The recent debates over Confederate symbols have been limited almost entirely to states and local communities. Federal policymakers can show some leadership on the issue – and many have – but the decisions about Confederate flags, statues, road names, and license plates aren’t made in Washington, D.C.
This week, however, congressional Republicans found a way to trip over the issue anyway.
The developments started rather innocuously. Late Tuesday, after just a couple of minutes of debate, the U.S. House passed a measure sponsored by Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) that would “prohibit the display of Confederate flags on graves in federal cemeteries.” Earlier in the day, the House also instructed the National Park Service to no longer sell Confederate flag in gift stores.
The measures passed by way of voice votes, and the developments didn’t generate much attention. That is, until last night, when Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.) announced a dramatic change: a Republican amendment was set to undo what the House had just done.
Facing pressure and brewing media interest, late this morning, House GOP leaders were forced to pull the underlying bill altogether. Politico reported:
House Republican leadership was forced to pull a spending bill from the floor Thursday after an uproar over the Confederate flag threatened to sink the entire measure.
This one’s a doozy, so let’s unpack what happened.
At issue is an Interior Department spending bill, which was already considered controversial because it includes funding for the EPA – and the right does not care for the EPA. But some Southern Republicans complicated matters, telling the leadership they were prepared to help kill the spending measure altogether over the anti-Confederate amendments.
Republican Rep. Steven Palazzo of Mississippi, for example, said in a statement, “Congress cannot simply rewrite history and strip the Confederate flag from existence. Members of Congress from New York and California cannot wipe away 150 years of Southern history with sleight-of-hand tactics.”
House Democrats, not surprisingly, responded with apoplexy over the GOP majority reversing course, defending Confederate flags, and attempting to scrap two amendments that passed without controversy just two days ago.
Faced with growing turmoil, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) pulled the spending bill from the floor. Boehner told NBC News’ Luke Russert that the spending bill “is going to sit in abeyance until we come to some resolution.”
The Republican leader added that he does not want to see the issue become a “political football.” If today’s floor fight is any indication, it would appear Boehner’s too late.
South Carolina lawmakers managed to get this right, but the same cannot be said about Congress.
Postscript: It’s worth noting that while Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.) was the member who announced the proposed reversal, he was not the one pushing for the change. Calvert said he introduced the amendment at the behest of the House Republican leadership, which was acting under pressure from Southern lawmakers.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, July 9, 2015
“When Even NASCAR Won’t Defend The Confederate Flag…”: The Debate, For All Intents And Purposes, Is Over
Those of us who are obsessed with politics often fall prey to paying too much attention to what politicians do, and too little attention to what is happening around us culturally. In terms of the Confederate flag debate, that means paying a lot of attention to what Southern governors like Nikki Haley say and do, and not enough to what more influential icons and institutions do.
On that front, the fact that even NASCAR has condemned the Confederate battle flag is pretty definitive that the debate is for all intents and purposes over:
“As we continue to mourn the tragic loss of life last week in Charleston, we join our nation’s embrace of those impacted,’’ the statement read. “NASCAR supports the position that South Carolina governor Nikki Haley took on the Confederate flag on Monday.’’
“As our industry works collectively to ensure that all fans are welcome at our races, NASCAR will continue our long-standing policy to disallow the use of the Confederate flag symbol in any official NASCAR capacity,’’ the statement read. “While NASCAR recognizes that freedom of expression is an inherent right of all citizens, we will continue to strive for an inclusive environment at our event.’’
It’s not just that NASCAR is synonymous with good old boys and Southern cultural machismo. It’s also that NASCAR in many ways is facing the same problem as the Republican Party: it depends on a shrinking, increasingly isolated demographic for its fan base, and desperately needs to broaden its appeal beyond just Southern white men. That includes having more minority drivers and race car owners.
In that context, the statements by former NBA star Brad Dougherty, the only African-American racecar owner in NASCAR’s Sprint Cup series, are telling:
“I’m a different egg or a different bird, I’m a Southern kid,’’ said Daugherty, who wore No. 43 during his basketball career in honor of his racing hero, Richard Petty. “But to walk into the racetrack and there’s only a few that you walk into and see that Confederate flag — it does make my skin crawl. Even though I do my best to not acknowledge it or to pay any attention to it, it’s there and it bothers me because of what it represents….”
