Kicking a man while he’s down.

I’ve never been sure of where I stand on the matter of the Confederate battle flag. On the one hand, I genuinely believe that it’s an important element of southern heritage that ought not be banned or restricted. If a kid wants to wear a Confederate battle flag on a t-shirt in school, that seems OK by me. On the other hand, there’s no denying that it can be seen as a symbol of hate by many groups, blacks not the least of them. I think that many of these people misunderstand the causes of the Civil War (or the War of Northern Aggression, or the Recent Unpleasantness, if that’s your persuasion), and I don’t think that people have a right to not be offended, but I still discourage its display. Hindus, Buddhists and Jains alike are free to display the swastika, and would be right to do so, but what with the Nazis, it might not be a hot idea.

All of that said, I must confess more than a little sympathy for Sen. George Allen in this little dust-up:

State leaders of the Sons of Confederate Veterans have scheduled a news conference Thursday to criticize Allen’s recent acknowledgment that the Confederate flag can be seen as a symbol of hate.

“George Allen was a good friend of ours and we don’t appreciate him turning on us to get out of political trouble,” said Frank Earnest of Virginia Beach, commander of the Virginia division of the SCV. “He’s degraded us, the flag and our heritage.”

At issue is Allen’s apology to an association of black educators earlier this month for failing to grasp how his embrace of Southern symbols, including the confederate flag, could be offensive to minorities.

I'd Have Picked My Own Cotton
Bumper sticker reads: “If I Had Known This I Would Have Picked My Own Cotton.” Spotted in Martinsville in July.

I can’t imagine what the SCV is thinking with this. They are — and I mean this with no malice — not going to find any Senator friendlier to their interests than Sen. Allen. This is the sort of fratricide that’s expected from Democrats, not from Republicans, if I may assume that a large percentage of the SCV is Republican.

But the SCV isn’t just wrong strategically — they’re flat-out wrong in their failure to acknowledge that the rebel flag can be a symbol of hate. Of course it can. The fact that people get so upset about it leaves no question that’s so. That hate may well generally be inferred, rather than implied, but it’s there just the same.

Good for Allen for being honest about the Confederate battle flag. He hasn’t done much right on the topics of race, religion, or ethnicity, but he got this one right.

Published by Waldo Jaquith

Waldo Jaquith (JAKE-with) is an open government technologist who lives near Char­lottes­­ville, VA, USA. more »

36 replies on “Kicking a man while he’s down.”

  1. I am quite clear on where I stand on the battleflag: it has been co-opted by hate groups and other Confederate flags exist to be used by the SCV and other heritage groups. At one race relations conference I attended several years ago in Richmond, we had a speaker from the SCV. I asked him why not use another flag? The man said that so many Confederate sons died defending the battle flag.

    They are hanging on to this flag long after it has taken on another meaning. While they may not see hate associated with it, a whole lot of people do. And for that reason alone, I think they should abandon its use.

  2. I have to wonder if these people know full well what they’re doing, which is giving press to how Allen has come to this “new awareness.” It seems to work in Allen’s favor that they are having this press conference. It sure smells fishy to me.

  3. Confederate sons died under many other battle flags as well, lest they forget.

    However, I do love watching Allen get squeezed by the radicals to his right and by, well, the reasonable people to his left.

  4. Waldo:
    It is good that you have that opinion of the “Southern Cross”. It has been “co-opted” as a symbol, but that has also been an effort by left of center groups who seek to crush all symbols of the South also…

    Whatever happened to Freedom of Expression in this country? I view the Southern Cross as for what it was the actual battle flag carried into battle by individual units.. Typically the First National, which is the Stars and Bars was of course carried by the Army Group itself to symbolize the Confederate Government…

    Whatever… This campaign is in the sewer, and I guess some kind of test for future political campaigns… ever forward the army of PC!!! (Not!)

  5. It is good to see that you are consistent on your stand with free speech. And I must admit, I feel conflicted when I see the Confederate flag as well. However, I do not see it so much a symbol of hate as I do one of reckless rebellion. Correct me if I am wrong, but I am fairly certain that secession is unconstitutional.

    Just my 2¢.

  6. Damn. That’s so funny it’s actually a downer. I mean, it’s sad when I feel bad for Allen. Poor guy.

    If I were him I’d make my next appearence with duct tape over my mouth. His only change now is warm ’em up with a luagh at himself and how lousy a job he’s done handling things.

