This is an open letter to Conservatives from a Libertarian/Conservative (or as Charles C. W. Cooke terms it, a Conservatarian):
Why are you going to wall over the Stars & Bars? This is the issue you want to be a defining moment for your movement? Not the end of Import/Export Bank? Not a Tax Code that is not mired with hand-outs for special interests? Not entitlement reform? Not a sensible agriculture policy? Not an immigration policy that rewards those who follow the law? Not an end to Crony Capitalism? Not Balanced Budgets? Not Criminal Justice reform? Not an end to the growing overreach of the Federal Government in your everyday life?
You want to rally ‘round the Confederate Flag?
To borrow a Southern-ism: Are you out of your cotton-pickin’ minds?
Now yes, I’m a Yankee. No, not one those Yankees. But, I’m originally from New England (Ok, Boston). So I am a Northerner. So, my view on the whole Confederate flag kerfuffle is from an outsider to “Southern Culture”.
My friends (and I hope, Conservatives, you don’t mind if I call you friends), you say you love America. You rightly take umbrage when progressives and other dismiss the idea of American Exceptionalism as something… well not exceptional. That is what makes this whole defense of the flag so mystifying. The Confederate Flag represents everything contrary to that exceptionalism. It is a symbol of people who took up arms against the United States of America and tried to destroy this country because they disagreed with the basic premise of American Exceptionalism. I find nothing noble about a cause that sought to end the USA and perpetuate enslavement of my fellow man.
Yes, yes, I know the Civil War was not just a war about slavery. But I also know slavery was the glue that held together the “State’s Rights” doctrine which the South was defending. To wit: South Carolina justified its Secession as a result of “An increasing hostility on the part of the non-slaveholding States to the institution of slavery.” Texas stated the North was hostile to the “beneficent and patriarchal system of African slavery, proclaiming the debasing doctrine of equality of all men, irrespective of race or color…” Mississippi’s justification was “Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery—the greatest material interest of the world.” Georgia’s Articles of Secession refers approvingly to slavery over the thirty five (35) times. To claim the Civil War had nothing to do with Slavery or that Slavery was ancillary is to ignore the facts.
The resurgence of the Confederate Flag in the latter half of the 20th Century was a direct result of the United States attempting to enforce the 14th amendment and guarantee that all citizens were able to exercise their rights. It is right there, when Ernest “Fritz” Hollings, as governor and a Democrat, raised the Stars and Bars above the statehouse in 1962 South Carolina, it was as a symbol of defiance to those who sought to dismantle the Government Sanctioned Discrimination, commonly known as the “Jim Crow” laws. From 1861 to 1865 and again from 1962 until today, it has been used as a symbol of hatred and of racial superiority.
The Confederate Flag, and indeed the ideals of the Confederate States of America (CSA) have always been intertwined with hatred and racial animosity. No amount Rhett Butlers can ever overcome those facts.
Conservatives tend to talk about The Narrative, i.e. the liberal/progressive talking points used to further the ideological goal of total government involvement in every American’s daily life. What has been lost in the Charleston Shooting and the Flag debate is how society has ignored The Narrative. In the aftermath of the shootings, politicians across the political spectrum immediately condemned the attack unlike say, the political reaction the Birmingham bombings of 1963.Some of the most powerful photographs showed a multi-ethnic, multi-racial outpouring of grief. The race-baiters who usually show up after these tragedies have been told to go home by the people of Charleston. Not the just the white citizens of South Carolina or Charleston, but all citizens regardless of race and ethnicity. The people of South Carolina have made it clear that they are not interested in being divided and instead wish to stand united against hate. The Narrative failed to gain traction on race.
But The Narrative kept trying. In the immediate aftermath, The Narrative started to cry, “Why is it just a shooting? Why isn’t it a terror attack?” But events outpaced The Narrative again. Once it became clear that gunman’s attack was a targeted attack on African-Americans and was intended to provoke a race war, politicians (and as relevant here, Republican politicians) were already referring to the shootings as a terrorist attack (though interestingly, the FBI won’t). Compare that to reaction in some quarters of the political class’s reaction to the recent Charlie Hebdo attacks. Once again, The Narrative was behind the times.
Next up was gun control. But that failed. The early claims that the gunman was given the gun by a relative was quickly disproven. It is now understood that he purchased the gun from a licensed gun-dealer and underwent the Federally mandated background check which cleared him to purchase the .45 pistol. So no assault weapon, no “loopholes” were used in the making of this terrorist massacre. The Narrative spluttered as reality trumped it.
