Notes on the Confederate Flag Controversy

It has been an interesting month. We have witnessed changes that would have seemed improbable not all that many years ago. Here are a few observations concerning the controversy over Confederate flags, symbols, and icons:

1. It remains regrettable that it took the murder of nine people in cold blood for Americans to have this discussion. The debating points have been out there for some time.

2. For all the chatter in some quarters about this debate being driven by left liberal Marxist Southern-hating politically-correct academics and their allies in the evil executive branch of the federal government, the politicans who have made the key decisions in several prominent instances were at one time the darlings of the heritage crowd. Nikki Haley, Lindsey Graham, and Mitch McConnell are not favorites of the radical liberal movement. Neither is the current president of the College of Charleston. The heritage folks may find it difficult to understand how those they once trusted came to betray them, but then they also confuse political correctness with political pragmatism. I don’t believe these politicans experienced a change of heart: however, they know how to count votes.

3. Confederate heritage organizations have proven to be utter failures in achieving their objectives. The ranting and whining remain unchanged, as has the anger and ill-concealed bigotry in many corners. Ben Jones, the chief of heritage operations for the SCV, has proved unable to chart a new path, precisely because he, too, held fast to the traditional mantras. Don’t say I didn’t warn you, Ben. I did. As for the various flagging organizations and their cheerleaders, they seem overwhelmed, ineffective, and confused.

4. However, there is hope for these folks. That rests in the overreaction in some quarters as well as the incidents of vandalism against CSA monuments. More on that later.


25 thoughts on “Notes on the Confederate Flag Controversy

  1. bob carey June 29, 2015 / 8:08 am

    I agree that it is sad that these issues came to light with the tragedy in Charleston. I think that the “heritage” people will entrench further into their fantasy world. The other day on CNN I saw an interview with some wing nut by the name of Hines of the League of the South in regards to the Battle Flag on Capital Grounds in Columbia. He was spewing about succession for South Carolina. My thoughts are that we should let them go, but keep Fort Sumner for sentimental reasons. See if they’ll try it again.

  2. OhioGuy June 29, 2015 / 8:16 am

    I take a little exception to some of the things you say in #2. You kind of lump Nikki Haley, Lindsey Graham and Mitch McConnell all into one category, and I don’t think that that’s accurate. Lindsey Graham has been seen in Republican circles for years as a maverick who calls ’em as he see’s ’em and doesn’t toe the party line on anything. He’s kind of a John McCain with a southern accent. Nikki Haley grew up in a small town (Bamberg, S.C.) that was heavily African American and was rejected by both the white and black children because she refused to identify with either group. Some in the town said her family was “too white” to be black and “too black” to be white. This woman knows the impact of racist attitudes first hand. To imply she isn’t sensitive to issues of race, except as it affects her standing at the ballot box, is disingenuous. Now, I’ll end with a point of agreement — in the case of Mitch McConnell your analysis is probably 100 percent accurate. He is all the worst of what we mean by “Washington politician.”

  3. Andy Hall June 29, 2015 / 8:50 am

    The heritage folks may find it difficult to understand how those they once trusted came to betray them, but then they also confuse political correctness with political pragmatism. I don’t believe these politicians experienced a change of heart: however, they know how to count votes.

    This bears repeating. What’s happened over the last ten days is not a de novo backlash against the Confederate flag, but a belated reflection of cultural values and perspectives that have been evolving for a long time. The shooting in Charleston, and the revelations about the gunman’s affinity for the Confederacy and the antebellum racial order in South Carolina simply made the politicians’ previous deflections on the subject of the Battle Flag untenable. What’s happening now is a political/cultural example of what market analysts would call a “correction,” when investors finally take note of long-standing weaknesses or liabilities and divest themselves of problematic stocks. It’s painful for those heavily invested in them, but it’s also a healthy and necessary process for the market as a whole.

    Part of the problem for heritage folks is that they’ve spent years personalizing various disputes around the supposed wickedness of an individual — Alex Nyerges at VMFA, Mimi Elrod in Lexington, Ken Ruscio at W&L, etc. — without ever crediting the notion that those leaders’ decisions actually reflect the wishes of a large part of their constituencies, whether those be voters, or university students, or institutional board members. The heritage crowd has yet to come to terms with the idea that, even in states in the Deep South, their views are increasingly out of the mainstream, and fewer and fewer leaders — be it in state government or in business — are willing to chain their fortunes, political or otherwise, to that particular ideology.

