Alexander's Column

The phony flag flap

Mark Alexander · Jan. 21, 2000

“To focus attention on a symbol like the Confederate flag…is to demonstrate how utterly devoid of legitimate causes the ‘civil rights movement’ has become.” –Former radical darling of the left David Horowitz, author of the book “Hating Whitey.”

Martin Luther King Day always brings out the revisionists. There were those who staged sit-ins to protest Florida Governor Jeb Bush’s proposal to limit the state’s affirmative action program – not exactly consistent with Mr. King’s admonition that all should be judged by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin. Ms. Hillary Rodham-Clinton showed up to share the stage with black racist Al Sharpton, we suppose courting the anti-Semite vote in the Big Apple. Bill Clinton played his perennial race-ace, calling once again for passage of fallacious “hate-crimes” legislation.

But perhaps the most divisive protest, conjoined by about every race-baiter from presidential contenders down, involved the display of the Battle Flag of the Confederacy over South Carolina’s State House. (Never mind that the “Stars and Bars” form the state flag of Arkansas – once the home of those Yankee fans, Bill and Hillary Clinton, who have never taken any position on the matter in their former state of residence.)

As noted by Washington Times editor Wesley Pruden, “Bill Bradley and Al Gore challenged each other in New Hampshire to a groveling match, each man spending the night on his knees trying to persuade voters that he was suffering greater [Confederate battle] flag shock than anyone else.” Later at a news conference, Gore took a shot at Bush supporters: “I think Governor Bush… has avoided taking a position…because he is playing to some of his supporters that I think have some pretty obsolete and even hateful attitudes.”

On MLK Day, about 30,000 people commuted to Columbia, S.C. to join 20,000 indigenous Columbians for a good old-fashioned “civil rights” march. That prompted Democratic Governor Hodges to declare, “We must move the flag from the dome to a place of historical significance on the Statehouse grounds.” Like having it displayed anywhere is going to be satisfactory to the revisionists?

The debate around the Battle Flag tends to run along the “hate” versus “heritage” lines. The flag has indeed been desecrated, not only by Al Gore, Jesse Jackson and the NAACP’s Kweisi Mfume, but by other ignoramuses like skinheads with swastika tattoos who were abandoned by their fathers when toddlers and are now obviously battling deep sexual identity crises.

In 1989 the Sons of Confederate Veterans passed a resolution denouncing “extremist political groups and individuals who seek to clothe themselves in respectability by misappropriating the banner under which our Southern ancestors fought for a cause which was as noble as much latter day use is ignoble.” But the NAACP fired back, the flag is “an abhorrence to all Americans and decent people…the ugly symbol of idiotic white supremacy, racism and denigration,” and “an odious blight upon the universe.”

The NAACP decree notwithstanding, most Southerners, like this writer, associate the Battle Flag of the Confederacy with their heritage, and the historic battle for states’ rights – which has yet to be won. Living among the battlefields of the Chickamauga/Chattanooga National Military Park, the oldest military park in the nation – founded in 1890 with the objective of reconciling the combatants of one of history’s bloodiest wars – it is hard to avoid the proper historical context of the Battle Flag – the context in which we view it today.

The Civil War was, of course, a battle to repatriate 13 Southern states, which had seceded due to the federal government’s infringement on those states’ constitutional sovereignty. The revisionists would argue that slavery was the issue, but they’d have a hard time explaining why Abraham Lincoln waited until 1863 to emancipate slaves. Arguably, Lincoln would not have done so even then were it not that a Union victory depended on the collapse of the secessionist’s economy, which collapse would be accelerated by the emancipation of slaves. Emancipation was a political problem for Lincoln, as the livelihood of his constituent free white laborers in the North would be threatened by competition from the influx of cheap black labor emigrating from the South.

By way of making the states’ rights argument clear, one might inquire of the revisionists, “Who asked Robert E. Lee to command their army?” The answer, of course, is that Davis asked him – but first he was asked by Lincoln to command the Union Army. General Lee refused Lincoln because his first allegiance was – you guessed it – to his sovereign home state of Virginia. And therein is essential evidence for what Lee’s army was fighting – the constitutional sovereignty of their home states over the tyranny of a central government. (Lee, by the way, opposed slavery.)

Abe Lincoln was a masterful politician, seizing the momentum of the abolitionist movement as political cannon fodder for his presidential campaign. In the process, the issue of slavery overtook the constitutional principle of states’ rights. Politicians do the same thing today. Consider how Clinton and Gore use the “gun problem” as a political expedient, regardless of the constitutional implications.

We Republicans call ourselves the “Party of Lincoln,” but not until Franklin Roosevelt had any president done more to erode the Founders’ constitutional principles of federalism. Now, ironically, a central theme of the Republican Party has become the “New Federalism” initiatives launched by Ronald Reagan.

Ludwig von Mises Institute scholar Lew Rockwell concludes, “Here, then, is the real reason why we are supposed to hate the South’s rebellion and love the civil-rights rebellion; the latter favored centralized power, while the former opposed it.”