Vincent Sheheen’s call to remove the Confederate flag from the State House grounds isn’t some here-today, forgotten-tomorrow campaign gimmick.
It’s a game-changer. But only if he somehow manages to win the election.
Sheheen was paraphrased in The State today as saying that this is an issue best addressed by a governor. Sure, he could have introduced a resolution to have it removed every session, only to have it die in committee, as did Cleveland Sellers’ one such attempt as a freshman House member. One or two lawmakers might be willing to stick their necks out, but there aren’t enough others willing to go along with them to make the effort viable. Knowing that, lawmakers see little point in making enemies over a lost cause — they have other things they want to accomplish.
But a governor has the bully pulpit to raise the issue so it can’t be buried or ignored.
That said, not just any governor would have the political leverage to overcome the General Assembly’s profound inertia on the issue. It would take a governor who campaigned on the issue, and got elected. A governor who does that would have political juice, and moral authority, unlike any we’ve seen in our poor state, which has been so sadly short on political courage for the generation that I’ve covered it.
So that raises the issue, does this move hurt or help Sheheen’s chances of getting elected? I truly don’t know. His chances were slim as it stood, barring something to shake up the equation. And I’d rather see it shaken this way — by Sheheen doing something right and good and visionary and courageous — than by some new scandal or other disaster befalling Nikki Haley.
Some think it’s automatic political death for a governor or gubernatorial candidate to embrace this issue. They’re wrong. They point to what happened to David Beasley, who stirred up the Angry White Men of his party with his abortive, half-hearted attempt to take action on the flag. Yeah, a few more neoConfederates may have voted against him. But Beasley had also alienated those of us on the other side of the issue, by so quickly reversing himself and giving up on the issue when he experienced the white backlash. Even to people who, unlike me, didn’t care about the flag, it made him look weak, wishy-washy and ineffective.
(I had only contempt for his surprised, shocked and weak reaction to the angry calls and letters. I, and to an even greater extent my colleague Warren Bolton — flag defenders got especially angry at a black man who dared to say the same things I was saying — had experienced the same phenomenon every single time we published another editorial or column on the subject. That means we had experienced it hundreds of times since I had joined the editorial board and started writing on the subject in 1994. Beasley couldn’t take a few days of it.)
And there were other reasons for Beasley’s loss.
In Sheheen’s case, not only is this likely to galvanize voters who would likely have supported him anyway — motivating them to get out and vote and urge their friends and neighbors to do so — it elevates him as someone willing to lead among many who might have been on the fence. Say, business leaders. If you’ll recall, the state Chamber backed Sheheen last time, and this time (thanks in large part to the rise of some Haley allies on the Chamber’s board), it went for Nicky. Business people can be favorably impressed by someone who is willing to lead, and to lead us in a direction that sweeps away such atavistic nonsense, such unnecessary barriers to progress, as flying that flag.
People who were dispirited by Sheheen’s lackluster, take-no-chances campaign thus far will be willing to step forward and put out some effort to get him elected.
I believe it’s at best a wash, and could be helpful to his chances.
But win or lose, he’s doing the right thing. And it’s been far too long since we’ve seen anyone who would lead us do that.