those who want to celebrate the heritage of the South might do well in the future to refocus their hero-worship on the many Southerners that kept their oaths to the United States and fought for the Union rather than to destroy it to preserve an evil that still should still horrify us.

It took 150 years but Governor Haley’s promise that as of the next July 4th, only the flags of the United States and South Carolina would fly over state property was a much needed official acknowledgement in the place where the Civil War started that any governmental embrace of these symbols is outdated and harmful. While individuals have as much right to wave the Confederate flag as they do to burn an American one, let this be the end of the argument as well as an end to any idea of treating the Confederacy as anything but an embarrassing stain on American history.

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Furling the Confederate Flag Is Just the Start

The planter class of the South lost the Civil War but won the peace. The attempt by the federal government to impose civil rights during Reconstruction (1865-1877) failed for several reasons.  Read More

The planter class of the South lost the Civil War but won the peace. The attempt by the federal government to impose civil rights during Reconstruction (1865-1877) failed for several reasons. 
To begin with, as I noted in my book Invisible Armies: An Epic History of Guerrilla Warfare from Ancient Times to the Modern Day, Presidents Andrew Johnson and Ulysses Grant never sent enough troops to truly transform a region of 9.4 million people (5.5 million of them white). There were 87,000 federal troops garrisoned in the South in 1866, and that figure dropped to just 6,000 in 1876. The federal government’s inability to enforce the law allowed terrorist groups such as the Ku Klux Klan and Red Shirts to flourish. Their goal was to deny equal rights to newly freed slaves, and that in turn necessitated inflicting terror not only on African-Americans who tried to assert their rights but also on Republican officeholders — many of them newly arrived from the North — who wanted to help them.

As important as the success that white supremacists had in inflicting violence was their success in gaining control of the narrative. Before long, much of the American population, and not only in the South, came to believe the myths of the Confederacy: That the South had superior culture and morals, that its manhood had fought and died for a glorious Lost Cause, and that the South was subsequently raped by corrupt and rapacious Northern “carpetbaggers” and their homegrown collaborators known as “scalawags.”

Recent historical research has shown that none of this was true: that newly installed Republican officeholders were no more corrupt than the secessionists they replaced, and many of them were idealistic and well-intentioned. And needless to say, the Southern cause was not at all glorious — the Confederate armies may have fought bravely and well, but they fought  to preserve a way of life founded upon enslaving their fellow human beings.

But reality was quickly trumped by myths spread by such popular works of art as Birth of a Nation (a movie based on Thomas Dixon Jr.’s 1905 novel The Clansman) and Gone with the Wind. In the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, when the South was resisting a new era of civil rights, its leading segregationists harked back to this myth of their ancestors as noble fighters for a lost civilization. That myth was symbolized by the Confederate battle flag which, having once stood for secession and slavery, was now revived to stand for segregation, or in the code words of the day, “state’s rights.”

Mercifully, the South of today is light years removed from those dark days — as a quick glance at the number of African-American officeholders across the region will reveal. And yet many white Southerners continue to cling to the Confederate flag as a symbol of the beloved Confederacy. And it is hardly the only such symbol: There are still countless streets named after Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, and other leaders of the Confederacy. In fact just across the river from our national capital can be found Jefferson Davis Highway in northern Virginia.

The Confederate flag has quite rightly come under fire again after the appalling massacre carried out by a white supremacist in Charleston, South Carolina, who murdered nine church goers because they were black. It has become the politically correct stance to assert that the Confederate flag that continues to fly over the grounds of the South Carolina statehouse needs to come down. But just because a position is politically correct doesn’t mean it’s wrong. In this case, it’s right. Not only should the Confederate flag come down, but I believe it’s also time for Southern states to change place names in honor of traitors such as Jefferson Davis.

