Required Reading

Peter Wehner lists several reasons for the GOP 2016 contenders to get behind removing the Confederate Battle Flag from the SC statehouse:

As the old arguments in favor of allowing the Confederate flag to fly on state grounds crumble before our eyes — they already seem bizarrely antiquated — it’s worth recapitulating the reasons the debate has changed in such a decisive way. The first one has to do with the history of the Confederate flag. For all the talk from defenders of the flag who insist otherwise, it was a symbol of slavery, white supremacy, and the dissolution of the Union. The flag was fundamentally about hate, not heritage; about subjugation, not Southern ancestry. There is a reason white supremacist groups embrace the Confederate flag as their symbol, and it doesn’t have to do with its aesthetic appeal.

The second reason has to do with the history of the Republican Party. It was founded in the 1850s by anti-slavery activists and in opposition to the Kansas-Nebraska Act. Its slogan in 1856 was “free labor, free land, free men.” The first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln, was America’s “great emancipator” who freed the slaves. So the Confederate flag was never a symbol associated with the Republican Party – including in South Carolina, where the flag was first flown over the statehouse in 1962, at the request of Democrats in the state like Governor Fritz Hollings and Representative John A. May. Yet the Republican Party has somehow found a way to get itself attached to this toxic symbol of division and repression.

The third reason it’s an obvious decision to call for the Confederate flag to come down is political. Among those who have a reaction to the flag, more than three times as many say they have a negative reaction as a positive reaction.

Beyond that, the United States is rapidly changing. It’s becoming increasingly non-white. One reason Republicans are consistently losing presidential elections is that they are doing dismally among minorities. For example, in 2012 the Republican nominee won just 17 percent of nonwhite voters. (The white share of the eligible voting population has been dropping by about two points every four years, and next year minorities may make up a record 30 percent of the vote.) Republicans are unlikely to endear themselves with this rising demographic if they refuse to take a stand against flying the Confederate flag.


Read the whole thing, of course.

I’m sympathetic to Ted Cruz, Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee, Bobby Jindal, Ben Carson and Marco Rubio’s apparent desire not to get involved in this — none of them are from South Carolina and all of them, to one degree or another, believe in a state’s power to decide these things for itself. There’s also, to address Wehner’s point about how the GOP got “itself attached to this toxic symbol,” the conservative tendency to defend something almost reflexively just because it’s been around a long time.

But for presidential wanna-bes, the issue boils down to two things: That flag isn’t worth defending and doing so bad politics anyway — and remaining silent can be read as a tacit defense.

The time to speak out has come.


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