South Carolina Primary

How Confederate-flag GOP Presidential Politics in South Carolina Have Changed…for the Better

In 2000, John McCain felt like he needed to 'lie' about his distaste for the flag; by 2012 it was a non-issue

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Thing is, the one in the middle is SO PURTY. |||

Back in 2000, when GOP presidential primaries were contested by a mere single handful rather than an entire NBA traveling team, one of the most disproportionately significant side-issues of the campaign was what the candidates thought about South Carolina flying the Confederate battle flag over its capitol building. As eventual runner-up Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) would later recall, "No issue in the 2000 election seemed to evoke as much passion among South Carolinians as the public display of Dixie's rebel banner."

McCain had two excellent reasons to remember the issue with some vividness. South Carolina is where his insurgent candidacy came to an abrupt and unpleasant end, and his panicky flip-flopping on the flag issue throughout went down as one of the single biggest embarrassments of his long public life.

McCain's flag-zagging took place over the course of just two days.

And yet he won S.C. in 2008. |||

Jan. 9, 2000:

The Confederate flag is offensive in many, many ways, as we all know. It's a symbol of racism and slavery. But I also understand how others do not view it in that fashion.

My forbearers from Mississippi fought under the Confederate flag. They were not slave owners, and I'm sure they considered their service—one I believe died in Shiloh—was honorable. So, I obviously understand why many Americans find it offensive.

Jan. 10, 2000:

Some people may have misinterpreted a previous statement by me regarding the Confederate flag. I was merely restating a position I have taken dozens of times in the past.

The question of where the Confederate flag should fly in South Carolina should be left up to the people of South Carolina to decide without outside interference.

In Arizona, we resented it when outsiders parachuted in to tell us what to do about a Martin Luther King holiday, I am sure the people of South Carolina feel the same way about outsiders trying to impose their views.

As to how I view the flag, I understand both sides.

Some view it as a symbol of slavery; others view it as a symbol of heritage. Personally, I see the battle flag as a symbol of heritage.

As McCain explained in his 2002 campaign memoir Worth the Fighting For, "[I]t could come down to lying or losing. I chose lying."

Yet still he lost—by 11 percentage points, in a notoriously dirty campaign that included rumors of McCain fathering an illegitimate black child. Two months after the drubbing, the aspirational Straight Talker, now out of the race, returned to Columbia to issue a mea culpa:  

"I feared that if I answered honestly, I could not win the South Carolina primary," Mr. McCain said. "So I chose to compromise my principles. I broke my promise to always tell the truth."

What a damning thing, that a serious candidate of a major political party would feel the need to lie in order to win the votes of people he believed to be clinging to a "symbol of racism." Happily, however, the story does not end there.

The next contested GOP primary came in 2008, and McCain was once again dogged by controversy over the Confederate battle flag (which had been removed from the state capitol building in July 2000). Only this time, he stuck to his principles, saying "I can't be more proud of the overwhelming majority of the people of this state who came together in taking that flag off the top of the Capitol."

Please. Tell us more. |||

McCain was not alone in this: Mitt Romney agreed, saying "that flag shouldn't be flown" and "that's not a flag I recognize." Fred Thompson, who was competitive in the state, said "for a great many Americans, it's a symbol of racism," and 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." Only Mike Huckabee among the upper tier candidates defended the flag, snorting:

You don't like people from outside the state coming in and telling you what to do with your flag. In fact, if somebody came to Arkansas and told us what to do with our flag, we'd tell 'em what to do with the pole; that's what we'd do.

The final primary vote in South Carolina: McCain 33%, Huckabee 30%, Thompson 16%, Romney 15%. Anti-flaggers received more than double the pro-flag vote.

By 2012, the Confederate battle flag had mostly receded as a GOP presidential primary issue. A January 2012 pre-primary South Carolina debate—on MLK Day, no less—did not include the words "confederate" or "flag" (though obviously the issue of race in America is not limited to just two discrete search terms).

Now that Dylann Roof's deadly attempt at igniting race war is dominating the news, does that mean flag politics will make a comeback? Maybe. Lower-tier candidate Sen. Lindsay Graham of South Carolina said today the flag "works" and "is part of who we are," though he also acknowledged that "to others it is a racist symbol, and it has been used in a racist way." Rick Perry, who backed the Texas rejection of Confederate-flag license plates, said it's a state matter, but that "I agree that we need to be looking at these issues as ways to bring the country together….And if these are issues that are pushing us apart, then maybe there's a good conversation that needs to be had about [it]." Jeb Bush ordered the Confederate battle flag be taken down from Florida's capitol building back in 2001. I'm sure we'll be hearing more from other candidates over the coming days.