I know, I know: it’s a slippery slope that could eventually result in taking slaveholders such as George Washington off our currency or even renaming our national capital. But Washington, in spite of being a slaveholder, also helped to create this country as a bastion of freedom. The good he did far outweighed his deplorable participation in the slave-owning customs of his time and place. I can think of no similar redeeming virtues that can be claimed for the likes of Jefferson Davis who helped to plunge this country into a civil war that left as many as 800,000 dead in a fruitless quest to ensure that slavery would remain legal.

I believe it is a calumny to assert that the South of today is unchanged from the 1860s or 1960s. But the South needs to complete its transformation by finally jettisoning the remaining symbols of its dark past.

 

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RE: A Flag and the Fatal Intersection of Heritage and Hate

I certainly agree with Jonathan that the Confederate battle flag is a symbol of racial oppression and has no business flying on government property, even over the Confederate Soldier Monument on the grounds of the South Carolina state capitol. But it became that symbol in the civil rights era, when the South resisted desegregation, not in the 1860’s, when it fought for independence.

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I certainly agree with Jonathan that the Confederate battle flag is a symbol of racial oppression and has no business flying on government property, even over the Confederate Soldier Monument on the grounds of the South Carolina state capitol. But it became that symbol in the civil rights era, when the South resisted desegregation, not in the 1860’s, when it fought for independence.

I also agree that slavery was the real cause of the Civil War. As Jonathan explains:

Without slavery, there would have been no war. The South seceded because it feared limits on the expansion of slavery would eventually doom the institution. To protect a heritage built on the uncompensated labor of slaves and their vast investment in human “property,” the states that formed the Confederacy waged a bloody war that costs hundreds of thousands of American lives and left the South in ruins.

But about 90 percent of white Southerners did not own slaves in 1860. They fought for their homes and their land and, yes, for “states’ rights.”

Although both my parents and I were born and raised in New York City, three of my four grandparents were Southern and all had ancestors and near relatives who fought, and sometimes died, for the Confederacy. None of them were slaveholders. While I am profoundly grateful that they lost the war and that the scourge of slavery was finally banished from this country, I honor them for their courage and sacrifice. They were fighting for something they deeply believed in and it wasn’t slavery, it was home and hearth and family.

The flag that flies over the Confederate Soldier Monument is the Confederate battle flag, not the Confederate flag. The Confederacy had three national flags in its short existence. The first (from March 1861 to May 1863), known as the “stars and bars,” was often confused with the American flag in the heat of battle, and so it was replaced by “the stainless banner.” But it, in calm winds, could look like a surrender flag, and so in March 1865, as the Confederacy was rapidly collapsing, it was replaced with the “blood-stained banner.”

I would recommend that the battle flag—today only a symbol of racism—be replaced by the “stars and bars,” a symbol only of “the lost cause” for which so many fought and died. It should fly at half-staff.

Flags are powerful symbols. And they can be symbolic of both a cause and of reconciliation. Consider this poem, written in 1909, about a flag, captured by Union forces in a battle in the Civil War, that was returned to the 2nd Maryland Infantry, CSA:

Recovered relic of those stirring days,

Long lost, but ne’er surrendered, now restored,

We greet thee, to thy donors give the praise

For loving-kindness, not to be ignored.

 

We hail thee: “Hallowed Banner!” and we love

To con o’er fields where thou wast proudly borne

Straight to the front, which did the prowess prove

Of those great souls, all, save a few, now gone!

 

We honor that brave band, whose every breath

Marked deep devotion to the holy cause.

Wherein they struggled, even unto death,

Defending homes! Upholding righteous laws!

 

And here, dear flag, we place thee now to rest

Among thy fellows, evermore to be

Entombed in state, amid the sacred, blest

Emblems of blood-bought immortality!

The author was Major William Meade Pegram, an aide-de-camp to Confederate Cavalry General J. E. B. Stuart. He had three horses shot out from under him before being wounded at the battle of Brandy Station, June 9th, 1863, the greatest cavalry battle of the war. He was my great great grandfather.