  7. “On the one hand, I genuinely believe that it’s an important element of southern heritage that ought not be banned or restricted.”

    I’m in awe of your magnanimity.

  8. By way of Tancredo Watch, a Denver blog:

    Link AHHE was not in fact the sole organizer of the event. While neither the Rocky (Mountain News) nor the (Denver) Post have picked up on this, according to Rightwingnews – which spoke with AHHE – the event was also sponsored by a second group called “Sons of Confederate Veterans.” Now, Tancredo obviously has an interest in keeping that little tidbit under wraps as much as possible..~snip~

    …No one has so far disputed the SPLC report that some audience members were wearing Confederate uniforms, and were singing Dixie at the conclusion of Tancredo’s apparently rousing speech. In fact, Tancredo now admits that he himself was singing along to “Dixie” because the “spirit” moved him. Holy crap.

    and this gem from the same post:

    Rightwingnews excuses the involvement of the Sons of Confederate Veterans by claiming that they’re essentially a nonpolitical, non-activist group. Which begs the question: Then why the heck would they be sponsoring a speech by a highly polarizing politician like Tancredo in the first place? C’mon, don’t insult our intelligence! The fact is:

    People who glorify the Confederacy also tend to glorify Tancredo for what he says, and Tancredo is apparently quite willing to show up at their events! (If he’s also rather stupid for doing so.)

    As for the prominent Confederate trappings that no one so far has disputed were present at the speech, the official story line is now that the speech was given in a rented room at a museum which just happened to display Confederate relics in that particular room. In other words, it was just an unfortunate coincidence that the Confederate flag, etc. were on display while Tancredo spoke. However, as noted yesterday, a quick trip to the museum’s website shows photos of the museum’s rooms for rent – none of which show any Confederate memorabilia.

    From another post:

    PS: The Denver Post has finally confirmed Tancredo Watch’s suspicions that Tancredo’s organization lied when it claimed that the Confederate paraphernalia in the South Carolina room where Tancredo spoke just ‘happened to’ be there because the room was inside a history museum. In fact, the Confederate-battle-flag-draped podium, portrait of Robert E. Lee, etc. etc. were all brought in especially for Tancredo’s appearance by his rabid supporters.

    One of Tancredo’s prime supporters was previously famous for having opposed a statue honoring Arthur Ashe. After all, Ashe was black. We can’t have that.

    Part of the reason I bring this up is the obvious hypocrisy of Tancredo, but also his close personal friendship with Virgil Goode. Maybe Virgil will get wind of Allen’s change of heart and decry Tancredo’s involvement, as three prominent ministers in Southside Virginia have done. Lip service to the rabid anti-immigrationists seems to be a common trait to both Tancredo and Goode. After all, they voted for a fence/wall, but never voted to fund it. Yeah, that’s lip service all right.

  9. If the Confederacy were a modern corporation it would have changed its name and logo a long time ago, much like the maligned Philip MorrisAltria. If the rebel flag unsettles people it is probably because opportunistic southern politicians wrapped the emblem around Jim Crow legislation and affixed it to state flags when fighting the civil rights movement of the 60s. In another fifty years we may be able to remember the flag’s primary meaning once that recent unpleasantness is settled.

    I believe much of the conflict over the flag is between people who see the flag in the context of the 60s, but for one group their minds are in the 19th century while the other is in the 20th.

  10. Spanky,

    You ask what happened to Freedom of Expression. It’s here. No one involved in this story or in this blog is making the case that the flag should be illegal. However, do you support the amendment against flag burning? The confederate battle flag is offensive to many people, just as burning an American flag is to many of us. They’re both political expressions, and yet I see a double-standard coming from people who support the flag burning amendment and yet support (in my mind rightly so) the ability for people to display this confederate flag.

    As for the “army of PC” apparently being the driving force behind this, would you feel the same way about a Buddist candidate flying the a flag with a swastika? Both these symbols have been used for very different purposes at times, and while it’s quite unfortunate that the Nazi Party came along and co-opted that symbol, and that Southern states battling the civil rights movement co-opted the confederate battle flag, and the effect is the same: a symbol for something that people took pride in was ruined. It doesn’t mean that either of these should be made illegal, but the characterization that it’s the work of “the army of PC” is ridiculous. They’re both symbols that have been soiled with campaigns of mass murder and racism (obviously on very different scales).