Mostly, though, it seems that the issue is being grappled with where it needs to be: within South Carolina itself. Palmetto State Gov. Nikki Haley, an Indian American Republican who has always downplayed the significance of the issue, said today "I think the state will start talking about that again, and we'll see where it goes." You should never say never in politics, but it's hard to imagine a major-party candidate for president this time around attempting to ingratiate himself with South Carolina voters by lying about his own distaste for the Confederate flag.

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  1. The longer that flag is flying the better, it’s such a good “fuck you” to D.C. (And, like the Union Jack, it’s just really cool looking)

    1. I would hope they could find a way to say “fuck you” to DC while not at the same time saying “fuck you” to the 30% of state residents who are black.

      1. I would hope they could find a way to say “fuck you” to DC while not at the same time saying “fuck you” to the 30% of state residents who are black.

        Is that how South Carolinians (white and black) actually view it, though? I’d be interested to see some polling data on both perspectives.

        1. According to Wikipedia, in 2005 74% of black South Carolinians favored total removal of the Confederate flag from the statehouse. There have been a lot of protests and boycotts over the years. I can’t speak for South Carolinians from personal experience, but I know that the vast majority of black people I’ve met living in California definitely do not view the Confederate flag as a positive or neutral symbol. It is a flag and symbol of a nation that was explicitly founded to combat the possibility of abolition and to preserve the enslavement of the black population. This was explicitly stated by the South Carolina government when they declared their reasons for seceding. And since then, countless racist individuals and groups have used it as a symbol to support their odious beliefs. There is no good reason why it should fly at the statehouse.

          1. The removal question was not really what I was asking, and I certainly don’t care for the lecture about the history and meaning of the flag, as I wasn’t born yesterday.

        2. “Is that how South Carolinians (white and black) actually view it, though? I’d be interested to see some polling data on both perspectives.”

          Probably not. I’d wager that whites cite heritage and blacks cite hate.

          In Virginia I knew a lot of rednecks (a few black ones, even) who hung it in their windows, and they said more or less what I did though, so I’ve always liked that view.

          1. I’d wager that whites cite heritage and blacks cite hate.

            I’m also interested in the defiance angle. I wonder how many people are supporting keeping the flag up primarily because they’ve been told to take it down.

            But even so, the “fuck you to blacks” is not really a message being sent so much as received. South Carolina is not about to put anybody back in chains. As pointed out in another thread, they’ve elected blacks to national and state office (and not just during Reconstruction).

            There’s no doubt a lot of backwater hicks, but anybody who’s stepped outside of a major city anywhere else in the country could say the same thing about every other state. I’ve seen the stars and bars flying in New York, for Pete’s sake.

            In the end, it’s just as a symbol. The people who insist on keeping it up are no less petty than those who insist on taking it down. It’s a great political fight that is ultimately about nothing but somehow can appear to be about everything.

            1. But even so, the “fuck you to blacks” is not really a message being sent so much as received. South Carolina is not about to put anybody back in chains. As pointed out in another thread, they’ve elected blacks to national and state office (and not just during Reconstruction).

              Right. The exact same argument can be made for the US flag. People can change yet still find much value in their symbols.

              “In the end, it’s just as a symbol. The people who insist on keeping it up are no less petty than those who insist on taking it down. It’s a great political fight that is ultimately about nothing but somehow can appear to be about everything.”

              So… half staff it is!

              1. So… half staff it is!

                A true compromise: pleasing nobody and offending everybody!

            2. “I’m also interested in the defiance angle. I wonder how many people are supporting keeping the flag up primarily because they’ve been told to take it down.”

              This is a good point, besides being a symbol of saying No to D.C., there is a more personal anti-authority defense. Like drawing Muhammad because you’re told not to.

            3. By “Stars and Bars”, I assume you are referring to the Battle Flag of the Army of Northern Virginia; if I assume correctly, you should be aware that that particular nickname is rightfully attributed to the First National Flag of the Confederacy, and NOT the former, which was hijacked by white supremacists for the selfish use of their hateful practices.

              1. By “Stars and Bars”, I assume you are referring to the Battle Flag of the Army of Northern Virginia; if I assume correctly, you should be aware that that particular nickname is rightfully attributed to the First National Flag of the Confederacy, and NOT the former, which was hijacked by white supremacists for the selfish use of their hateful practices.

                Number of fucks I give = 0

                1. My, what a snappy rejoinder…

                  1. It isn’t a rejoinder.

      2. “I would hope they could find a way to say “fuck you” to DC while not at the same time saying “fuck you” to the 30% of state residents who are black.”

        Just going by voting patterns, probably not. Even the Gasden flag is called “racist.” I’d just stick with what they have.