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Confederate Flags and Political Football

The more we know about the ravings of alleged Charleston shooter Dylann Roof, the more repugnant he seems. A website that has now come to light reveals not only that he had been contemplating a dramatic gesture that turned out to be a murderous attack on a historic black church in Charleston but that he was also an anti-Semite who embraced neo-Nazi symbolism and spat on and burned the American flag. Yet most of the commentary about him seems to revolve around the flag he did like: the Confederate battle flag. Roof was a lone wolf terrorist with an unsophisticated approach to white supremacist theories, but his embrace of neo-Confederate symbols has resonance because, unlike the Hitlerian references or the gutter language he used about blacks and Jews, the Confederate flag is still embraced by many Americans as a symbol of their southern heritage. And that is what is making the debate about the banner flying over the grounds of South Carolina’s state capitol a politically divisive political matter that is being used to trip up some of the candidates for the Republican presidential nomination. But as much as I believe, as I wrote on Friday, that it is time for that flag to come down, and that the GOP field should join the call for an end to its display on government property, pundits and Democrats need to be careful about using this as a litmus test for 2016 since their own leading candidate isn’t entirely clean of this taint either.

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The more we know about the ravings of alleged Charleston shooter Dylann Roof, the more repugnant he seems. A website that has now come to light reveals not only that he had been contemplating a dramatic gesture that turned out to be a murderous attack on a historic black church in Charleston but that he was also an anti-Semite who embraced neo-Nazi symbolism and spat on and burned the American flag. Yet most of the commentary about him seems to revolve around the flag he did like: the Confederate battle flag. Roof was a lone wolf terrorist with an unsophisticated approach to white supremacist theories, but his embrace of neo-Confederate symbols has resonance because, unlike the Hitlerian references or the gutter language he used about blacks and Jews, the Confederate flag is still embraced by many Americans as a symbol of their southern heritage. And that is what is making the debate about the banner flying over the grounds of South Carolina’s state capitol a politically divisive political matter that is being used to trip up some of the candidates for the Republican presidential nomination. But as much as I believe, as I wrote on Friday, that it is time for that flag to come down, and that the GOP field should join the call for an end to its display on government property, pundits and Democrats need to be careful about using this as a litmus test for 2016 since their own leading candidate isn’t entirely clean of this taint either.

Mitt Romney showed that he still has the ability to influence the national debate when he rightly tweeted that the Confederate flag should come down now to honor the nine victims of Roof’s rampage. Romney’s statement led to all the presidential candidates being asked whether they agree. The results of those inquiry reveal a lot about both the candidates and their worries about offending some GOP voters in South Carolina whose primary is an early and crucial test of strength in the presidential contest.

The first to pass the test was Jeb Bush, who noted that while he was governor of Florida, “we acted, moving the flag from the state grounds to a museum where it belonged.” Fellow Floridian Marco Rubio echoed that admirable sentiment. But, as Politico notes, his record on the issue is far from pristine since he apparently was a supporter of a failed bill in that state’s legislature that would have stopped Bush from removing other Confederate symbols from state grounds by executive order.

Carly Fiorina agreed with Romney but also noted that this was a decision for South Carolinians. Ohio Governor John Kasich said he would take it down but that it was up to the people of South Carolina.

Others simply stuck to the state’s rights angle. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who reversed his anti-big government principles in order to pander to Iowans on ethanol subsidies, seemed to be operating from the same playbook here by issuing a statement that referred to the flag controversy as a “state issue” to be debated but only after the victims were buried. Ted Cruz also said this was something for South Carolinians to discuss but that he could see both sides of the issue. South Carolinian Lindsey Graham said the compromise that led the flag to be taken down from the Capitol building itself but kept on its grounds should be respected and that we should differentiate the killer from any symbol he might have embraced. Rand Paul had no comment at all.

The Republicans are, of course, right that the presence of this flag is a state rather than a federal issue. But for some of them, fear of offending those who still harbor some sort of nostalgia for a symbol of the Confederacy seems to override other more compelling factors. This is not a matter of political correctness but of a compelling need to take a stand against what is the most visible and well-known symbol of racism. It ought to supersede other concerns, especially in the wake of a massacre.

