South Carolina’s Governor Nikki Haley may just have saved her party’s eventual presidential nominee untold embarrassment by her actions in the last week concerning the Confederate battle flag. A mild defender of the flag in the past, she came out in favor of taking it down, and she assembled a bipartisan group to stand behind her when she made the announcement. Yesterday, both houses of the state legislature voted overwhelmingly to debate such a move, and one expects some opposition to the idea before the flag is removed. Thus, any Republican running for president will be able to say that the matter is settled rather than having to pick a side.
That the Confederate battle flag is even an issue in 2015 should be a source of embarrassment to decent human beings. The idea that the flag represents Southern heritage and culture is, of course, wishful thinking at best and vicious deceit in most cases. The flag in question was carried by men who were fighting to protect the institution of slavery. The various acts of secession passed after the election of President Lincoln by the states that would form the Confederacy all cite slavery as their basis for betraying the Union. The Confederacy lasted four years, and in that time, one is expected to believe this flag became a symbol of all things Southern? By that logic the swastika, the emblem of Germany for 12 years, should be flying over Berlin City Hall — an idea that sickens all but a few Germans today.
After the murders at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, the GOP presidential candidates bobbed and weaved as best they could to avoid answering the question of what should be done about the flag. Many said it was a state issue, others said nothing. It was going to be a “gotcha” question in the primary elections and in the general.
Governor Haley, a woman whose parents came to America from India, ended that threat. She tried to calm those who are emotionally invested in the banner of treason, “There will be some in our state who see this as a sad moment. I respect that. But know this: For good and for bad, whether it is on the statehouse grounds or in a museum, the flag will always be a part of the soil of South Carolina.”
Despite that, she will come under fire from die-hard Johnny Reb wannabes. She has been lambasted as a Republican in Name Only (RINO) on Twitter, and it is certain that she will take heat for her actions among those who can’t quite believe that there’s anything wrong with the way things are right now. She is serving her second term that doesn’t end until 2019. She can afford some hostility that is likely to die down over time (although not all of it will).
Meanwhile, she has provided many presidential candidates with a solution to their problem. For instance, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. He was able to reverse himself on the flag issue without it looking like a complete climb-down. In fact, it allowed him to urge others to join the effort to change things. Under the Constitution, he cannot select her to be his vice-presidential running mate because they come from the same state, but others with their eyes on the White House are not so constrained. The party could do worse (and in the cases of Sarah Palin and Dan Quayle it has).
For those who like their ideology pure, this is a rather hollow sounding move. It should not have taken a massacre in a church to get Governor Haley off the dime, they say with no small justification. Nor will the removal of a bit of cloth change the hatred in the hearts of many. Equality in America remains an ideal not a reality, and it may take several generations more to achieve because Americans have been slow and lazy to address inequality.
Nevertheless, Governor Haley has done her party, her state and her nation a service by removing the splinter of the battle flag from the paw of racial relations. One should be grateful for the victories no matter how small.