Hiding behind a flag

Confederate banner: Bush and McCain pandering over South Carolina's use of racist symbol.

January 21, 2000

IS THIS the Republican Party's idea of minority recruitment?

The top GOP presidential candidates have been inexplicably accommodating South Carolinians who embrace the Confederate battle flag, which flies above the state's capitol.

That's despite South Carolina Gov. Jim Hodges saying earlier this week that the flag ought to come down. It's in the face of some 46,000 protesters, mainly African-Americans, who gathered on Martin Luther King Jr. Day to say: "Your heritage is my slavery." The symbol is too divisive to fly atop a building where public officials make policy for a diverse population.

Put the flag in a museum; get it off the capitol.

That is what the Republican presidential candidates should be saying.

But Texas Gov. George W. Bush gave South Carolina's Rebel flag-wavers his implicit approval when he sidestepped the controversy last week.

Sen. John McCain of Arizona, meanwhile, went from courage to cowardice in record time. One day on national television, he rightly called the flag "a symbol of racism and slavery." But the next day he called that same flag "a symbol of heritage."

That argument might fly if South Carolina had hoisted the flag after the Civil War; but it didn't. The flag was raised in 1962, at the height of the struggle for desegregation, as an in-your-face defiance of civil rights activists.

It was a hateful gesture then; it's no less despicable now. Both Republican candidates, though, seem more interested in pandering for votes in the Feb. 19 South Carolina primary than in doing the right thing.

Mr. Bush left it to South Carolinians to decide if the flag should fly over the state's most prominent government building. It was an "I'm not getting involved" statement.

A real leader would have explained why the flag is a shameful anachronism.

A real leader would have explained why the Confederate flag isn't flown over his Texas capitol in Austin, or any other U.S. capitol.

Mr. McCain and Mr. Bush prove that the Republican Party is still not serious about making inroads among African-Americans. The GOP, once the party of abolition, would apparently rather hold on to its more recent links to the South's ugly past.

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