When a week ago Nikki Haley called a news conference and called for removing the battle flag of the Confederate States of America from the grounds of the Statehouse in Colombia, she was flanked by a bipartisan group of legislators. Though present also was Republican National Committee chairperson Reince Priebus, Democratic National Committee chairperson Debbie Wasserman-Schultz was not invited, which tells us much of what we need to know about the Governor's sudden change of heart.
As a candidate for governor in 2010, Mrs. Haley claimed the flag is “not something that is racist” but part of “a tradition that people feel proud of." During her re-election bid in 2014, the Republican maintained (video below)
What I can tell you is over the last three and a half years, I spent a lot of my days on the phones with CEOs and recruiting jobs to this state. I can honestly say I have not had one conversation with a single CEO about the Confederate flag...We really kinda fixed all that when you elected the first Indian-American female governor, when we appointed the first African American US senator. That sent a huge message.
Those Chief Economic Officers, including apparently he at Wal-Mart, have had a change of heart. Nine individuals gunned down in a single incident tends to focus the mind, though firearm restrictions still are not to be mentioned.
But the presence of the titular head of the GOP was not the only telling element to Haley's dramatic event. So, too, was her rationalization that
Some divisions are bigger than a flag. The evil we saw last Wednesday comes from a place much deeper, much darker.
But we are not going to allow this symbol to divide us any longer. The fact that people are choosing to use it as a sign of hate is a something we cannot stand. The fact that it causes pain to so many is enough to move it from the Capitol grounds....
To the governor, the flag does not represent hate. It is merely being used by people- evil people- as a sign of hate. They, like Dylann Roof, simply do not understand.
With perfect vision, Haley does recognize "that it causes pain to so many," a recognition which escaped her way back, well, a year ago. However, she still misses the point, as does popular NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt Jr., who days later remarked "I think it's offensive to an entire race. It does nothing for anybody to be there flying, so I don't see any reason. It belongs in the history books and that's about it."
Three cheers for Haley's political savvy, for Republicans must believe if they've lost NASCAR (of its popular base) and Wal-Mart (of its donor base), it has lost America. But the Confederate flag does not merely represent bad manners and should not be taken down because it offends people, any more than it should remain because its removal would offend many white southerners. Sensitivities are fragile and shifting and we make public policy upon them at our peril.
This flag of treason is not misunderstood as a sign of hate. It is understood as a sign of hate, and of resistance to the that notion of nationhood the Confederacy fought against a long time ago."The Confederate flag is directly tied to the Confederate cause," Ta-Nehisi Coates recalls, "and the Confederate cause was white supremacy."
In the manner of Haley and Earnhardt, South Carolina state senator Tom Davis argues "Regardless of who’s right from a historical standpoint, it is indisputable that the Confederate battle flag now flying on the State House grounds has been misappropriated by hate groups as a symbol of their hatred." The National Review's Ian Tuttle advocates a compromise "if reducing the visibility of these symbols would offer relief to those genuinely hurt," Coates counters: "The Confederate flag should not come down because it is offensive to African Americans. The Confederate flag should come down because it is embarrassing to all Americans."
In remarkable irony, the southerner who most clearly articulated this view is the son of former South Carolina Senator Strom Thurmond. On the floor of the state senate, Senator Paul Thurmond explained (video below) in part
I am aware of my heritage. But my appreciation for the things that my forebearers accomplished to make my life better doesn’t mean that I must believe that they always made the right decisions and, for the life of me, I will never understand how anyone could fight a civil war based, in part, on the desire to continue the practice of slavery. Think about it for just a second. Our ancestors were literally fighting to continue to keep human beings as slaves and continue the unimaginable acts that occur when someone is held against their will. I am not proud of this heritage. These practices were inhumane and were wrong, wrong, wrong.