It’s so unfortunate that it took nine lives there at the AME church to really get this debate heated up enough that there’s serious questions about whether the flag should be flown over the state capitol,’’ Daugherty said. “I find that a little bit appalling and even absurd. The old heritage vs. hate thing, in my mind, is ridiculous because that flag to any African-American person does not represent any type of heritage. It 100 percent represents hate.’’
That it does. Nikki Haley knows it. NASCAR knows it. And we’re at a point in this country where it’s not just appalling and unacceptable, but it’s too damaging even to organizations like NASCAR and the Republican Party to tolerate it anymore even though they depend on a large number of bigots for their fan base and support.
By: David Atkins, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, June 28, 2015
“Enlightenment On Confederate Flag Was Long Overdue”: This American Swastika Is Unfit For Human Consumption
“You can always count on Americans to do the right thing — after they’ve tried everything else.”
That’s an observation widely credited to Winston Churchill, though it’s one he may or may not have ever made. Whoever said it, the truth of the axiom has seldom been more obvious than now, as we watch the fall of the Confederate battle flag. It is too early to say whether this will prove lasting. But the signs certainly point toward a seismic shift.
In South Carolina, where the Confederacy was born, a motion to allow debate on removing the flag from the grounds of the state Capitol passed by a vote of 103-10. Alabama has already removed its flag. Meantime, a number of major retailers, including Amazon, eBay, and Arkansas-based Walmart, have announced they will no longer carry the flag. Perhaps most amazing, Valley Forge Flag, a 133-year-old flag maker in Pennsylvania, has said it will no longer manufacture it.
We appear to be on the verge of a long-overdue national consensus that this American swastika is unfit for human consumption. And to think: All it took was the blood of nine innocent people.
Ever since 21-year-old white supremacist Dylann Roof shot up Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, the ground has been shifting beneath that flag, so beloved of the white, conservative South — especially after images emerged of Roof posing with one. “God help South Carolina if we fail to achieve the goal of removing the flag,” said South Carolina senator and presidential aspirant Lindsey Graham last week. He said this just days after telling CNN the flag was “part of who we are.”
The suddenness of the change in attitude toward that flag is bracing, reminiscent, in an odd way, of when the Berlin Wall fell: Nobody saw it coming — it happened. That said, it is hard to be wholly invested in cheering what is happening here.
Consider: The Confederate battle flag was not somehow made more racist by Roof’s alleged rampage. Notwithstanding claims by Graham and others that it has somehow been misused as a racist symbol by the likes of Roof, the fact is, the thing was used as such from the moment the first thread of the first flag was sewn in support of a treasonous regime that was, to borrow Mississippi’s words, “thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery.”
The flag was certainly understood as racist — that was the whole point — by those who resurrected it to signal massive resistance to the civil rights movement. It is still understood that way; why else is it ubiquitous at white supremacist rallies?
So what happened at Emanuel did not change the flag’s meaning; it only made that meaning harder to ignore. And while its fall is significant, you have to wonder if it really marks a fundamental change in the mind of the white, conservative South. Particularly since you can’t turn around in Dixie without running into some road, bridge, statue, or park honoring some individual who took up arms against the U.S. government in the name of perpetuating slavery — or without meeting someone eager to rationalize that, hiding behind abstracts like “honor” and “duty” to avoid admitting what the Confederacy really was.
The tragedy at Emanuel has forced a moment of clarity into this fog of cognitive dissonance. In days to come, we’ll see just how much that’s worth in terms of real change. Because at some point, the people of the white, conservative South must themselves take responsibility for their own racial education, for facing — and growing from — the truth about their beloved Confederacy.
Consider that it took an act of mass murder before they were willing to reckon honestly with their flag and its meaning. Yes, one is pleased to see that finally come to pass.
But the price of enlightenment seems awfully high.