    Honestly, I think Allen probably flew the flag because of both his interest in the confederacy and resentment for the civil rights movement, but that’s not simply because he flew the flag. It has a lot more to do with what I’ve learned of Sen. Allen over the years that he’s been involved in politics in this state.

  11. No one involved in this story or in this blog is making the case that the flag should be illegal. However, do you support the amendment against flag burning? The confederate battle flag is offensive to many people, just as burning an American flag is to many of us. They’re both political expressions, and yet I see a double-standard coming from people who support the flag burning amendment and yet support (in my mind rightly so) the ability for people to display this confederate flag.

    That’s a fascinating juxtaposition. I intend to use it routinely from here on out. :)

  12. “I think that many of these people misunderstand the causes of the Civil War”

    Waldo, the Civil War was about slavery.

    I know it’s been mainstream for a while to attribute it to other causes, but every single one of those is about slavery, even more general efforts to prevent democratization and maintain an exclusize and stratified power structure were efforts by slaveholders to keep power in the hands of slaveholders — just look at Virginia’s 1830 Constitutional Convention.

    I’m not saying that those who fly the rebel flag today are racists, but it is part of a deeply troubling pattern among southerners to attribute racial iniquities to anything other than race. I think the flag is protected speech and I think it should be, but you can honor your heritage without ignoring the mistakes of your forefathers.

    The Confederate flag is a symbol of hate. It was used as such during reconstruction, as well as the civil rights era, and everyone who flies it without a visible display of something to the effect of “heritage not hate” gives cover to the real racists within our midst, and sends a big “F you” to every black person in view.

  13. Simpsons episode 3F20, “Much Apu About Nothing”:”

    Proctor: All right, here’s your last question. What was the cause of the Civil War?
    Apu: Actually, there were numerous causes. Aside from the obvious schism between the abolitionists and the anti-abolitionists, there were economic factors, both domestic and inter–
    Proctor: Wait, wait… just say slavery.
    Apu: Slavery it is, sir.

  14. Michael, there’s some pretty solid evidence out there that the start of the American Civil War was about Protectionism and Nationalism versus Free Trade and the supremacy of State’s Sovereignty. Certainly there was an undercurrent of Slavery as a strong issue behind the State’s Rights arguments; but the Northern states were conflicted about abolition and simply sending the slaves back to Africa.

    It was not until the Gettysburg Address that Lincoln boldly and shrewdly re-defined the American Civil War in a public manner as being about Slavery and Emancipation/Abolition.

    Our founding fathers, and the confederate and union statesment all were human beings and as such they all had admirable aspects and also aspects that we’d be ashamed of today. Lincoln ran on a policy of abolition and deportation of the slaves with African ancestry (the deportation part is considered shameful today), and violated the rights of the State Legislature of Maryland by preventing them from voting to succeed (a flagrant abuse of executive power, even at the time); but he is also honored by realizing that the North needed Europe to stop actively supporting the South, and needed to solidify the support of Emancipators in the North to win the war. He learned; and that is perhaps the finest quality of Lincoln as an example for our leaders of today.

    Likewise, there are many, many admirable qualities to most of the leaders of the Confederacy and even slave-owning founders of the United States; as well as reasons to be ashamed of those same people.

    Don’t get me wrong, I am glad the Emancipation and Abolition won the war; but I lament the overwhelming Nationalism that came from it too. The North was also guilty of a different kind of slavery, importing cheap labor from different parts of the world in successive waves over and over again as each wave of immigrants figured out their basic human rights. Certainly not as reprehensible as the slavery of the plantation (as it left the hope for success and freedom alive), but life for a fresh-off-the-boat immigrant was pretty hard.

    The American Civil War redefined American Democracy. It was no longer common knowledge that our founding fathers drew much of their inspiration from the first democracy on the continent, that of the Iroquis. It solidified the white supremacy myth in ways far more subtle than the outright slavery of the South before the war, and caused the gradual rise of American Nationalism and pseudo-Patriotism we still see today. America before all others was not a common ideal until the conclusion of the Civil War. It’s scary today, now that our nation has the power to actually maintain that cultural arrogance.

    We should celebrate our cultural heritage as a melting pot, but include the powerful and amazing contributions of all our founders, European, Native American, African, and Asian. Our democracy is an amazing blend of European realism and science, classical Greek philosophy, and Native American pragmatic process and individual freedom. It was built on the backs of Native Americans, Africans, Asians, Europeans, and later Latin Americans. In theory we should have the most diverse and culturally accepting country on the planet, and we can with a little effort.

