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“Closet Confederate Sympathizers?”: The Clinton-Confederate Flag Conspiracy Theory Is A New Low

Out of the swirl of chaos, grief, grace, and courage that has followed the Charleston shooting, partisan politics has mostly kept its rightful place nowhere near the state of South Carolina.

But the national debate over the future of the Confederate flag that flies in front of the state’s capitol has unwittingly given rise to one of the more bizarre Clinton conspiracy theories to date: that Bill and Hillary Clinton, despite decades as civil rights advocates and their right-wing caricature as Northeast liberal elites, are closet Confederate sympathizers.

The meme took off on Sunday, when The Daily Caller ran a story under the headline “Flashback: Bill Clinton Honored the Confederacy on Arkansas State Flag.”

The next morning, the hosts of Fox & Friends debated whether Hillary Clinton had refused to denounce the Confederate flag flying in front of the South Carolina (though she actually did denounce it in 2007) out of loyalty to her husband, who, Elisabeth Hasselbeck said, “signed a law honoring the Confederacy in Arkansas and about the flag’s design in 1987…that stated, ‘the blue star is to commemorate the Confederate states of America.”

The legislation that The Daily Caller, Fox & Friends, and now dozens of conservative blogs are referencing was a bill to make the flag that Arkansas had flown since 1924 the state’s official flag. That flag includes four stars, three to symbolize the countries that held the Arkansas territory—Spain, France and the United States—and the fourth, as Hasselbeck said, “to commemorate the Confederate states of America.”

Nowhere in the state’s legislative history does it explain why the 63-year-old flag needed to be made official, but Arkansas historians have two explanations. First, the legislature was moving to give the state a number of “official” designations—think “official state butterfly,” “official state grain”—as it celebrated its sesquicentennial.

Second, Bill Clinton and the state legislature were pushing through a series of measures to ban flag desecration as the U.S. Supreme Court debated and eventually struck down the 48 state laws against flag burning, including Arkansas’s ban. Historians told me they believed the 1987 flag bill was passed to specify the official design of the state flag in conjunction with that effort. As governor, Clinton later signed a bill making it a crime to burn or deface a flag, a move that drew vocal complaints from the American Civil Liberties Union.

It is true that Clinton did nothing in his time as governor to remove the state flag’s reference to Arkansas’s role in the Confederacy. But by all accounts, the bill he signed making the state’s flag official was not created as a Confederate memorial. The sponsor of the bill, longtime Arkansas legislator W.D. “Bill” Moore, has since died, but former Representative Steve Smith said, “I served with Bill Moore in the early 1970s, and he was hardly a neo-Confederate. Nor was Bill Clinton.”

The more recent Clintonian history related to the Confederate flag is easier to find and may be one of the more straightforward positions either Clinton has ever taken. Both have been consistently, unambiguously against its use.

During Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign, he endorsed Georgia Governor Zell Miller’s fruitless attempt to remove the St. Andrews Cross from the Georgia state flag, a change that eventually came nine years later, and made Miller the keynote speaker at Clinton’s 1992 Democratic National Committee nominating convention.

In 2000, as South Carolina wrestled with the future of the Confederate flag that still flew above its capitol, then-President Clinton gave the state his unsolicited advice during a visit to Allen University, a historically black college in Columbia, just miles from the state capitol: Take the flag down. “As long as the waving symbol of one American’s pride is the shameful symbol of another American’s pain, we have bridges to cross in this country and we better get across them,”’ he told the students.

When Hillary Clinton became a candidate for president herself in 2007, she said much the same thing during her own visit to the state, telling the AP she thought South Carolina should remove the Confederate flag from the capitol grounds entirely, not just from the front of the capitol.

And Tuesday, after South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley’s call to finally remove the Confederate flag from the capitol grounds in the wake of the Charleston tragedy, Hillary Clinton called it the right thing to do.

“I appreciate the actions begun yesterday by the governor and other leaders of South Carolina to remove the Confederate battle flag from the State House, recognizing it as a symbol of our nation’s racist past that has no place in our present or our future,” Clinton said. “It shouldn’t fly there, it shouldn’t fly anywhere.”

There are more than enough reasons for members of the conservative media to be dubious about the Clintons: the deleted emails, the paid speeches, the Friends of Bill you thought went away with the Y2K bug but were actually just sitting on the Clinton Foundation payroll waiting for the next Clinton administration to begin.

But accusing either Clinton of being a Confederate sympathizer, past or present, is a conspiracy beneath even its creators.


