Lawmakers dodge flag issue

Everybody thinks the flag’s an issue
except those who can act on it

By Brad Warthen
Editorial Page Editor
‘I JUST WANTED to touch base with you and let you know I enjoyed your editorials this morning,” said the phone message. “You don’t have to call me back, but read ’em and thought you did a great job. Thanks.”
    Pretty routine, except that it was from a Republican S.C. House member, Ted Pitts — my own representative, as it happens — and the column and editorial were asserting the need to remove the Confederate flag from the State House grounds.
    Assuming this wasn’t just constituent service, I called to ask why he liked them. He was a little vague, saying “it’s a very interesting issue” with “an interesting dynamic,” but not taking a position.
I think he was feeling a little odd because after he had called me, he had found that he was about the only person in the State House who wanted to talk about the subject at all.
    “I just walked around and said, ‘Are we gonna talk about this?’ and to a man, there was just no interest,” he said. “There just seemed to be no appetite around here, from African-American members” or anyone else.
    “They don’t think it’s an issue right now.”
    But apathy has always been the Legislature’s way on the flag issue. Contrary to popular impression, it did not spend the 1990s (before Mr. Pitts was elected) discussing the issue — everyone else did. The apathy was even apparent during the all-too-brief debate in 2000 that left the flag in our faces, although it was removed from its position of false sovereignty.
    If the House hadn’t been in such an all-fired hurry, lawmakers could have dealt with the issue once and for all. A lot of people from all over the political spectrum were pushing them to get something done, and some of the main advocates — such as the S.C. Chamber of Commerce — believed that the put-it-behind-the-monument approach qualified as “something.”
    So they did that, quickly. If the House had discussed the issue more than one day, a proposal to strike the flag for good might have had a chance, but the leadership wasn’t willing.
    If you ask lawmakers about the flag, they’re aghast: Why ask them, of all people? Yet thanks to a law passed by the Legislature in 1995 (in response to an abortive attempt by then-Gov. David Beasley to exercise some leadership), only the Legislature can do anything with the flag. But they don’t even think it’s an issue.
    USC football coach Steve Spurrier thinks it’s an issue, but what does he know? All he knows is that the flag should not be there, and that it projects an absurdly and unnecessarily negative image of our state to the entire world.
    I heard from other people who don’t know any more than the old ball coach.
    One said,

   “I am one million percent behind you on the flag issue…. We should not be putting down anybody, just like your column says, we should just be doing it because it’s the right thing to do. I’m born, bred South Carolina, go back generations … but I could care less. I do miss ‘Dixie,’ now, it did make my skin crawl, but the flag doesn’t mean a damn’ thing… I think you’ll be surprised at the momentum can get going now. Good job.”

    As for e-mails, there was a problem: The special address I had set up malfunctioned for the first two days. But during that time, 39 people were determined enough to look up my personal address. Thirty were for taking the flag down; only nine seemed opposed to our message in any way — and a couple of those were fairly indirect in saying so. Not all, of course, were so shy: 

  “You know as well as I that this is not about the Confederate flag, it is about blacks — period! If removing that flag from the Statehouse grounds would cure the 70+% illegitimacy rate, children having children, the over 50% dropout rate and the substantial crime and incarceration rate within the black community, I would say remove it now but it will not and you and Spurrier know it!… You are simply using the flag issue as a diversion from the real issues I mentioned above.”

    More typical is this one:


“I grew up in this state and I am proud to be from here, but I am embarrassed by that flag and the people who support it. I travel all over the country for my work and every time someone asks me where I am from and I say SC, they bring up the flag. I have to defend myself and my state by saying not all of us are backwards and ignorant…. It is an insult to the troops fighting for our freedom today…. I will say it as plainly as I can: It is un-American to support the flag and what it stands for.”

    As of midday Friday, my blog had received 253 comments on the subject since Mr. Spurrier’s remarks. Few were vague.
    Rep. Pitts remains sort of, kind of uncommitted. “I feel kind of like an outsider looking in on this,” he said — which sounded odd for one of the 170 insiders who have the power to act on the issue. He explained: “It’s an issue that means very little to me — and, I think, to my generation.” Mr. Pitts is 35.
    “Our state shouldn’t promote anything that offends a large block of its people,” Mr. Pitts said, in his strongest statement one way or the other. “In 2007, we’ve got a lot of other issues to talk about, but why can’t we talk about this?”
    “It’s almost like we’re hiding from the issue.” I would have added that it’s exactly like it, but he was on a roll. “Let’s defend why it’s still flying there” if lawmakers believe it’s justified.
    “But let’s not just not talk about it.”
    If you’d like to let Mr. Pitts know that it’s an issue to you, let him know. Or better, let your own representatives know.