By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., Columnist, The Miami Herald; The National Memo, June 29, 2015
On Monday afternoon, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) announced that she now supports removing the Confederate flag from the grounds of the statehouse in Columbia. While the reaction of the Republican presidential candidates to the terrorist attack last week in Charleston and the subsequent debate about the flag has been cowardly at best, this is nevertheless a significant moment, with broad implications for the place of race in American politics. To put it simply, the GOP’s “Southern Strategy” is all but dead.
As political strategies go, it had a good run — nearly half a century. In 1968, Richard Nixon campaigned on behalf of the “silent majority” who wanted nothing of civil rights protests and uppity young people; he told them he’d deliver the “law and order” they craved, and there was little question who they were afraid of. It was called the Southern Strategy because while the South had been firmly Democratic since the Civil War, Lyndon Johnson’s signing of the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act initiated an exodus of Southern whites to the Republican Party, enabling them to build an electoral college majority with the South as its foundation. They would win five of the next six presidential elections with that strategy.
A key component was to make the GOP the default party of white people, by running against what they associated with black people — not just civil rights, but things like poverty programs and crime. It required ongoing reminders of who was on who’s side. So in 1980, Ronald Reagan announced his campaign for president in the town of Philadelphia, Mississippi, where civil rights workers James Chaney, Michael Schwerner, and Andrew Goodman were murdered in 1964. He was not there to promote racial healing. Four years earlier, Reagan had told audiences how appalled he was at the idea of a “strapping young buck” buying T-bone steaks with food stamps, and he spent a good deal of the 1980 campaign railing against welfare queens. The race of the (largely fictional) offenders was lost on no one.
And as Stanley Greenberg, then a political scientist and now a leading Democratic pollster, found in his classic 1985 study of Macomb County, Michigan, the entire phenomenon of “Reagan Democrats” was built on racial resentment. “These white Democratic defectors express a profound distaste for blacks, a sentiment that pervades almost everything they think about government and politics,” he wrote. “Blacks constitute the explanation for their vulnerability and for almost everything that has gone wrong in their lives; not being black is what constitutes being middle class; not living with blacks is what makes a neighborhood a decent place to live.”
So when Reagan’s vice president ran to succeed him, it was little surprise that he would employ an inflammatory racial attack against his opponent, repeating over and over again the story of escaped convict Willie Horton. If Michael Dukakis were elected, George Bush’s campaign convinced people, hordes of menacing black felons would rampage through the land, raping white women and emasculating their husbands. They didn’t say it in quite those words, but they didn’t have to; Horton’s mug shot (aired endlessly on the news) and the story of his crimes was more than enough. While Bush is now treated as a noble and kind elder statesman, we shouldn’t forget that he ran one of the most racist presidential campaigns of modern times. “By the time we’re finished,” Bush’s strategist Lee Atwater said, “they’re going to wonder whether Willie Horton is Dukakis’ running mate.”
Today a Republican presidential candidate wouldn’t feature Willie Horton as prominently as Bush did, but it isn’t because they’ve seen the moral error of their ways. It’s because it doesn’t work anymore. While nearly nine in 10 voters in 1980 were white, their proportion has been dropping for decades, and it will probably be around seven in 10 in next year’s election. Mitt Romney won all the Deep South in 2012, and won white voters by more than 20 points — but still lost to Barack Obama by 126 electoral votes.
That doesn’t mean the GOP’s center of gravity doesn’t still lie beneath the Mason-Dixon line. Republicans control nearly all the state governments in the South, which provides them laboratories for their latest innovations in governing, and their hold on the House of Representatives is built on their strength in the South. But as a strategy to win the White House, counting on white people — and the white people who respond when their racial hot buttons are pushed — won’t ever succeed again.
The party’s candidates are still coming to grips with this reality. They’ve pandered to racists for so long that not upsetting them is still their default setting; when the issue of the Confederate flag came up, the first response almost all of presidential candidates had was just to say that the people of South Carolina will decide, which is procedurally accurate and substantively irrelevant. But if South Carolina’s governor can come out against the flag, it really is a signal that times have changed.
Smart people in the GOP know that if the party is going to win the White House again, they can’t do it with the Southern Strategy that served them so well for so long. The question now is whether they can come up with an alternative.