    Embracing our cultural difference with respect is the key. Wearing a conferate flag as a t-shirt is certainly within one’s rights – but it does not make the action advisable nor respectful of others. Nuanced positions on our political “heroes” are difficult to do in the sound-byte era, but we must strive to point out both the good and the bad in our cultural and political “heroes” of the past; so we can all learn how to live together better today. Andrew Jackson is credited with moving populism into our democracy, and that is wonderful – but we must also remember he was a bigot and helped wipe out certain tribes of Native Americans. We should remember him for both deeds; and try to learn from both his success and his failures.

    Sorry this went so long…

  15. Two interesting “race” developments. First, earlier this week, Bill White, Roanoke’s own white power racist hate monger comes out in support of Webb and against Allen due to Allen’s “jewishness.” Then, the SCV comes out against Allen for being too openminded and sensitive. Even more interesting when you consider the SCV announcement is being pushed by one of its leaders who goes by the name of Mudcat. Virginia is now officially on its head.

  16. The Civil War was about fighting, and dying. And real people with names and families fought and died. People that had little use for any of the social and political rhetoric but plenty of animosity against invasion, occupation, and subjugation. War is essentially personal for the veteran, and I assume for the SCV, who honor the sacrifices of their kin. How California George Allen ever got into this is beyond me.

  17. The Civil War was certainly about slavery, but to say it was just about slavery is plainly wrong. More than anything, the war was fought to settle a single issue, namely, which one of these phrases is correct:

    The United States of America are….


    The United States of America is

    The latter proved to be the winner, and slavery was abolished as a result. Let’s not forget that Lincoln didn’t give a damn about freeing the slaves until he had the political clout to pull it off. It was all about preserving the Union, at whatever cost.

    Ben C. makes a great point about the value of free speech. America enjoys the greatest freedom of expression in the world, primarily because we ban virtually nothing. We counter “bad” speech — like flying a Confederate battle flag, or burning the U.S. flag — with more speech. Other countries don’t do that. Germany has probably the second most liberal freedom of expression in the world, yet it is illegal there to buy or to own Mein Kampf, or to print almost anything that might be construed as anti-Semitic.

    Whether the battle flag is a symbol of hate depends on who’s displaying it and in what context. Obviously, most of the time you’re going to see it nowadays will be on bumper stickers like the one on this blog entry. And that’s pretty foul. But I’ve also seen it many times such that it was genuinely a symbol of history and Southern heritage. Personally, I’d never display it anywhere, and the swastika comparison was a very good example as to why. But anyone who has been to a Buddhist temple has probably seen a swastika, and realized that it wasn’t meant as a Nazi symbol. It’s all about the context.

  18. Even more interesting when you consider the SCV announcement is being pushed by one of its leaders who goes by the name of Mudcat.

    Ha! This is all starting to make a little more sense now. :)

  19. Even more interesting when you consider the SCV announcement is being pushed by one of its leaders who goes by the name of Mudcat.

    Ha! This is all starting to make a little more sense now. :)

    Only if it’s true. Mudcat is a known member, and could have pushed for this, but is there any evidence that he’s a “leader”? It could be true, but it could equally be true that this is another in the series of fact-free assertion from the Allen campaign to try to blame their problems on their accusers. Without even so much as a link, I’m not inclined to assume either one is the truth.

    Personally, I’ve been expecting this kind of thing ever since Allen’s stronger apology. He put himself between a rock and a hard place with the macaca incident — he could either try to avoid apologizing for present and past insensitivity, and risk alienating a lot of new voters he needs, or make a real apology, and risk alienating some of his past supporters. (Those were just risks, of course, there was also the possibility with either course that the people in question would let it blow over.) I think that’s part of the reason his apologies have been all over the map.

  20. Scott,

    Good points, all, and well said. I hope we can at least agree that slavery was the most tangible symptom of a pervasive and problematic disease.

    The south was far less democratic than the north; it was run entirely by the rich, white, slave-holding men. They all had similar interests, and had much to lose or gain by the government’s actions, so naturally they insisted that other white, slave-holding men make the decisions.

    If we can agree that the civil war was because the men who ran the north and the men who ran the south had very different opinions on how the union should be run (and I don’t think that’s a point of contention), and that the men who ran the south were in very large part dependent upon slave labor for their wealth and power, then we don’t need to split hairs any further. You say potato; I say potato.