    Find out how to reach your representatives here and your senators here. If you don’t know who represents you, check here.

27 thoughts on “Lawmakers dodge flag issue

  1. Carolina

    When the flag in front of the state house does come down (and it’s obviously just a matter of time), what will eventually be done with the other Confederate-themed items on the grounds–most particularly the monument in front and the Wade Hampton statue?

  2. Les Cogar

    The Confederate Battle Flag,stands for Representative Republic,created to strictly controle the “excesses” of democracy.When ugly abe usurped the Constitution (Representative Republic)he changed our form of government to democracy,since our founding/framer fathers created “Another” form of “popular government” as differant as night and day in there workings.The main differance in democracy there is no protection of your rights,in Representative Republic your rights are secure.Do not take you eye off the ball.Ben Franklin stated,when asked”what have ye rout”,answer ” A Republic if you can keep it”.

  3. ed

    When the flag comes down it will be interesting to see where the NAACP and the race pimps, who depend on keeping black folks agitated and foamed up, turn next. They will, sadly but obviously, have to come up with another excuse for their own failures to do anything meaningful to help the black community. I just wonder what their next excuse will be. I think Carolina may be on to something above. People who depend upon racial agitation for their livelihoods will almost certainly turn to the next Confederate monument, and then the next…and so on. I suppose that their ultimate end would be to expunge any monuments to or history of the states’ involvement in the Civil War. I don’t know how this is going to improve the lot of black people. Do you? Ed

  4. GGantt

    When (and if) the Confederate flag is relocated from the State House grounds, it and all statues, memorials, flags and monuments should be protected by a constitutional amendment approved by The People in the form of a referendum.
    Personally, I don’t see why the NAACP and others haven’t been apoplectic in their efforts to get “Pitchfork Ben’s” statue ground into dust. Strom could go, too.

  5. bud

    For once the South Carolina General Assembly is doing the sensible thing and ignoring all this hoopla over the Confederate battle flag. Without the State Newspaper continuing to stir this thing up year after year the world would probably grow bored with the whole thing and move on. It’s very rarely that I agree with Senator McConnell, but on this issue he’s right on. There was a compromise agreed to by virtually everyone in the General Assembly. It was passed, the governor signed it into law and that was that. It’s not what I would have done but it’s done. There are more pressing issues to deal with.

  6. Thomas Heyward

    What about the atrocities committed under the American Flag? Should this dis-qualify flying “Old Glory”? Your continued harping on this “flag” issue does nothing but cause good people to have something to hate their neighbors over. The Flag should not have ever been on the Capitol dome. A good deal was struck and it is now in a place of honor where it belongs as part of our history. Why not ask our Native American friends how they feel about the way they were treated under the American Flag?
    It is time for this newspaper to get upset over our educational system, about the sorry state of our roads, the degradation of our environment, the under-handed political deals that go on every day and many other real issues. Get a life.

  7. jim miles

    Brad, you are exactly right on this issue..don’t let up and do what it takes to get action, up to and including embarrasing as many of the legislators as it takes. Why not have The State do a survey and publish exactly what each of them says..for whatever future purpose it may involve. I was personally involved in the Beasley fiasco and he was without backbone. Jim Miles