Yet those on the left who think this issue is a useful political weapon to deploy against the Republicans should remember that Democrats’ putative presidential candidate spent 12 years as the First Lady of Arkansas before assuming the same role in the White House. Though some have called Bill Clinton our “first black president,” or at least used to do so until we actually elected an African-American in 2008, during his six terms as governor of Arkansas he did nothing to ban Confederate Flag Day observances or to remove other rebel symbols from state property. While Hillary Clinton is on record as calling for the removal of the flag from the South Carolina capitol and has responded to the Charleston killings with powerful rhetoric condemning racism, her hands are not entirely clean on this issue either.

But that glaring instance of hypocrisy won’t stop the liberal media from roasting the GOP so long as so many of their leading candidates are punting on the flag. I agree with Hotair.com’s Ed Morrissey who wrote that if South Carolina wants to keep its Confederate flag, they could do so, but only at the expense of being an early primary state. If the legislature there doesn’t act to take it down, the South Carolina primary should be moved to the end of the presidential election season thus ending the state’s disproportionate political influence. That will remove this noxious distraction from the national political agenda.

But if that doesn’t happen, Republicans shouldn’t be surprised if some of their candidates wind up tripping over themselves by refusing to do the decent thing and follow Romney’s example by calling for the flag’s removal. That flag shouldn’t be a political football but it will remain one so long as some in the GOP continue to fumble it.

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A Flag and the Fatal Intersection of Heritage and Hate

It shouldn’t have taken the slaughter of nine innocent people worshipping at a Charleston, South Carolina black church to get some people to rethink their embrace of the Confederate flag. The alleged killer was not only a racist but also someone who appears to have immersed himself in the symbols of the Confederacy. This has resurrected the discussion about the flag that has raged off and on ever since the south was forced to give up official segregation. The fact that the stars and bars flies over the grounds of the South Carolina State House (though no longer over the capitol itself) adds fuel to the fire over the debate. This is to a certain extent an attempt to latch onto something tangible to explain an act of unspeakable evil. A flag didn’t kill nine African-Americans in a historic church and those who honor it in the name of their southern heritage can’t be held personally responsible for those murders. But it is time for those who care about southern history to come face to face with the meaning of their history. The Confederate flag may be an icon of a “lost cause” that some Americans view as harmless nostalgia or a connection with their ancestors. But it is also a symbol of a government founded in defense of racism and slavery and has no place in civil society in 2015.

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It shouldn’t have taken the slaughter of nine innocent people worshipping at a Charleston, South Carolina black church to get some people to rethink their embrace of the Confederate flag. The alleged killer was not only a racist but also someone who appears to have immersed himself in the symbols of the Confederacy. This has resurrected the discussion about the flag that has raged off and on ever since the south was forced to give up official segregation. The fact that the stars and bars flies over the grounds of the South Carolina State House (though no longer over the capitol itself) adds fuel to the fire over the debate. This is to a certain extent an attempt to latch onto something tangible to explain an act of unspeakable evil. A flag didn’t kill nine African-Americans in a historic church and those who honor it in the name of their southern heritage can’t be held personally responsible for those murders. But it is time for those who care about southern history to come face to face with the meaning of their history. The Confederate flag may be an icon of a “lost cause” that some Americans view as harmless nostalgia or a connection with their ancestors. But it is also a symbol of a government founded in defense of racism and slavery and has no place in civil society in 2015.

