The only spectacle more offensive than the raising of the Confederate battle flag over public buildings in the United States is the cravenness of the leading Republican candidates who pronounce that act acceptable. How sickening that in their ambition, these inheritors of the party of Abraham Lincoln would cater to those who uphold the banner of secession and slavery.
In varying degrees, George W. Bush, Steve Forbes and John McCain have all given aid and comfort to the enemies of the Union as they campaign in South Carolina, where the Stars and Bars still flies over the state capitol. Mr. Forbes has blandly allowed that he thinks the question of the Confederate flag is a matter to be decided by that state’s residents, and therefore in no need of commentary from a would-be President; Mr. Bush agrees, adding slickly that he himself is too sensitive to display such an offensive symbol in Texas. Even worse is Mr. McCain, proud descendant of rebel soldiers, who explains that to him the Confederate flag is a “symbol of heritage.”
Unfortunately, the once-moderate Mr. Forbes has long since proved his eagerness to win over the most extreme elements of his party in what is probably a futile quest to raise his percentages from the single digits. Mr. Bush has no such excuse, and it is particularly galling to observe his evasive response on this issue. It was his father who won the Presidency in 1988 by transforming the Pledge of Allegiance into a partisan fetish, and both he and his father have urged that Congress abridge constitutional guarantees of free speech by making flag-burning a crime. So the Texas Governor is obviously attuned to the symbolic value of flags, and as a Yale history graduate he may even understand that simultaneous allegiance to both Union and Confederacy is impossible.
Perhaps Mr. Bush and Mr. Forbes think the whole issue of the Confederate flag is a minor matter, however offensive its display may be to the black citizens of South Carolina. But Mr. McCain certainly knows better, if only because his campaign in that state is being assisted by one of the most active apologists for the Southern slavocracy.
That would be Richard Quinn, a top coordinator of the McCain effort in South Carolina and the editor of a publication called Southern Partisan , which functions as the propaganda spearhead of the “neo-Confederate” movement. As careful readers may recall from last year’s controversy over the Council of Conservative Citizens, the neo-Confederates are diehard defenders of what they deem to have been the honorable cause of secession; along with their romanticization of the Old South, they tend to advocate a “conservatism” that is racially chauvinistic, hostile to immigrants and often blatantly bigoted against blacks, Hispanics, Jews and other groups. Like many former Dixiecrats who abandoned the Democratic Party during the struggle over desegregation, the neo-Confederates are mostly Republicans now.
They are a very peculiar kind of Republican, however, as anyone who peruses Mr. Quinn’s magazine-one of the milder neo-Confederate publications-would instantly discover. These are Republicans who vilify Lincoln and venerate Nathan Bedford Forrest, the Confederate general who founded the Ku Klux Klan. Their view of the Civil War, invariably referred to as the “War for Southern Independence,” is that the wrong side won. And it isn’t at all clear that Mr. Quinn and his associates have set aside those ancient enmities in favor of American patriotism.
Not so long ago, Southern Partisan published a fawning interview with Dr. Clyde Wilson, a University of South Carolina history professor billed as “one of the intellectual giants of the contemporary South.”
Without casting any doubt on his professional stature, Dr. Wilson is also a neo-Confederate ideologue. He articulated that movement’s venomous disdain for this country without embarrassment, in words that are still featured on Southern Partisan ‘s Web site. After suggesting that the South should still be seeking to secede, the professor said: “It’s terrible that Southerners have been so willing to sacrifice their lives for the United States … We have to stop that kind of knee-jerk American allegiance. And I think that’s happening. The younger people certainly don’t have that kind of knee-jerk patriotism, and a lot of the [World War II] generation don’t either. Talk to any number of WWII vets. Contrary to what you might expect, they aren’t flag-waving to the United States …”
This is the sort of insult to veterans and patriots that a key McCain supporter has spent a lifetime promoting. Not everyone who waves the Dixie flag holds such abhorrent views, of course. But perhaps the Republican candidates ought to think again about what it means for an enemy flag to wave over an American statehouse.