  4. Mark June 29, 2015 / 10:28 am

    >> For all the chatter in some quarters about this debate being driven by left liberal Marxist Southern-hating politically-correct academics …

    I would say the flaggers are a subset of non-Marxist anti-liberals, which is quite a large group of folks. I’m a Conservative, which is basically classical liberalism with a small ‘l’. Non-Marxist anti-liberals include a whole raft of folks inside and outside academia. They have basically share a version of romantic ideology with the unibomber, but are entirely non-violent and physically harmless. Some would classify this as a form of postmodernism (which isn’t a time period), but I would say they encourage disenchantment and disillusionment generally by their idealism.

  5. Bob D'Amato June 29, 2015 / 11:11 am

    Dr. Simpson. …if you could chanell US Grant what do you think he would be thinking?

  6. Bob Conner June 29, 2015 / 12:55 pm

    ” I don’t believe these politicans experienced a change of heart: however, they know how to count votes.”
    In my view this is too cynical, and underestimates the power of the Christian testimony of the AME survivors. Haley was the crucial player, and she was visibly moved in her first reactions to this terrible event.

    • OhioGuy June 29, 2015 / 7:44 pm

      Good point, Bob. It’s very clear that Gov. Haley really led on this issue. I’ve heard accounts of her reactions to the forgiveness and Christian witness at the bond hearing. She had a very spiritual awakening as she heard the statements from the family members. Without those statements I don’t think she would have reacted with the swiftness and decisiveness that she did. I’m sure her upbringing and her personal experience with discrimination were also factors. I do see the real irony of this flagger Waterloo occurring in the Mother of Secession with a key player being a dark-skinned woman.

    • Brooks D. Simpson June 30, 2015 / 8:34 am

      Given Haley’s previous comments on Confederate heritage, it is something to remark that it took such a horrible act to get her to wake up. The credit would go to the AME survivors, not her.

      • Bob Conner June 30, 2015 / 11:04 am

        You criticize Haley even though your concession here that she did “wake up” seems to contradict your earlier contention that she (and the other pols who changed their positions) did not experience “a change of heart.” Sure, the conduct of the church members (including the deceased) is the most admirable — as I’m sure Haley would agree. But your remarks about her are ungenerous.

        • Brooks D. Simpson June 30, 2015 / 11:21 am

          Given her previous statements on issues related to Confederate heritage, I’m not inclined to be generous. Let’s see how committed she is to her change of heart.

          Waking up to political reality is different than having a change of heart. I thought that was obvious. It should be now.

          • OhioGuy June 30, 2015 / 3:27 pm

            The Emancipation Proclamation: a change of heart coupled with a new political reality. But, I for one, don’t doubt the sincerity of what Lincoln said after he signed it: “I never, in my life, felt more certain that I was doing right, than I do in signing this paper.”

  7. TF Smith June 30, 2015 / 5:50 am

    With all due respect to the above (Haley, Graham, etc.), they are all professional politicians; to think these reactions haven’t been planned out, strategized, and presumably even focus-grouped seems rather naive.

    One thing that has been overlooked in all this is the modern Republican party has staked their donors’ economic fortunes on attracting industry to right-to-work (i.e., non-union states) as both a method of improving the south’s still largely agricultural and backward economy and, by a race-to-the-bottom in terms of tax giveaways and lack of regulation and oversight, destroying the north’s industrial economy.

    This has been apparent in the changing demographics of the south (more Yankees! More Latinos! More gays!) and in the changing political attitudes toward overt racism, since it doesn’t do much to attract the Boeings, Googles, or Mercedes of the world.

    Modern corporate America, of course, loves “right-to-work” states (they missed Henry Kaiser’s memo, apparently) but the whole flying the white supremacy logo meme over the state Capitol is very Twentieth Century, so that had to change – considering the only hope for the GOP is a continued alliance of Wall Street and working class whites as to enable the “Southern Strategy tuh-day, Southern Strategy tomorrah, Southern Strategy for-evah!”

    As witness Alabama Gov. Bentley and his admission is that “a flag is not worth a job,” basically the overt white supremacy theme has to go in order to keep Wall Street et al in the coalition; not really surprising Bubba got canned, instead of Bloomberg readers. See:

    What this really boils down to is this process is simply yet another example of how the south essentially remains a backwater that has to accept cultural memes from above.

    Cynical, perhaps, but realistic.


    • OhioGuy June 30, 2015 / 7:44 am

      Now, I love me a good conspiracy theory. Did I tell you the one about the modern Democratic Party and how it works to keep blacks as the underclass so that they will need government handouts and be beholding to the Democratic machine? Those who believe this theory go on to say the Democratic party is just being true to its roots — chattel slavery in the 1800s, ecomomic slavery today. There are conspiracy theories all over the place. Most of them are false, or at best, a caricature of reality.