For those who plan to respond, as they always do, to discussions about this topic with emails regurgitating neo-Confederate talking points about the Civil War being a conflict about state’s rights rather than slavery, let me state up front that I’m not buying it and neither is any other serious student of history. The Civil War did hinge in part on constitutional questions but the notion that slavery was incidental to the outbreak of the conflict is simply absurd. Without slavery, there would have been no war. The south seceded because it feared limits on the expansion of slavery would eventually doom the institution. To protect a heritage built on the uncompensated labor of slaves and their vast investment in human “property,” the states that formed the Confederacy waged a bloody war that costs hundreds of thousands of American lives and left the south in ruins. It would take a century for the region to recover completely. Unfortunately, the same pro-slavery forces that advocated for rebellion wound up in control of these states after their war due to the north’s exhaustion and lack of support for a true reconstruction of the south. That led to a century of official racism and oppression of African-Americans that ended only after the federal government finally ended this legacy of Civil War via civil rights legislation.

I understand that those whose forebears fought under the Confederate battle flag feel that tossing that banner into the dustbin of history is a slight to their heritage. But the legacy of vicious oppression that the flag symbolizes is an essential part of that same history. It should not be forgotten but rather studied and remembered primarily for the hurt that was done in the name of the cause of the Confederacy.

That’s why the U.S. Supreme Court was correct this week when it granted Texas the right to deny citizens the ability to have a state license plate promoted by the Sons of Confederate Veterans with the flag. While concerns about the government restricting free speech are often reasonable, Texas (and other states that grant this group such a privilege) had the right to say that this kind of speech was offensive and had no place on their plates.

Moreover, as Phillip Klein reminds us in the Washington Examiner, when conservatives defend the Confederate flag it stains a movement that should be rooted in a defense of liberty. Both secessionists and the segregationists that followed them not only distorted the Founders’ vision of American freedom but also wrongly associated the cause of limited government with an effort to defend slavery and the ability of states to deny rights to minorities.

No law or government action can drive hate out of the hearts of racists or ensure that prejudice is permanently driven from American society. Taking down that flag won’t bring the Charleston victims back to life or ensure that other white supremacists won’t stain American soil with the blood of innocents. But taking it down is the right thing to do. The Confederate flag should be relegated to the fever swamps where mad extremists still fantasize about the south and pretend that its cause was not inextricably tied up with an evil that caused irreparable harm to our nation. No state should be so trapped in the embrace of a mythical Gone With The Wind version of American history that it allows a symbol of racism and treason to continue to wave over its official property and our public squares.

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Playing the Racism Card in the Shutdown

 The government shutdown has brought out the worst in our political class but the same is true of pundits. It’s bad enough when politicians call each other terrorists and hostage takers or, as Barbara Boxer did yesterday, to compare them to those who commit domestic abuse. We know that’s what Democrats have always thought of Republicans and it takes very little provocation to get them up on their high horses seeking to turn a political disagreement, however bitter it might be, into one in which the other side is depicted as pure scum rather than merely wrong. But the willingness of liberals to speak as if all those who disagree with Barack Obama are, almost by definition, racists, is about as low as it gets.

The attempt to paint the Tea Party as a warmed over version of the Ku Klux Klan has been a staple of liberal commentary for over three years. The fact that race has played virtually no part in the argument about the stimulus, ObamaCare and the current shutdown/debt ceiling crisis doesn’t deter the left from branding its foes as motivated by prejudice rather than just by different views about which decent people can disagree. That’s the conceit of much of Roger Simon’s column in Politico yesterday. Jonah Goldberg rightly called it “fairly trollish” and used it as an example of how formerly respected reporters turned columnists expose the liberal bias of much of the mainstream press in an excellent post on National Review’s The Corner blog. I made a similar point in a piece about a related topic on Sunday. But Simon’s piece exposes a different angle of the bias issue that I’d like to explore further.

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 The government shutdown has brought out the worst in our political class but the same is true of pundits. It’s bad enough when politicians call each other terrorists and hostage takers or, as Barbara Boxer did yesterday, to compare them to those who commit domestic abuse. We know that’s what Democrats have always thought of Republicans and it takes very little provocation to get them up on their high horses seeking to turn a political disagreement, however bitter it might be, into one in which the other side is depicted as pure scum rather than merely wrong. But the willingness of liberals to speak as if all those who disagree with Barack Obama are, almost by definition, racists, is about as low as it gets.