The Narrative then tried to use the Confederate Flag as a rallying point. But before the outrage machine could get ginned up, the governor of South Carolina, Republican Nikki Haley, was calling for the flag to be removed. The Narrative faux anger was dissipated before anyone had even noticed. And that wasn’t the worst of it for The Narrative. After Gov. Haley’s announcement, the Speaker of the Mississippi House called for the stars and bars to be removed from his state flag. Less than 24 hours later, Republicans from Tennessee and Kentucky were calling for likeness of Nathan Bedford Forrest and Jefferson Davis to be removed from their respective state capitals. As a result, The Narrative was placed in the awkward position of having to play catch-up to the popular opinion and the GOP.
Why else would Mark Warner, Virginia’s Democratic Governor suddenly realize that the Stars and Bars are on many a Virginia license plate and mumble that he was going to do…. something. This morning, AP reported that the Republican governor of Alabama has ordered the CSA flag removed from the State House. Montgomery, Alabama, the original capital of the Confederacy, has removed the flag.
It is as if the Civil War has finally ended, 150 years after the last military engagement occurred. Charleston may have the distinction of being where the Civil war began and ended.
The point being whereas normally The Narrative attempts to move the goal posts to further its agenda, the Charleston attack moved the goal posts on The Narrative, leaving it to whine and complain that Republicans are not following The Narrative’s script. Instead of praise, The Narrative is bitter that the American people, both above and below the Mason/Dixon line, decided that enough is enough and decided to take action themselves, without waiting for the Federal government to do something.
Look again at what is happening. It is not just people saying something should be done, but concrete actions being taken. And these acts aren’t coming from people like me, Northerners. Southerners are the ones taking action, lowering the flags and taking steps to put the past in the past. The Stars and Bars is a relic of the past and whatever historical significance it has, today the flag represents hatred and racial division.And again, as relevant here, it is Southern Republicans leading the way.
Does the flag have historical significance? Of course it does. I am not aware of any serious person claiming differently. Removing the flag from the grounds of government buildings is not going to (pardon the pun) white-wash history. It is not going to eradicate history to avoid offending the easily offended. The flag is part of American history. It is symbol of a different time. To quote the renowned archeologist, Henry Jones, Jr., “It belongs in a museum.”
People are upset that Amazon and e-bay are no longer selling items with Confederate Symbols on them. That’s perfectly fine and an understandable reaction. But remember, these are businesses reacting to market forces. More people have made it clear they do not wish to business with companies selling those products than people who feel to the contrary. It was not the State stepping in and telling etsy “Thou Shall Not Sell Stars and Bars” but your fellow citizens. I can appreciate that there are people who feel the Stars and Bars does not represent racism or that it is somehow “unchristian” to make such hoopla over such a symbol. And the beauty of the United States and its First Amendment is that you have every right to feel that way and shout it to heavens. That is American Exceptionalism. And there are still places where you can purchase your Confederate merchandise and memorabilia, both in person and online. Capitalism is still working.
Are there other symbols of hate in this country? Yes. Are there icons in American history that need to be re-examined? The answer is, “Certainly.” Should we have an open and frank discussion about Woodrow Wilson and his fascistic policies? Again, the answer is yes. Should we have an open and frank discussion about FDR and his questionable and illegal activities? I have no problem with that. All of these discussions should take place. Maybe we should remove FDR from the dime because of his racist and homophobic stances and Andrew Jackson from the twenty dollar bill for his crimes. By all means, let “We, the People”, actually debate and discuss these and any number of other issues to decide how we can, in the words of the preamble to the US Constitution, “form a more perfect union”. However, all of these issues don’t all have to be debated before that flag is comes down.
But this knee-jerk reaction in some conservative quarters that we must defend the flag simply because liberals and progressive oppose it is dangerous and stupid. Conservatives should worry that these full throated defenses are, in fact, doing the The Narrative’s work. Dismissing Gov Haley as “just some immigrant” is stupid. Asserting that if the Confederate Flag falls, the American Flag is next is moronic bordering on idiotic.
Conservatives should be rejoicing that everyday Americans got together in the marketplace of ideas and decided that the Stars & Bars was an outmoded relic and should be placed in a museum and relegate the philosophy behind the flag to the dustbin of history. Instead, too many conservatives seem to be channeling their inner Faulkner:
For every Southern boy fourteen years old, not once but whenever he wants it, there is the instant when it’s still not yet two o’clock on that July afternoon in 1863, the brigades are in position behind the rail fence, the guns are laid and ready in the woods and the furled flags are already loosened to break out…
Conservatives, you would do well to recall the outcome of Pickett’s Charge.
Don’t fall for the “Noble Cause” Myth of the Confederate Flag.