  8. Michael Gass

    Mr. Warthen,
    The flag should come down. Unfortunately, there are many like SSgt Lamb (who had a letter reprinted in today’s edition) entitled “Those who haven’t served shouldn’t complain”.
    SSgt Lamb comments in reference to the Confederate Battle Flag, “The men the battle flag honors fought to defend their homes and families against what they felt were invaders.”
    I have served my country, and I have been to Iraq. Twice. So, let me be the first to complain; about two things.
    1) Republican Frank Hargrove (R-VA) said: “I personally think that our black citizens should get over it (slavery). By golly, we’re living in 2007.” Why should blacks “get over slavery” when rednecks can’t “get over flying a flag”? Hargrove is right on one thing; it’s 2007 and NOBODY living today had a thing to do with what happened then, to INCLUDE fighting for families and homes against the “northern invaders”.
    2) SSgt Lamb’s attempt to justify the continued flying of the flag as a heritage from northern invaders while serving as part of an OCCUPATION force in Iraq (should we ask SSgt Lamb if he feels the Iraqi “insurgents” are “terrorists” or just “defending their homeland from invaders”?) would be laughable if it wasn’t so sad and reeked of pure hypocrisy as so many innocents are dead from OUR invasion.
    SSgt Lamb finished his letter with: “Then again, in a hundred years, I and the veterans of today will probably be looked upon by their descendents as vile and evil as well.”
    “Misguided”? Maybe. “Used” by a morally corrupt President who lied us into invading and occupying Iraq (should we ask SSgt Lamb if he supports President Bush believing him to be a “good Christian”)? Definitely. Will our soldiers be seen as “vile and evil”? Yes, some will, but those terms will be reserved for the American soldiers who deserve it; the soldiers who murdered innocent Iraqi civilians in cold blood. Yes, those soldiers are vile and evil.
    I can understand our troops in Iraq aren’t getting all the facts; the televisions are tuned to FAUX News all the time. But, to spout this nonsense about the confederate flag while he is there?
    That is the mentality of those who support keeping the “flag flying”… only THEY are right and nobody else has the right to complain; not blacks, not American citizens… nobody.

  9. Michael Gass

    I would agree, except, the confederate flag isn’t our nations flag. It isn’t our state flag. It wasn’t even like older American flags (where it “was” our flag, then was changed) which would deserve a place in history.
    Should the black flag be flying next to the confederate flag? Should we put an American Indian flag next to it? Because in my opinion, both have as much legitimacy to be called “flags” as those do, with the same right to “fly” as that one does.
    Also, while I agree there are other things that need to be done, are our legislatures so incompetent they can’t do more then one thing at a time?
    I do agree with the commenter’s that IF the confederate flag goes to the museum where it belongs, will THAT be the end of it? It SHOULD be the end of it, in my opinion, and if it isn’t, then the black community leaders in SC are going to lose all credibility in my eyes.

  10. bud

    I was so confident when the flag came down from the state house dome that would end this controversy once and for all. Appearently that didn’t happen. I have no particular feeling about the flag one way or the other. It doen’t bother me, nor does it inspire me in any particular way even though I’m a lifetime southernor with roots that go way back. What puzzles me is why everyone on both sides of this issue has such great passion for something so utterly innocuous. I think it’s just boredom for most people. After all if a 747 were to crash in downtown Columbia would we have any discuss about the flag for the next month? I think not.
    If this issue ever came to a vote I would support removing the flag from the State House grounds provided the other Confederate monuments would stay as is.

  11. Michael Gass

    I won’t disagree with you on “just how important is it”.
    But I am thoroughly disgusted with the rank hypocrisy, the lies, the spin, etc… from BOTH parties.
    South Carolina must be so rich that $50 million dollars can be squandered away (did we ever here WHERE it went?) and nobody bats an eye in our state house (how’s that reform going guys?). But we aren’t a rich state, as the laying off of teachers in Lexington county proved to us because they just didn’t have the money. No? They are getting hundreds of millions of dollars in lottery money! Where is THAT going (don’t remember, they never told us and nobody has asked).
    This state is in dire straights. I agree. There are plenty of things wrong. I agree. And if legislator’s think banning sex toys (Spartanburg anyone?) is the biggest fish they can fry, they are as delusional as our President.
    But, that doesn’t mean that the confederate flag ISN’T an issue that needs to be addressed. It is just one of MANY.
    Cindi Scoppe has done great pieces on the reform, but, this, like anything, has to be pounded into the public. Especially a public that is in pure denial.
    People want to reference soldiers for the confederate flag? How about referencing the soldiers who gave us AMERICA? How about the fact that they were taxed so hard they finally revolted? Is that what it is going to take in SC before SOMEBODY yells enough with squandering our tax payers dollars?????

