John McCain is wrong about one issue that is of any personal importance to me: the Confederate flag. And of course the moderator in last night’s debate asked him, and only him, about it. That’s fitting, since a moderator should probe a candidate’s weak points in trying to get at the truth.
Fortunately for McCain — in terms of my vote, anyway — I don’t consider anyone’s position on that issue to be a qualification for the job of president of the United States. In fact, I’d prefer that presidential candidates stay out of the debate altogether.
Among the Republican candidates, Rudy Giuliani has the right answer — to the extent that any non-South Carolinian could have the "right" answer. He says it’s a matter for South Carolinians to decide.
Indeed it is that and only that. That’s why I disagree so strongly with the NAACP’s approach — trying (without appreciable success, I might add) to get the rest of the world to FORCE the flag down by hurting South Carolina economically. Even if such a strategy worked — which it can’t, believe me — nothing would be accomplished. You’d still be left with a state perceived — and perceiving itself, sullenly, resentfully — as a place that WANTS to fly the flag, but has been forced not to.
I don’t care what happens to a piece of cloth. I live in a state that has profound political barriers to getting its act together and catching up to the rest of the country in terms of health, wealth, educational attainment, public safety, what have you. The attitudes that keep us from working together to address those issues meaningfully are closely related to the attitudes that keep that flag flying.
Only if we come together and say, "That’s not who we are anymore; we’re better than that," will we ever move forward as a people.
Sure, it would make me feel all warm and fuzzy to hear everybody — particularly people I like, such as John McCain — echoing my own personal attitudes on this and every other important issue. But it wouldn’t accomplish anything. In fact, on this issue outside voices can probably only make things worse, not better. That’s because of the xenophobia that is a corollary of the mentality that keeps the flag flying. You’ve seen the bumper stickers: "We don’t CARE how you did it up North."
John McCain’s problem is that he actually wrestled with the issue, and wrestled too hard, ending up here, there, and all over the mat on the issue. It
was an issue he did not and probably never will understand. He
shouldn’t have wrestled with it. It’s none of his business.
I don’t mean that in a "go away and shut up, John" sense. But it has nothing to do with being president of the United States. Whatever opinion
he might have on that South Carolina matter should have no impact either on what we do about the flag, or on
whether he should be nominated and elected to the White House.
On issues that do have a bearing as to whether he should be
president, I find him to be far and away the best — among either
party’s candidates. For now.
I wrote the above thoughts, in somewhat sketchier form, in response to a comment on a previous post. Here’s how one of my more thoughtful correspondents replied:
I’m struck by your post above re: McCain and the flag
“McCain’s problem is that he actually wrestled with the issue, and
it was an issue he did not and probably never will understand. He
shouldn’t have wrestled with it. It’s none of his business.”
I find it puzzling that you would use Steve Spurrier’s uninvited
opinion on the flag as the impetus for a barrage of editorials but then
give the presidential candidates a pass on the issue.
Part of the point of primary politics is for voters to obtain a
close look at the candidates and have them take positions on local
issues. It is a very useful way to measure them, regardless of whether
the issue will ever come to them for a decision. Some of the national
issues will likely never come to them for a decision either-for
example, if the next president doesn’t appoint a Supreme Court justice,
it’s unlikely his or her opinion on abortion will have any impact.
You expect a president to have the wherewithal and decisiveness to
respond to another 9/11 attack but don’t feel they can be bothered to
be decisive about one of the most controversial issues in SC. Every
candidate should have a specific opinion (not just “it’s a state
matter”). McCain’s courage faltered in 2000 on this issue.
Unfortunately, it appears to be failing him again; I doubt he
personally believes that the flag should be anywhere on the State House
grounds given how much this issue pricked his conscience 8 years ago.
But he’s playing it safe in 2008, one of the reasons he’s a less
attractive candidate this time around.
Your willingness to accept McCain’s timidity about the flag makes me question your ability to view him objectively.
Posted by: Paul DeMarco | May 16, 2007 1:52:53 PM
As I said, Paul, Sen. McCain is clearly wrong on the issue.
As I also said, I don’t ask any candidate for president for his or her opinion about the flag. It’s irrelevant.
There are things he’s wrong about that ARE relevant — such as his willingness to keep the Bush tax cuts in place. That I have a problem with, as a voter considering who should be the next president. But I have greater problems on such relevant issues with every other candidate.
Spurrier lives in South Carolina, and is someone who — unfortunately, given that I think football is one of the least important things in the world — a lot of people in South Carolina listen to. He, like the 4 million other people in this state, has a right and an obligation to speak out as to what he wants our elected representatives to put on our State House lawn.
His comments were the first from a high-profile South Carolinian on the issue since everybody stopped talking about it in 2000. I mean, other than South Carolinians who are leaders in a NATIONAL organization — an organization which, because it was trying to use the outside world to coerce South Carolina into doing something, is the main obstacle to South Carolinians growing up on their own and putting this issue behind them.
Spurrier provided an opportunity to discuss this in another context. It was, and remains, my great hope that in the coming months, other prominent South Carolinians who are NOT trying to use a national boycott to force something that needs to happen voluntarily. If it doesn’t happen voluntarily, if South Carolina does not evolve to the point that collectively, we WANT to do this voluntarily, then absolutely nothing of value will be achieved.
Comments from Hillary Clinton or Chris Dodd or John McCain are simply not a part of that discussion, but instead a distraction. The only reason they are asked about such things is because journalists on deadline are not a terribly reflective lot. They think, "They’re in South Carolina, and this is a controversial issue in South Carolina." It never occurs to them that it’s not an issue that has anything to do with the presidency. (This is an issue I’ve written about in other contexts — it’s now become a standard mindless ritual in the media to ask the president to comment on everything, from his underwear to the Columbine shootings, when such things have nothing at all to do with the president’s duties or responsibilities.)
As for abortion — well that IS a more relevant presidential issue than the flag, but only because the flag isn’t a presidential issue at all. As you say, Paul, the president’s only involvement with abortion is nominating Supreme Court justices, because of Roe. (If NOT for Roe, it would be a more legitimate political issue, and that is what it should be. The Court should never have removed it from the political branches.)
That said, I will not cast my own vote exclusively according to a candidate’s position on abortion. It will be one of many things I consider in making my decision about a candidate, but the candidate I choose could end up being someone who disagrees with me on that one issue.
I hope at this point to vote for McCain, with whom I happen to agree on the abortion issue, among many other issues.
But among the Republicans, my distant second choice would be Giuliani. Suppose McCain is no longer in the race when the primaries roll around. I could see looking to Giuliani instead. His stance on abortion would not prevent that.
Since THAT, which is more relevant to the job, would not deter me, why would the Confederate flag issue? As I say, I’m more likely to be bothered by the tax cut stance. I don’t feel passionately about taxes the way I do about the flag, but it IS actually relevant.
I would assert that this is the objective way to look at things — reasoning them out, as opposed to going on the basis of mere passion. I could certainly be wrong about that, of course, since an individual is probably the least disinterested judge on the matter of whether he is disinterested.
Would I like it more if McCain were "right" about the flag (and "right" is saying what Giuliani says, which is that it’s a South Carolina matter)? Absolutely. Immensely. But once more, that’s more about how it would FEEL, rather than about the conclusions I reach when I THINK about candidates and try to choose between them.