  21. Allen made the remarks about the Confederate flag in an apology earlier this month. How come no one seems to notice he states, “that this symbol, which for me simply stood for rebelling against authority, and for others stood for regional pride in heritage, is, for black Americans, an emblem of hate and terror, an emblem of intolerance and intimidation.

    He only recognizes this now? He didn’t understand this when he was a delegate, U.S. Rep, or governor? Obviously he’s only making this statement now to cover his own ass or else he’d be considered mildly retarded not to catch on sooner.

    As a Northern transplant, for the life of me, I cannot understand the Confederate flag and how (especially) southern, white males cling to it. Is there no other symbol for southern heritage?

  22. Umm, I though the civil war was about states leaving the union?

    and those evil south carolinans firing on ft. sumter?

    virginia was more neutral or pro-union, until that happened.

    As a D, I am tired of Dems attacking the confederate flag.

  23. Waldo and Vivian,

    There is no possible way to commerate and revere the confederacy without concomitantly honoring white supremacy. All of the flags created in that era are symbols of the confederacy. The confederacy was founded to forstall the possibility of freedom and self government for the enslaved and to elevate the slavemasters over them and their poorer white kith and kin.

  24. The confederacy was founded to forstall the possibility of freedom and self government for the enslaved and to elevate the slavemasters over them and their poorer white kith and kin.

    Ironically, supporters of the Confederacy would have told you that the Union was the nation premised on preventing freedom and self government on the part of its member states.

  25. Thats wrong, very wrong. I get annoyed anytime the stars and stripes is displayed wrong. Pet peeve. As I remarked to a puffy conservative who accused me of de-faming the Battle Flag; If people are really worried about the Battle Flag’s reputation they should work to make certain it doesn’t get wrapped around White supremacists or pinned on the lapel of troubled surfer dudes.

  26. Ben C:
    I have commented here before on my conflicted feelings about the American Flag Burning Amendment (prohibition). My view is that burning a flag is the most offensive act one can carry out politically. I never liked the Soviet Union, Iran, Libya or Iraq, or even france (depending on time frame), but I never would run out and purchase their flag to burn it.

    I find burning a national symbol such as a flag, borders on an act of War. Now having said that, if Hugo Chavez held a press conference and burned our flag as part of it… That is an act of War.

    Individual Venezuaelan’s (think I spelled that right) commiting the same act, is just a bunch of uneducated rabble insulting our country.

    Individual Americans burning our own flag… It just disgusts me to see someone do such a thing. The flag burning amendment should be amended to waive the rights of the violator (flag burner) to charging another American with simple assault upon that person. I think that would be an interesting compromise.

    How about that, you can burn the flag, but lose all legal recourse against the American Citizen who beats your ass (superficial injuries) because you committed the act?

    I know this can get into “inciting riot”, and stuff like that, but how do you deal with it? It is either right or wrong to burn the flag.

  27. I know this can get into “inciting riot”, and stuff like that, but how do you deal with it? It is either right or wrong to burn the flag.

    But the fact that something is morally wrong does not mean that it should be illegal. There are hundreds of wrongs that one can commit that should be outside of the purview of government.

    The socially conservative view of government believes that it should regulate even our most private acts. The fiscally conservative view of government believes that government should have nothing to do with such things. It’s this conflict that makes the thirty-year marriage of convenience between these two groups untenable, and that’s the rift that will ultimately split the Republican Party.

  28. I’d always heard that the battle flag as a “heritage” item didn’t get kicked off until the Civil Rights movement. Southern states started flying the stars and bars over their capital buidlings as a statement of opposition to integration and voting rights. Given that context, I have a hard time listening to any talk about southern heritage. When that heritage is hate, whats to be so proud about?

  29. I’m sure that I would probably fall into the Conservative camp, although some of my moderate views would cause many Conservatives to disown me. That being said, I guess I’ll put in my 2 cents worth. In regards to the Confederate battle flag, I’m actually surprised that more “right-wingers” haven’t considered the ramifications of an open display of Confederate memorabilia. Should a Conservative of the Falwell-Robertson mold give a free pass for such a display?
    History was one of my two majors in college, so I understand a good bit about the various ideas on the origin of the Civil War; I can find myself easily moved when I read writings by Lee and other fine Southern military leaders. Yet, I also believe that a “right-winger” should be deferential to others in regards to a symbol that does cause a portion of Americans some angst.
    I would think that a politician, if anybody, be making every effort to be a bridge-builder between cultures and races, and would be careful in the way he/she displays such mementos.

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