Sheheen’s bold stand is the ONLY way the flag will come down

Vincent Sheheen’s call to remove the Confederate flag from the State House grounds isn’t some here-today, forgotten-tomorrow campaign gimmick.

It’s a game-changer. But only if he somehow manages to win the election.

Sheheen was paraphrased in The State today as saying that this is an issue best addressed by a governor. Sure, he could have introduced a resolution to have it removed every session, only to have it die in committee, as did Cleveland Sellers’ one such attempt as a freshman House member. One or two lawmakers might be willing to stick their necks out, but there aren’t enough others willing to go along with them to make the effort viable. Knowing that, lawmakers see little point in making enemies over a lost cause — they have other things they want to accomplish.

But a governor has the bully pulpit to raise the issue so it can’t be buried or ignored.

That said, not just any governor would have the political leverage to overcome the General Assembly’s profound inertia on the issue. It would take a governor who campaigned on the issue, and got elected. A governor who does that would have political juice, and moral authority, unlike any we’ve seen in our poor state, which has been so sadly short on political courage for the generation that I’ve covered it.

So that raises the issue, does this move hurt or help Sheheen’s chances of getting elected? I truly don’t know. His chances were slim as it stood, barring something to shake up the equation. And I’d rather see it shaken this way — by Sheheen doing something right and good and visionary and courageous — than by some new scandal or other disaster befalling Nikki Haley.

Some think it’s automatic political death for a governor or¬†gubernatorial candidate to embrace this issue. They’re wrong. They point to what happened to David Beasley, who stirred up the Angry White Men of his party with his abortive, half-hearted attempt to take action on the flag. Yeah, a few more neoConfederates may have voted against him. But Beasley had also alienated those of us on the other side of the issue, by so quickly reversing himself and giving up on the issue when he experienced the white backlash. Even to people who, unlike me, didn’t care about the flag, it made him look weak, wishy-washy and ineffective.

(I had only contempt for his surprised, shocked and weak reaction to the angry calls and letters. I, and to an even greater extent my colleague Warren Bolton — flag defenders got especially angry at a black man who dared to say the same things I was saying — had experienced the same phenomenon every single time we published another editorial or column on the subject. That means we had experienced it hundreds of times since I had joined the editorial board and started writing on the subject in 1994. Beasley couldn’t take a few days of it.)

And there were other reasons for Beasley’s loss.

In Sheheen’s case, not only is this likely to galvanize voters who would likely have supported him anyway — motivating them to get out and vote and urge their friends and neighbors to do so — it elevates him as someone willing to lead among many who might have been on the fence. Say, business leaders. If you’ll recall, the state Chamber backed Sheheen last time, and this time (thanks in large part to the rise of some Haley allies on the Chamber’s board), it went for Nicky. Business people can be favorably impressed by someone who is willing to lead, and to lead us in a direction that sweeps away such atavistic nonsense, such unnecessary barriers to progress, as flying that flag.

People who were dispirited by Sheheen’s lackluster, take-no-chances campaign thus far will be willing to step forward and put out some effort to get him elected.

I believe it’s at best a wash, and could be helpful to his chances.

But win or lose, he’s doing the right thing. And it’s been far too long since we’ve seen anyone who would lead us do that.

17 thoughts on “Sheheen’s bold stand is the ONLY way the flag will come down

  1. Doug Ross

    It’s important to point out that those who oppose taking down the flag are dying off year by year and replaced by younger voters who will likely be more in favor of taking it down. Same thing will happen with gay marriage and legalized pot. The demographics will win out on these issues eventually.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Which, of course, is not an argument for or against any of these issues. One shouldn’t support them or oppose them according to how fashionable they are.

      It was always wrong to fly the Confederate flag there. Always was, is now, and always will be. THAT’S why Sheheen is right to take this stand…

      1. Doug Ross

        At one point Jim Crow laws were “right”. Laws are enacted mainly through the political power of older people (50+). Eventually they die, along with their close minded ideas.

      2. Brad Warthen Post author

        No, you’re wrong. Jim Crow laws were ALWAYS wrong.

        The rightness or wrongness of an issue doesn’t change.

        Oh, I suppose the issue itself could change. A technological breakthrough could change the equation. For instance, we have to wonder whether the Framers would have provided such an ambiguously worded right to bear arms (which so many interpret as an ABSOLUTE right) if they had lived in a world with AK-47s and pump-action shotguns. In their day, you got one shot, and then it took a couple of minutes to reload — a limitation that affected the soldier as well as the yeoman farmer.

        Modern weaponry has reshaped the world.

        But on the issues you raise, I don’t see anything that changes the fact that if they were once wrong, they’re still wrong.

          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            That’s right. Sometimes the majority is right; sometimes it’s wrong. That doesn’t change the nature of the issue. Rightness and wrongness are forever.

            There was never a time when it was right to fly that flag there, including between 1861 and 1865. You might say it would have had a certain LOGIC to fly it then (and I admit that one of the arguments I used to get the flag off the dome, an argument taken up by many others, was to say that whatever you thought of it, it was a false, ahistorical statement of sovereignty to fly it over our current seat of government), but really, it didn’t. That is a battle flag. It would have been nonsensical (as well as immoral, and treasonous) to fly it at the State House within the context of the contemporary existence of the Confederacy. The state flag would have made more sense, since secession had at its core an assertion of state sovereignty over the national. I could be wrong about this — I haven’t done the research — but I would have been surprised to see SC secessionists flying even the Confederate national flag (much less a battle flag) over the SC seat of government.

