This morning, The Washington Post ran a story headlined, “Did Republicans jump the gun on the Confederate flag?”
It was prompted by a national poll that showed the public evenly split on whether the flag is a racist symbol. The premise of the story was that golly, did Nikki Haley and the rest get ahead of public opinion by moving to take down the flag?
This engendered a couple of strong reactions in me. The first was, a NATIONAL poll? Really? In what way is that relevant? I appreciate that, in this era of all local stories being nationalized, the rest of the country feels like it’s a part of our problem, but no matter what sort of vicarious interest they may have in this drama, it is ours to deal with. Our obligation, our duty, our task.
The second was, please don’t anybody do a South Carolina poll, not for another week or so, please. And my reason for saying that leads to my third reaction, which I put in a Tweet:
— Brad Warthen (@BradWarthen) July 2, 2015
I realize that to folks in Washington, a town full of political consultants, the idea of getting out ahead of public opinion is… well… unprofessional.
Of course, it’s an awfully rare thing here in South Carolina. In fact, the last time I saw leadership on the flag by a public official in our state was Joe Riley’s march from Charleston to Columbia in 2000.
But that’s what we’re seeing right now. That’s the miracle, or one of them. Our governor and two-thirds majorities in both chambers are ready to act, and they’re not waiting around for polls or political advice from anyone. And I, who have castigated pretty much all of them on one occasion or another (and with a lot of them, a lot more than that), am as proud of them as I can be.
Anyway, my Tweet ended up on Facebook as all of them do, and someone commented (and seems to have thought better of it and taken it down now) something to the effect that she was fine with taking this one flag and putting it in a museum, but she felt like people across the country going on about other Confederate symbols and such were going overboard.
My response to that:
None of that concerns me, or I should think any of us in South Carolina. We have this one flag to deal with. We’ve known that for ages. So we need to get it done.
There’s this one flag, that is qualitatively different, in terms of what it means, from any other flag, symbol, statue, institution name, monument or what have you anywhere in the world.
It, in one form or another and in one place or another, has flown at the State House since 1962, and we all know why. It is a way white South Carolinians have had of saying that, despite Appomattox and the civil rights movement, We can do this. We can fly this flag no matter how it affects you or how you feel about it. We don’t care about you or how you think or feel about it; you can go to hell if you don’t like it. In your face.
This message is delivered, of course, primarily to black South Carolinians, and secondarily to anyone else who wanted the flag down, including — putting in a word for people like me — quite a few of us white South Carolinians.
It’s a message that could only be delivered by a flag flown at our seat of government, this message about a highly exclusive, restricted definition of whose state this is. You can’t send that message anywhere else with any symbol. By flying rather than being a cold monument, it says this definition of South Carolina is alive; it’s now; it’s not just history.
That’s why this one flag has to come down.
I’m tired of folks, some of them quite nice folks, talking slippery slopes: Oh, but what about all those other flags, symbols, etc.? I dismiss such questions with increasing impatience. We are dealing with this specific flag for specific reasons that are particular to it — in fact, unique. Those reasons don’t exist for any other object you can name.
Let the rest of the country talk about what it wants to. Since they don’t have this flag to deal with, let them obsess over whatever lesser symbols they have in their desire to be a part of what we’re dealing with. That desire may be laudable, but right now it’s a distraction, if we let it be.
We know what we have to do here in South Carolina. And finally, we’re about to do it.