Saturday, June 20, 2015

Race for the White House 2016 Volume 25

This past week saw campaign announcements by two Republican Presidential contenders, one uplifting and serious by Jeb Bush, and the other contemptible and silly by Donald Trump, as well as various other campaign appearances by the candidates in both parties.

However this weekend, much of the media attention as well as the hearts of the nation are in Charleston, South Carolina, an historic city in what happens to be a key early primary state. On Wednesday evening, a twisted 21 year old neo-Confederate anti-American pretended to pray with Bible Study participants at an historic black church, and then opened fire and killed nine innocent people. One of them, a pastor, was also a South Carolina State Senator. The killer would be caught in North Carolina the next day and unlike most spree killers, who die in crossfire or commit suicide, will face the legal process and we will learn more about exactly what happened and why. In the meantime, Americans of all backgrounds and political views are thinking about the atrocity and the victims. We have already seen grace beyond belief on behalf of some of the family members who have told the killer that they have forgiven him.

As per usual though in America, politics is also being played by some in the wake of a tragedy. Barack Obama spoke in the White House and indicated a desire for greater gun control, in a move that even some people normally friendly to the Administration thought was misguided and inappropriate. It is hard to see what kind of gun control law, absent the confiscation of all legally purchased guns, could have prevented this occurrence, as long as somebody, whether drug fueled, mentally ill, or otherwise addled, could have such hate in his heart. The emotional and heartbroken response by Governor Nikki Haley seemed far more appropriate.

Some left wing blogs have gone to great lengths to try to analyze the reactions of the Republican Presidential contenders to the killings. These sites and those who frequent them have tried to parse words or take statements out of context to somehow claim that the GOP hopefuls were not sufficiently mournful or were not willing to recognize the obvious that race played a part in what happened. This was a very sad episode in our country's recent history, especially considering how far America has come on race in the past couple generations. To state the obvious, we should be united at times like this, and not play racial politics or pretend that such a monstrous act of racial violence against African-Americans is common among white people in 2015.

However, one issue worth discussing is that of the Confederate flag. The killer, who certainly would have done what he did regardless of what flag is flown in Columbia, apparently honored that flag, as well as those of former apartheid regimes in Africa, while burning and stomping on the Stars and Stripes. The rebel flag also happens to fly at the South Carolina State House, as it has since 1961, when it was put up by a Democrat Governor in an act of defiance against a burgeoning Civil Rights Movement. In recent decades, the flag has become more controversial. A conservative Republican Governor was defeated for reelection in 1998 by a Democrat, after calling for the flag to be taken down. Since that time, Republican politicians, especially those from out of state, have been reluctant to call directly for its removal, as many white South Carolinians do not consider it a racist or historically anti-American symbol.

I have always felt it was though and I have always believed it should not fly in a place of honor, but instead should be set aside with other historical artifacts. In 2008, Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney basically called for the flag to be removed, and he would twice fail to win the early South Carolina GOP primary. Today, he made news by stating on Twitter directly that it should be taken down. I was proud of him for that.

Many are looking to see what this year's corps of GOP candidates will say. I am supporting Jeb Bush, who I felt had a strong and focused campaign kickoff in Miami early in the week. When he was Governor of Florida, he removed the Confederate flag from the state Capitol, amid some criticism. Today, he seems to want South Carolina to do the same, although he is apparently holding back on insisting on it, as many believe it is a matter that should directly be decided by the proper South Carolina political process.

This will remain a controversial issue, and perhaps will be a part of the 2016 campaign. The only South Carolina candidate in the race is Lindsey Graham, a man who I believe is of strong moral character. However, I think it is wrong for him to state that the way the flag is displayed in South Carolina, alongside other monuments, including those that honor African-Americans, "works." There is just no reason for that flag to be up. While I completely understand that the vast majority of those who want it to remain do not do so with racist intent, they have to be willing to look at how it appears to the black population of the state. I only know how I feel whenever I see a swastika. As I have always believed, white people need to let that flag go. Some may claim to be wounded by what they would claim is an unnecessary denial of their heritage. However, that wound should be considered infinitesimal compared to the pain being experienced by African-Americans in the state, especially the families and friends directly affected.

The Civil War is long over and the right side won, and we are all better for it. Reconstruction was hard but somehow America managed. South Carolina is a great state, with great people, and great conservative values. They have after all produced and overwhelmingly elected an Asian-American Republican Governor and an African-American Republican Senator. We have all come a long way as a country. The Confederate flag was not present at the South Carolina State House when America won two World Wars and should not be present today.

As the shock and then sadness of this week's events turn to anger, I just ask myself how anybody can justify the Confederate flag being flown on government property. I hate to see tragedies politicized but if what happens can help bring about an overdue action to help the healing process, then it is the right thing to do.


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