By: Patricia Murphy,

June 25, 2015 Posted by | Bill and Hillary Clinton, Confederate Flag, Conservative Media, Conspiracy Theories | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Many Rivers To Cross”: What To Get Rush Limbaugh And Other Racism Deniers For Christmas

Oh, hey, Jonah Goldberg and Elisabeth Hasselbeck and Rush Limbaugh, and all you right-wingers trying to whitesplain racism to Oprah Winfrey: The finale of “The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross” is on PBS tonight and I’m sure you won’t want to miss it.

You guys know the guy behind it, Henry Louis Gates Jr. Well, OK, you probably only know one thing about him: that he was the Harvard professor arrested by a Cambridge cop in 2009 after having trouble getting into his own house — arrested even after he’d proven he lived there. It took a beer summit with President Obama and Vice President Biden to make things sort of OK.

I wrote at the time about how Obama’s wading into the Gates controversy – he simply told the truth, that the police had acted “stupidly” in detaining and booking the Harvard professor in his own home –  had “blackened” him for many white people. It coincided with a sudden plunge in the president’s approval rating among white voters, from the 60s down to the 40s, and he never really recovered.

Yet Gates was a terrible choice to play Angry Black Man, because he’s always been someone who’s treated white people as though they deserve the benefit of the doubt. Melissa Harris-Perry argued in the Nation at the time, “Gates is invested in black life, black history, black art, and black literature, but he has managed to achieve a largely post-political and even substantially post-racial existence.” Which is what made his arrest so shocking.

“Many Rivers to Cross” seems the ideal way for whites, even conservatives, to cross over to understand the enduring legacy of slavery (even you, Sarah Palin) and Jim Crow and the persistence of racism in the age of Obama. Gates doesn’t interview Oprah, but in the finale he does talk to the most illustrious black Republican of our time, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, who gets teary talking about Obama’s victory. “I cried,” Powell confesses to Gates, and Gates gets choked up too.

Oh, I forgot: Colin Powell used to prove the Republican Party wasn’t racist; then he endorsed Barack Obama, and now you guys hate Colin Powell, and think he’s a racist.

Still, Gates does a lot of sly things to make everyone comfortable crossing these rivers with him. He’s kind of literally company, as we see him walk on a cane down roads and riverbeds where unspeakable racial tragedies took place. You’d be safe with him, Jonah Goldberg, strolling down a path that led to the savage quelling of a slave rebellion or a bridge where a Detroit race riot erupted.  He admits his own fears. Gates walks Ruby Bridges back to the elementary school she integrated. “Ruby, were you scared?” he asks. “I would have been terrified.”

Yet he also shows how African-American achievement has always coexisted with African-American oppression, which would be a bracing corrective to the ignorance of insisting the ascendance of Barack Obama and Oprah Winfrey mean racism is behind us. Oprah even has an American capitalist antecedent in Sarah Breedlove/Madame C.J. Walker, who was the first African-American millionaire, male or female (though Walker got rich marketing to black women where Oprah ministers to all of us).

Gates introduces us to black strivers and titans and culture heroes, from Walker to Don Cornelius to Vernon Jordan to Questlove; black meccas from St. Augustine, Fla., to Tulsa, Okla., to Detroit, all while telling the story of how far we still have to travel to equality. He shows how white Americans have always been able to love (and appropriate) black culture without giving up their racism. I’m not saying nothing has changed, nor is Gates, but the notion that Oprah’s own popularity disproves her charge of racism is itself disproven by American history.

I probably know more than the average white person about African-American history, which only ensures that I know less than I think I do. And I learned so much from “Many Rivers,” I am sorry to see it end. One thing I haven’t seen anyone say about it: There’s a gender balance that’s rare in history documentaries that aren’t about women’s history. I watched Episode 4 online back to back with “Lincoln at Gettysburg,” which I loved, but which only featured one female scholar, the great Melissa Harris-Perry.

Gates features dozens, from Annette Gordon-Reed and Thavolia Glymph to Michelle Alexander and Isabel Wilkerson. And he focused on the transformative stories and ideas of black women, from Walker to Rosa Parks, Ella Baker, Diane Nash, Charlayne Hunter-Gault, Grace Lee Boggs (including my friend and mentor Angela Glover Blackwell of PolicyLink, where I’m on the board — but I was writing this piece already before I learned that).

I know Goldberg and Limbaugh and Hasselbeck and the other racism deniers aren’t likely to watch “Many Rivers.” And I know it’s simplistic to think a documentary, however artful, can change the minds of partisans who make a good living denying our history, but I can dream. I’d still try to sneak the whole series into the Christmas stocking of your racism-denying but “cultured” relatives this holiday season.


By: Joan Walsh, Editor at Large, Salon, November 26, 2013

November 27, 2013 Posted by | Racism | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


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