The attempt to paint the Tea Party as a warmed over version of the Ku Klux Klan has been a staple of liberal commentary for over three years. The fact that race has played virtually no part in the argument about the stimulus, ObamaCare and the current shutdown/debt ceiling crisis doesn’t deter the left from branding its foes as motivated by prejudice rather than just by different views about which decent people can disagree. That’s the conceit of much of Roger Simon’s column in Politico yesterday. Jonah Goldberg rightly called it “fairly trollish” and used it as an example of how formerly respected reporters turned columnists expose the liberal bias of much of the mainstream press in an excellent post on National Review’s The Corner blog. I made a similar point in a piece about a related topic on Sunday. But Simon’s piece exposes a different angle of the bias issue that I’d like to explore further.

The headline of his article was “Government shutdown unleashes racism” and it was accompanied by a photo of Tea Party demonstrator waving a Confederate flag in front of the White House at a demonstration this past weekend. But the headline promised more than Simon could deliver as the only points presented in the piece that backed up the accusation lodged in the headline was the flag and a comment made on radio by “Joe the Plumber,” the conservative pseudo celebrity of the 2008 campaign who said in his blog that America needed a “white Republican president” to replace Barack Obama. Other than these two items, Simon’s piece was just the standard denunciation of the Republican stand on the shutdown and it was that theme rather than racism riff that was its substance.

I happen to agree with Simon, and probably most other Americans, that what the plumber said is racist and has no place in our public discourse, though if liberal pundits weren’t recycling the writings of the artist otherwise known as Samuel Wurzelbacher, I’m not sure that most of us would be aware of them.

I also agree that there is something offensive about waving Confederate flags in just about any context other than a Civil War reenactment. I know that those from the Old South see it as part of their heritage but I think we should be able to evolve as a nation away from the “Gone With The Wind” view of the War Between the States. Which means that the rebel battle flag is, whether inhabitants of the old Confederacy like it or not, a symbol of racism and treason (a term I know I employ at the risk of generating a host of angry comments from those unreconstructed Confederates who think the Civil War was about state’s rights rather than slavery and who believe recycling Jefferson Davis’ views about the right of secession isn’t irrational). While the attempts of many liberals like Chris Matthews to interpret all criticism of President Obama as being motivated by racism is slanderous as well as utterly disingenuous, I will concede to Simon that anyone who waves the stars and bars in front of the Obamas’ current residence is pretty much asking to be labeled a bigot and should get no defense from any responsible conservative.

The bias in discussing this issue doesn’t stem from a desire to condemn people who do such stupid things. Rather it is in the unwillingness to place them in reasonable context.

After all, at the height of the public protests against the Iraq War, the mass demonstrations in major American cities convened by liberal groups included large numbers of people who were more or less the leftist moral equivalent of the flag waver at the White House. You didn’t have to work hard at these events to find considerable numbers of those demonstrators waving signs accusing George W. Bush and/or Dick Cheney of being Nazis. Nor was there any shortage of rhetoric from these people demanding the ouster of the government of the republic by any means necessary. Yet that didn’t stop the mainstream liberal media from depicting the demonstrations as being in no way tainted by extremists who were along for the ride or from asserting, probably rightly, that they were a reflection of a large segment of American public opinion.

Just as the vast majority of those who wanted out of Iraq were able to see the difference between Bush/Cheney and Hitler, playing the racism card against the Tea Party is intellectually lazy as well as wrong. Both the left and the right need to do a better job policing those on the margins of mainstream movements. But that is not the same thing as painting an entire ideological segment of the public as a function of the fever swamps. Call Republicans who hatched the shutdown strategy misguided or even stupid if you like, but associating all those who want to restrain government spending and taxing and to repeal Obamacare, with racism is slander, not a rational argument.

That liberal pundits can’t resist the temptation to play off this meme says more about media bias than it does about problems on the right.

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