  2. Brad Warthen Post author

    Anybody having trouble viewing that video embedded at the top of the post? It’s not showing up on this browser, and it’s a little glitchy on my iPad.

    In case you’re having trouble, too, here’s a link to it on YouTube.

    The production values aren’t great. There’s too much reverb, and the background music is cheesy and unnecessary. But let’s not let that distract us…

  3. Bryan Caskey

    I’m not trying to hi-jack the thread, but I feel compelled to make this comment:

    /steps on soap-box

    For instance, we have to wonder whether the Framers would have provided such an ambiguously worded right to bear arms (which so many interpret as an ABSOLUTE right) if they had lived in a world with AK-47s and pump-action shotguns.

    For starters, they had shotguns in 1791 (when the Bill of Rights was adopted). The Framers just called them by a different name. As for pump-action shotguns, John Moses Browning invented the pump-action in 1893, and that’s still basically what we use today. Point being, firearm technology is kind of an old thing, y’all. (See also, the development of 1911 pistol in….wait for it….1911.) That’s still the best .45 caliber pistol design out there today, and it’s still used by armed forces all over the world.

    As for automatic rifles, they came slightly later. The BAR was the first really good one, and that was designed (once again) by John Moses Browning in 1917. If there was a Mt. Rushmore of firearm history, John Moses Browning would be in at least two of the four places.

    As an analogy to your comment: Do serious people wonder whether the Framers would have provided such an broad protection of the “press” and “speech” if they had lived in a world of computers, blogs, 24 hour news, the internet, and television?

    Obviously, the answer is no.

    Also, your comment that “so many interpret [the 2A] as an ABSOLUTE right”, seems odd to me. Maybe I don’t talk to the same people you do, but I don’t know of anyone who says the 2A is absolute. We have all sorts of restrictions on it that are not disputed. In fact, we put a rather LARGE restriction on it in the 1930s with the NFA, which was then enlarged in the 1960s. No person argues the 2A is absolute.

    So anyway, your comment grated over me. Accordingly, I felt compelled to respond despite the fact that it’s off-topic.

    We now return you to your regularly scheduled argument of Sheheen vs. the Confederate Flag.

    /steps off soap-box

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      When I say “absolute,” it may not be the best word. I mean that many people see it as a right that is independent of the “well-regulated militia” context. A personal right, without any kind of socially redeemable context for wielding it.

      If I could go back in time and be one of the Framers, with the advantage of hindsight, I would want to say, that’s fine, guys, but let’s fix the punctuation. This makes sense: “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” Putting the comma after “militia” does not. (And according to Wikipedia, the version ratified by Thomas Jefferson in his capacity as secretary of state WAS punctuated that way. So I wonder why we always refer to the screwed-up version.)

      And then I would suggest adding a second and third sentence saying, “And we’re not kidding about either the ‘well-regulated’ or the ‘militia’ part. That is the context within which this right exists.”

      My fellow Framers would object on the grounds that it was redundant, and I’d say, “Trust me, guys: It won’t be clear to everyone in future generations.”

      Of course, it probably wouldn’t eliminate the problem. So never mind. Just send me back so I can tell myself to buy Microsoft, Apple, Intel and Google stock when it was super cheap. And not to buy McClatchy stock at $39. And to exercise my Knight Ridder stock options when it high the all-time high of $80 (a move that would have been worth six figures to me; soon after, the options were worthless).

    2. Brad Warthen Post author

      I shouldn’t have joined you on this digression.

      Folks, can’t we set guns and same-sex unions and dope aside and concentrate on this move by Sheheen on an issue of signature importance to the state of South Carolina?

  4. Andrew G

    Haley will get 55 – 58% of the vote next month. The GOP will again sweep all state offices. Nothing will come of this. Sheheen will go back to the Senate, and then in a year’s time or so, we can decide if we want Mulvaney, Wilson or McMaster as our next Governor, barring a surprise like Haley’s rise.

    While yeah, I think the Confederate flag should come off the monument, it’s not happening anytime soon, and if it does, it won’t be part of an October press conference by a way behind Governor candidate.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Haley may well win by greater margins than last time. This whole year has pointed in that direction. But I object to you saying “Nothing will come of this.” Something will. It may not be enough to change the course of the election — it could even increase Nikki’s margin (although I doubt that), but SOMETHING will.

      1. Doug Ross

        Let’s wait and see how passionately Sheheen sticks with this issue AFTER he loses. That will be the true test. If he’s a true leader in the Senate, he should be able to work some type of bill to the floor to get an up-or-down vote. If he can’t do that, Democrats need to find a new de facto party leader. I don’t expect him to win the vote, but a guy who wants to be Governor should have the juice to at least get it out of committee.

        1. Andrew G

          Yep. Let’s see if in January, if Sheheen probably loses, if he files a bill to remove the flag. I think he should.

          Mostly I’m interested to see if Sheheen will do what you did in your next post, regarding the Neo Confederate guys, and compare and contrast with Haley in an actual debate with her on the stage next to him.

          If he won’t do that, then it’s a stunt. If he will, well, he has an issue going forward.

          1. Barry

            I disagree- a twice defeated candidate wouldn’t be the person to fight that battle – he’d be ignored by the other side – and ignored by plenty on his own side.

            They’d appreciate his fight- but wouldn’t help him- not after he’s lost twice. No one wants to tie themselves to someone like that.

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