        1. “Just going by voting patterns, probably not.”

          I’m not sure what you’re trying to say?

          “Even the Gasden flag is called ‘racist.'”

          So because some people make spurious accusations of racism, that means all such accusations are spurious and that there is never any legitimate reason why a flag shouldn’t be flown? Would that apply to the Nazi flag as well?

          1. “I’m not sure what you’re trying to say?”

            Just about anyone who goes against the government (D.C.) is “racist”, same for any flag.

            “So because some people make spurious accusations of racism, that means all such accusations are spurious and that there is never any legitimate reason why a flag shouldn’t be flown?”

            Yes and No. Flags don’t have intrinsic meaning. If people say a flag is racist, and keep saying it’s racist, then it is. Their emotions are the reason it shouldn’t be flown. Whether that’s “legitimate” or not, I couldn’t say.

            “Would that apply to the Nazi flag as well?”

            Of course, if the population says there’s nothing wrong with the Swatstika then there isn’t.

            1. “Just about anyone who goes against the government (D.C.) is “racist”, same for any flag.”

              I think it’s a safe bet that there are far more people who think the Confederate flag is racist than there are people who think opposing the federal government is inherently racist. I’m not saying the latter sort of people don’t exist, but they aren’t nearly as numerous as the former.

              “Of course, if the population says there’s nothing wrong with the Swatstika then there isn’t.”

              And by “the population” you appear to mean 50.1% of the population of the state of South Carolina? It’s not racist or offensive until it crosses that magical threshold?

              Most Germans didn’t have a problem with the Swastika leading up to WWII, I don’t think that means Jews weren’t right in being offended by it, or that the postwar government wasn’t right to forbid its use in government (though the blanket bans on private use did go too far in restricting free speech IMO).

              1. “I think it’s a safe bet that there are far more people who think the Confederate flag is racist than there are people who think opposing the federal government is inherently racist. I’m not saying the latter sort of people don’t exist, but they aren’t nearly as numerous as the former.”

                I don’t disagree, I just don’t think it matters. Getting a new “Fuck You” flag up there is going to be much more difficult than keeping the current one in place.

                “And by “the population” you appear to mean 50.1% of the population of the state of South Carolina?”

                Right.

                “It’s not racist or offensive until it crosses that magical threshold?”

                No, it very much may be racist and offensive. It Just doesn’t matter until enough people agree.

                I think the US flag is racist and offensive, I’m not wrong, I’m just insignificant.

                “Most Germans didn’t have a problem with the Swastika leading up to WWII, I don’t think that means Jews weren’t right in being offended by it, or that the postwar government wasn’t right to forbid its use in government (though the blanket bans on private use did go too far in restricting free speech IMO).”

                And? Where do you draw the line, how many people must be offended for the government to start forbidding it’s use?

                I’m more than happy to go to the logical limit and say “no government flags at all” but if they on insist on having one then it should be up to voters, not a committee of gatekeepers.

                If we vote for the butt flag, wave the butt flag. E Pluribus Anus.

                1. I never said anything about a grand committee of flag usage. I’m critiquing their decision to fly it because there is no good reason to do so and a lot of reasons why they shouldn’t. Flying the flag of a slave empire should be in the no brainer category, but isn’t because some people are racist and a much greater number of people actually think the Civil War and the Confederacy had nothing to do with slavery and that it was actually about fighting tyranny.

                  1. “I’m critiquing their decision to fly it because there is no good reason to do so and a lot of reasons why they shouldn’t.”

                    Yet your critique falls short, there’s a very, very good reason: People like it.

                    Who, besides public opinion really determines, what “good” reasons there are for flags exactly?

                    “Flying the flag of a slave empire should be in the no brainer category,”

                    Yet there the US Flag is. Slavery, Genocide, Colonization… Perhaps flags don’t fall in the brainer category. You’re smuggling in your preferences as to what a flag should and shouldn’t be and then declaring them to be the “good” reasons.

                    “but isn’t because some people are racist and a much greater number of people actually think the Civil War and the Confederacy had nothing to do with slavery and that it was actually about fighting tyranny.”

                    And? So what if they’re completely wrong about everything ever, unless you’re saying the committee should overrule them you aren’t saying much of anything.

                  2. It’s not a “flag of a slave empire” ( the US flag circa 1860 would be closer to that) it is a military banner that a shitload of South Carolinians died under. It flies over a memorial to them, not the state capital building.

                    You’re just a lying little proggy race-baiting piece of shit.

                  3. That war was instigated by the tyrant Lincoln for the express purpose of forcibly compelling the seceding southern states (alliteration unintentional) back into his fold. While the issue of slavery did play a role, it was by no means the sole factor as many uninformed folks seem to believe.