By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributing Writer, The Week, June 23, 2015
“Let That Hateful Flag Fly”: From George W. Bush To Lindsey Graham, A History Of Republican Support For The Confederate Flag
South Carolina, a state that’s nearly 30% African-American, celebrates”Confederate Memorial Day” and proudly displays the flag of the Southern Confederacy at its statehouse in Columbia — a longstanding practice that’s under increasing fire following this week’s Charleston massacre, in which a white supremacist gunman is suspected of murdering nine black churchgoers.
In 2000, state lawmakers reached a “comprise” on the controversial symbol, voting to move the flag from the top of the dome to smack-dab in front of the statehouse on the front lawn. In the first state to secede from the Union in 1861, this was what passed for progress.
By now we are all familiar with the defensive refrain from supporters of the Confederate Flag: it’s heritage, not hate.
But that’s a load of crock. It’s been noted that after the Civil War, Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens wrote a revisionist account entitled A Constitutional View of the Late War Between the States, which helped push the myth that the war was really about states’ rights.
According to a 2011 Pew Research poll, just nine percent of Americans had a positive reaction to the Confederate flag. But while the ranks of stars-and-bars fans may be thin nationally, much of the modern Republican Party, defined as it is by white Southern support, cannot bring itself to condemn the symbol of racial apartheid.
Republican South Carolina Senator and presidential candidate Lindsey Graham said following the massacre that although the flag “been used in a racist way” in the past, it remained ”part of who we are,” shrugging off the symbolism in favor of “what’s in people’s heart.” Defending his state’s supposed “comprise,” Graham said “It works here, that’s what the Statehouse agreed to do.”
And remember: Graham is supposed to be one of the “sane” Republicans.
Republican politicians have stumbled over themselves to pander to GOP South Carolina primary voters at the expense of the truth, their fellow Americans and potential voters (granted, the 2012 primary garnered a pathetic 1% turnout from African-American voters) for entirely too long.
During a 2000 Republican primary debate in South Carolina, moderator Brian Williams asked, “does the flag offend you personally,” to which George W. Bush defensively retorted, ”What you are trying to get me to do is express the will of the people of South Carolina. Brian, I believe the people of South Carolina can figure what to do with this flag issue. It’s the people of South Carolina’s decision. I don’t believe it’s the role of someone from outside South Carolina and someone running for president to come into South Carolina.
Lost on Bush was the irony of citing states’ rights — long the doctrine of choice for segregationists and Confederate nostalgists — to defend South Carolina’s right to fly the stars and bars. His response was met with raucous support from the GOP crowd.
For his part, brother Jeb ordered the Confederate battle flag be taken down from Florida’s capitol building back in 2001, arguing that “the symbols of Florida’s past should not be displayed in a manner that may divide Floridians today.”
In 2008, both John McCain and Mitt Romney ran into trouble when they refused to cave to Confederate Flag fetishizers who then took out ads in the early primary state attacking them for speaking out against the hateful symbol.
McCain, learning his lesson from the infamously racist 2000 primary during which he delivered a tortured but typical defense, said “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,” went on to apologize for his inability to forcefully denounce the flag, calling it one of the “worst decisions” he’d ever made.
McCain revealed the truth in the GOP’s struggle to admonish the flying of the Confederate Flag, recounting his own flip-flop, “[I]t could come down to lying or losing. I chose lying.”
So much for the Straight Talk Express.
In 2012, former House Speaker and advocate of child labor Newt Gingrich made clear his opposition to national demands that the flag be taken off public property, “I have a very strong opinion,” Gingrich said. “It’s up to the people of South Carolina.”
Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee defiantly declared that “outsiders” were not allowed to debate the Confederate Flag.
But there seems to be some hope that the 2016 primary may change.
Rick Perry, who supported Texas’ rejection of Confederate-flag license plates that was upheld by the Supreme Court this week, called the issue a state’s matter today but added 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].”
Gov. Nikki Haley, the state’s Republican governor who had previously defended not demanding the flags removal because no business owners had complained to her, said today, ”I think the state will start talking about that again, and we’ll see where it goes.”
We shall see how 2016ers handle the GOP South Carolinan primary voters’ demands to proclaim state’s rights and let the Confederate Flag fly free.
By: Sophia Tesfaye, Salon, June 19, 2015