  12. zzazzeefrazzee

    If we’re honoring our past, why not put up a statue of King Charles, and fly the Union Jack alongside it? After all, this state is named for him. Many South Carolinians remained loyal and suffered the consequences from zealous patriot guerilla terrorists. Their homes and properties were seized, their graves trashed, their lived ruined, much in the same manner as the confederates, but who cares? Are descendants of loyalists given a voice? Where’s my rally on my memorial day, my statue, my flag?
    I think the plight of the losing Loyalists is awfully compelling in comparison to the plight of the losing Confederates. I wonder if there are any descendants of the Confederacy would care to voice support for those brave, fallen soldiers who remained loyal to the crown? I find that only one war matters to them, not all of our state’s history, taken as a whole.
    Many who profess ancestry on either side often overlook the fact that many families were torn apart by such events. Brothers, uncles, and nephews fought on opposite sides. Many today are actually descendants of BOTH sides of any historic conflict, if they care to look into it. It is often a matter of ignorance of these facts, or personal choice to honor one over the other. My family is descended from both Union and Confederate soldiers, and I am proud of that. My confederate ancestor did not serve long, but moved to the legislature. My Union ancestor was a was reputedly shot by confederates disguised in union uniforms (is that an honorable way to fight?). Despite my ancestry, I am not so stubbornly proud to think that a battle flag representative of one side of the conflict is more important than honoring our union, our nation, our country, as a whole in these trying times. Maybe it is because I think that both sides of my family deserve to be honored?
    Since when is getting easily offended over the display of symbols more “honorable” than the devotion to substance anyway? I find little honor, but mostly whining and griping. Yet there are some who behave as though Sherman just passed through Columbia.
    Honoring only one conflict, and only one side of fallen soldiers above all the others is what is dishonorable. As it stands, we seem to dote on something dated. Putting the flag in a museum, displayed next to other historical flags is not adding insult to injury. It is a befitting location to educate all of us today about our nation, and our state’s past. If anything, I think that those who support flying the flag a the state house need to explain why a museum is NOT befitting, and exactly HOW doing so is somehow “dishonorable”?
    If supporters can’t effectively argue as to why that is so, then we should necessarily erect post-haste statues of King Charles, fly the Spanish flag, and of course, install a new monument devoted to the decimation of the original inhabitants, the Native Americans tribes… Of course, you are more than free to grace your cars with stickers, fly flags on your own lawn (or battle flag pool float, which is what one distant neighbor appears to prefer), much less attend memorials. There is no law stopping you.

  13. Ralph Stapp

    Mr. Gass,
    Your comments to SSgt Lamb initially led me to believe it was another post by Ready to Hurl or one of the other regulars on this site that use ridicule, stereotypes and off-subject comments in lieu of a well reasoned presentation supporting a position.
    In the short time you have been posting, I had come to expect an argument justifying your position rather than one loaded with unsupported emotional rants. Whether I agreed or not did not matter. I hope this one was an exception as your previous posts were a nice change from the norm here.

  14. Michael Gass

    Mr. Stapp,
    If you have read SSgt Lamb’s posted letter, then you will see that my response is perfectly legitimate and supported by fact.
    SSgt Lamb begins with his letter by trying to marginalize who is “allowed” to comment. I am a veteran of the first gulf war (having served from 1986-1996). I spent 4 months in the northern Kurdish area of Iraq in 1991 right after Desert Storm. Regardless of my own service, any American is (or was) guaranteed the right to free speech; one of the “rights” Mr. Lamb is “fighting for” as he begins marginalizing that very right.
    His next statement (my first quote) speaks for itself. If people have the right to “defend their homes from what they feel are invaders”, how does SSgt Lamb reconcile that statement while being part of an occupation force in a country we invaded? As for the validity of my statement that we invaded Iraq based on lies, go to Mr. Warthen’s blog “Respondent addresses Graham op-ed”. I show (and source as best as I can) proof that, in fact, President Bush DID lie about the intelligence to invade Iraq. The proof is irrefutable.
    Next, it was a Republican (Hargrove) who said FLAT OUT (quoted) that blacks have to “get over (slavery)”. That is fact. In addition, if you have an issue with me calling the “pro-fly-the-flag crowd” rednecks, you need only take Republican Putnam’s statement that “white rednecks who go to church” didn’t vote in the 2006 midterms. If using the term “redneck” is good enough for the GOP, I’m sure it is good enough for me.
    As for being “vile and evil”, well, I’ve been in a foxhole, and I have been in law enforcement. There is a difference between the heat of battle where stray bullets may hit innocent civilians and cold-blooded murder. We already have soldiers on trial for the murder of innocent Iraqi’s. Again, this is fact.
    While my letter may seem harsh, it is just as harsh for SSgt Lamb to try and invoke patriotism and Constitutional rights (which he reminds us he is fighting for), all while his very words betray the hypocrisy behind them, ie, “I’m fighting for your rights, but, only those who have served can complain (First Amendment doesn’t state WHO can speak up or not, btw).
    So yes… I am harsh on SSgt Lamb… but having BEEN to Iraq… TWICE… I believe I have the RIGHT (even by SSgt Lamb’s criteria) to take him to the woodshed.