              2. Alright, I’ve seen enough of this. Any person should be able to fly any flag on THEIR property whether it be the stars and bars, a swastika or fucking pink pig. End of story, end of discussion, that is the libertarian solution. They are not immune from the consequences of such actions though, and what I mean by that is, if you put a Nazi flag in front of your property you can’t keep people from criticizing you, ostracizing you or if you signed a property contract, having to take it down. Where this gets thorny is on the public sector level (I don’t believe in a public sector, I think that is the problem). It should be decided on a local level, if people decide to keep it and others see it as racist, too fucking bad.

      3. A flag is just a piece of cloth. It has no power. It is not a magic talisman. It means NOTHING

    2. I think that’s the main reason people don’t want to give it up, even with very little pro-slavery or even especially anti-black sentiment — it represents a group of people who stood up to the scumfuck feds and, even if they lost, bloodied them. If you despise Washington, there isn’t another good symbol for that. The Gadsden flag is ok, but in some sense it’s still Washington’s symbol.

  2. It’s a cool flag. However, anyone who puts it on their pickup automatically goes in my “He’s Clearly a Fucking Tool” category.

    1. I love when northern white trash fly the Confederate flag. With southerners, there’s always the question of whether they mean they love being from the South or if they hate niggers. But in the North…not so much.

      1. This is very true.

      2. Maybe they just hate Yankees.

      3. I have a confederate belt buckle with skull and bones on it, so fuck you Warty. I wear it not because “I hate blacks”, “like the Confederacy” or “hate the government” (I do but that isn’t why I have that buckle) its because it looks fucking cool, thats why, so respectfully go screw yourself.

  3. Hey, South Carolina, Marvel called. They want their X-Men symbol back.

  4. How is that people still don’t know this is not the national Confederate flag? It’s the Battle Flag of the Army of Northern Virginia. It’s not even South Carolinian.

    1. I believe they did incorporate the design into the national flag in 1863.

      1. Yes, in the left corner on a field of white. Technically the Battle Flag was square so the rectangular version they are flying wasn’t ever even used in the Confederacy.

        1. The rectangular version was used for the Army of Tennessee

        2. Ultimately, I don’t think that really matters. The design is the most infamous and prominent symbol of the Confederacy, whether or not the flag matches the exact specifications of the official flag of the Confederacy or the Army of Northern Virginia isn’t really relevant.

          1. You’d think it would matter to South Carolinians. They should use the third national flag, “The Blood-Stained Banner”.

        3. My mistake. The rectangular form was used as the battle flag of the Army of Tennessee. So SC is flying a Tennessee flag.

          1. The “Army of Tennessee” was the name of the main Confederate Army of the Western Theater (which included South Carolina) for the majority of the war.

            That white, northern, liberals who don’t even know what the Army of Tennessee was are the primary agitators against the Confederate Battle Flag is probably one of the strongest reasons for its enduring popularity.

    2. The national Confederate flags were never popular and the last two came towards the end of the war — the Third National flag came in the last few weeks of the war.

      What really drove the ANV’s flag up in popularity is its use by veterans groups after the war and people came to associate that flag with the Confederacy more than the national flags.

  5. “As a Republican Presidential candidate, I ask that South Carolina not fly that flag of Democratic treason. I hereby repudiate Democrats such as Jefferson Davis, Theodore Bilbo, George Wallace, and Bull Connor.”

    1. Clever.

    2. I’m in the Tak Kak middle finger school of thought.

      But still, that’s not bad either.

  6. It won’t end with taking it off the war memorial where it is at as that won’t be enough. Whether that is a good thing or not depends on where you stand, but I guarantee you it will not end there. Any and all references to the CSA will be removed/destroyed eventually. As it is, people have bought into the erroneous and unhistorical idea that slavery in the US was based on race (it wasn’t, it was based on caste as there were white, black and biracial slave-owners as well as black, biracial and white slaves). They have also bought into the idea that the only blacks serving in the various CS armies were slaves when the historical record (many times eye-witness after action reports) state the blacks were just as much part of the armed force as the whites. Any and all nuance about the war has pretty much been whitewashed away as of now.

  7. Flags are graven images for statist idol worshippers

    1. I may steal that.

      1. You can have it. 🙂

  8. Its all about the heritage not hate.

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  11. Hmmmm? Before the confederate flag waved over the slave states, the Stars and Stripes represented slave holders. It will be many generations before the doing of governor/ senator Ernest Hollings goes away. Am I mistaken or wasn’t he who presided over the makinG of the Confederate flag official in SC. (I am willing to be corrected.)

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