Saturday, April 28, 2007

The Confederate Flag

In a debate that was dull, but otherwise encouraging, as it highlighted the depth and breadth of our 2008 candidates, one question and two answers particularly rankled me.

From the transcript:
MODERATOR: And the first one is for Senator Biden.

This is from Daniel in Eastover, South Carolina. He says, "I would like a comment concerning the ban on South Carolina from the NAACP; and why they, the candidates, are in South Carolina if they support the NAACP"

"The NAACP has asked tourists, groups and sporting events not to come to South Carolina until the confederate flag has been removed from the statehouse grounds. Do you agree with that?"

BIDEN: Number-three man in the United States Congress, James Clyburn, who is one of the leaders of the Black Caucus is the reason why this event is here. I think it is better to show off the incredible capability of a historic black college and all these incredible students here than it is to walk away from that opportunity.
Good answer. He's right. He also ignored the larger issue.
MODERATOR: Senator Obama?

OBAMA: Well, look, I think that the Confederate flag should be put in a museum. That's where it belongs. But we've got an enormous debate that's taking place in this country right now.

I mentioned black infant mortality rates going up. We have poverty in the inner cities and rural communities all across the country. And we've got to engage the American people and the people of South Carolina in that debate.

Hillary mentioned earlier, this is going to be a change election. People are hungry for change. And the question is: Who is going to be the most effective agent for change? And I think in this forum, it gives voters the opportunity to see who that's going to be.
Better answer, in that he addressed some of the racial disparities that continue to scar our nation and devastate people's lives; but he, too, didn't really address the issue: the symbolism of the Confederate flag.

Joe Scarborough, of all people, had one of the better reactions to these answers. He said that Democrats continue to soften their language about polarizing issues on which they do have strong opinions- I would say morally just opinions- out of fear of alienating white Southern voters. He pointed out that Al Gore and John Kerry, at the risk of alienating their base supporters, moderated their language on certain issues in attempts to win border states like West Virginia and Tennesee- which they lost, anyway. Some might say Scarborough was being a Concern Troll, but I think he's right.

The Confederate flag is not a debatable issue. It is not an issue given to nuance. The Confederade flag symbolizes slavery. I'm disappointed that none of the candidates was willing to say that. It also symbolizes an attempt by some states to separate from the United States. There's a word for that: treason. The Confederate flag is not some rustic symbol of courage and heroism, it is a symbol of slavery and treason. It's that simple. The Democrats should be willing to say that. It's honest. It's factual. It also frames the question in the moral light in which it should be framed!

White Southerners should not be offended by this framing. Anyone who has spent any time in the South knows that Southerners are among the most personally gracious and passionately patriotic people you will ever meet. The Confederate flag is an offense to both grace and patriotism. It is shameful. I'm guessing that the majority of white Southerners can handle hearing that. I'm guessing that the number of white Southerners who would actually switch their votes from a Democrat to a Republican because they heard that are very few. It's time for our Democratic candidates to respect both the truth and the descendants of slavery. Partial answers are not enough. I repeat: the Confederate flag is a symbol of slavery and treason, and it does not belong on state flags or government buildings. Next time one of our Democratic candidates is asked about that, I hope we will hear a more honest and courageous answer.

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