  15. Michael Gass

    The oath of enlistment: “…to defend the Constitution from all enemies foreign and domestic…”
    Even if we go on the “strict constructionism” theory of “if it isn’t written then it can’t be a right”, my response is:
    – where is the right to heterosexual marriage only stated in the Constitution?
    – where is the right to fly a flag that wasn’t adopted by the United States stated in the Constitution?
    – where is the right to place one religion over any other stated in the Constitution?

  16. GGantt

    What’s your point?
    Answers to your questions:
    2)state issue, not national
    If you’re saying that black people should get over slavery, and white people should get over the Civil War, I couldn’t agree with you more.

  17. GDawg

    Damn, Warthern, did you really post this thing at 4:48 a.m.? Get a life!
    Do you guys really think we have forgotton that the “compromise” was to have settled this? You are making my case today from then. We said, “No compromise, ever.” Exactly what we said would happen is happening. The weak ones in our pack have to face us now. We told them people like you would only wait and come right back. This issue has stopped the political careers of two governors in your state, Roy Barnes in Gorgia, and Musgrove in Mississippi. Fortunately, your arguments are tired and your motivation even more transparent than last time. I will bet a dollar you fail the telephone book test badly; if I follow you home at the end of the day your world is white, or mostly white. Invariably, your type lives not just in ivory towers but in ones brilliantly white. Looking up other’s skirts for hints of bigotry keeps the focus away from self study. Calling dead peolpe monsters is easy and beating up on a flag easier. Not a new strategy, a great defense is a good offense.
    Sleep later next time. When you do get up, heal thyself. There is no peace (for you) in confessing the sins of others.

  18. Michael Gass

    That is EXACTLY what I am saying!
    Bring down the flag, put it in a museum where it belongs, and EVERYONE come into the “now”…

  19. Moderate Guy

    Compromises only work when both sides bargain with honest intentions. Socialists and liberals, being the ones trying to rewrite history and destroy culture, are the aggressors, and only compromise as a rest before the next attack.

  20. Moderate Guy

    Moderate Guy is just another of the dozens of persons asking reasonable questions which a few of you can only answer with uncivil, childish retorts.
    Try to answer us. It will build character.

  21. GGantt

    Anyone ever look at the 1995 law Bwarthen notes in his article above? Man, I mean, this situation with “the flag” and the black American monument is locked up “tighter than Dick’s hatband”. Two-thirds majority required for action on any statue, flag, memorial, monument on the State House grounds! It’s unbelievable.
    Problem for the flag-opponents is that just griping about it, writing editorials, holding boycotts ain’t gonna cause any change. Name-calling and stereotyping doesn’t help either. Got to change tactics if you’re going to succeed.
    Once again, this subject is dying out and will probably stay that way until another “person of prominence”, not Joe Six-Pak, brings it up again.

  22. Herb Brasher

    Mr. Moderate Guy,
    If you look down in the most recent comments posted by you and RTH on the Virginia Tech shootings, you will understand (well, no you won’t, but that doesn’t prevent me from pointing it out) why it is pointless, it would seem, to try and discuss any issue with you. Your mind is made up. Facts that don’t fit your theory, such as RTH has brought up, are dismissed, because they don’t fit your theory. Those who disagree with you are labeled “liberals,” or some other label, followed by a partisan rant. This is the Lee style that we’ve had before. And it is pointless to argue with this. And since the Good Book tells us not to argue with people of this nature, I aim not to do it any more. I hope I can keep to it.

  23. Moderate Guy

    RTH fabricated some things because he could find no facts to support his emotional distate for the right of self-defense.
    I’m sorry if that is the way some of you learned to argue, because the rest of us won’t let you get away with it.
    And since I am not a Republican or a Democrat, I don’t know what you mean by “partisan rant”, but that’s probably because you don’t, either. It’s a phrase you picked up from Brad Warthen, who misused it. Bad teacher.

  24. josh

    in my opion i feel that the flag stands for the original 13 colonies and not racism there is a great history behind it and just because the blacks thick it only stands for hate that is no reason for it to ever come down the confederate flag will always be flown proudly and respectfuly for those who died during the civil war for the southern states and if the blacks dont like it the can go somewhere else so if everyone would stop acting imature and get over it there are some white people that would like to get on with there lives with out being pointed at as being racist for having the confederat flag


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