      • TF Smith June 30, 2015 / 5:56 pm

        Hardly a conspiracy theory. The GOP’s embrace of southern economic development turns on right-to-work states; god knows Boeing didn’t go to South Carolina because of the education system.

        • OhioGuy June 30, 2015 / 9:14 pm

          You mixed up cause and effect. And, yes as you state it, it is a conspiracy theory. Businesses go to right-to-work states because they can make a bigger profit, not because of some plot by the GOP.

  8. T F Smith June 30, 2015 / 11:08 pm

    The plot is to keep the donations flowing.

    • Bob Conner July 1, 2015 / 6:45 am

      More cynicism. And the notion that Haley’s reaction was “planned out, strategized, and presumably even focus-grouped” does not appear consistent with the facts. I note that President Obama in his eloquent funeral address specifically credited Haley. When I give tours at Grant Cottage in upstate NY, I sometimes say I won’t engage in political controversy after 1885, and this thread indicates why. It seems to me that those of us with concerns about displays of the Confederate flag should be able to take “yes” for an answer without checking the horse’s mouth. Or would do you have grilled Longstreet after he was injured leading the largely African-American state militia in the 1874 New Orleans riot about the purity of his current motives?

      • Brooks D. Simpson July 1, 2015 / 6:54 am

        Longstreet’s evolution from 1865 to 1874 seems a bit different from the 180 degree turns I’ve seen in past weeks. BTW, even John Y. Simon once questioned the purity of Longstreet’s motives in turning Republican, for which Ulysses S. Grant III wanted his head.

        The extent of Haley’s shift and the depth of her commitment have yet to be tested the way Longstreet put his to the test in 1874.

        One person’s cynicism is another person’s pragmatism. My assessment of Haley is grounded in an understanding of her entire track record to date. Remember this? The best way she can validate your faith in her is for her to continue along the new path upon which she’s embarked. I’ll be pleased if I’m wrong.

        • John Foskett July 1, 2015 / 7:19 am

          Yep. Kudos to Mitt Romney for being a lone GOP voice on this issue before fingers were licked and held in the air. Let’s put it this way about Haley. She was still ducking the issue some days after the event and then broke the sound barrier dashing to the other side. The timing was suspect.

      • OhioGuy July 1, 2015 / 7:16 am

        Excellent points, again, Bob.

  9. OhioGuy July 1, 2015 / 8:04 am

    A question: What would be the reaction if the Legislature sent Haley a bill to remove the CBF and replace it with either the First National flag or the Bonnie Blue flag? To me neither of those flags carry the excess baggage of 20th Century use– within the memory of some of us — by the 3rd and 4th Era KKK and other white supremacist groups. These other flags are, of course, still representative of a would-be country whose cornerstone was slavery. However, it seems to me that a compromise of this sort would turn the Confederate memorial on the state house grounds into an outdoor museum rather than an in-your-face symbol of some ill-defined defiance that many see as hate not heritage. Perhaps, I’m all wrong about this and whole memorial needs to be moved off the state house grounds, but when I visited recently the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond they had a First National flag out front, and it seemed very appropriate and not very provocative. Also, a few months before that I was in Mobile, Alabama, and I noticed an interesting evolution of the symbol they used to denote historical houses and buildings. These structures had plaques that contained a representation of each flag that had flown over Mobile in its history. The older, weathered plaques on some houses had the CBF to represent the Confederate period, ones a little newer had the 2nd National Flag (with the CBF in the canton), and the shiny new ones with properly reconstructed owners (that’s for Andy 😉 had the First National. So, I guess I actually have three questions here: 1. How do you personally react to this suggestion? 2. How do you think the African American population of Charleston would react? If such a bill was to reach Haley’s desk should she sign it? I can see how people of good will could differ in their answers here. l

  10. Bob Conner July 1, 2015 / 8:32 am

    Fair enough. IMHO, Longstreet was not the only one-time Confederate who had a change of heart. Other notable ones include Amos Akerman and Mark Twain. And the vast majority of Americans, including Grant and Lincoln (and George Thomas, who as a teenager fled from Nat Turner’s slave rebellion), changed their opinions about racial matters pretty substantially in the 19th century, as they came to embrace abolitionism.

      • Bob Conner July 1, 2015 / 10:55 am

        And George Washington Cable. Would you include Henry Wise? Billy Mahone?

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