by Dr. Mark Denison–
Last week, 21-year-old Dylann Roof gunned down nine Christ-worshipers in their church in Charleston, South Carolina. This week, everyone from the Charleston mayor, both South Carolina senators, and their governor called for the removal of the Confederate flag from state grounds. While Hillary Clinton reminded voters that she stood for taking down the flag “for years,” Republican presidential candidates stampeded to the nearest microphone to announce their personal outrage over the flag. Within days, state governments in Mississippi, Kentucky, and Arkansas joined the outcry. A week ago, national polls showed an even 50-50 split in opinion on whether the Confederate flag should still be flown on public grounds. Today, it’s easier to find a supporter of the bubonic plague than a supporter of the Confederate flag.
Of course, Dylann Roof has been identified as a bigot, racist, and lover of that flag. He had one on his car. He was not shy about his pro-Confederate, anti-black opinions. And so, when the mass murderer was captured and his bigoted character was exposed, all that is associated with him, including the Confederate flag, is free game.
I am an equal opportunity critic. On the Republican side, until last week, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley had never taken a stand against the flying of the flag in her state, a tradition which began in 1962. But within days of the Charleston shooting, she came out against the flag. “This is not political. I am doing this for personal reasons,” she said. “It came down to one simple thing. I couldn’t look at my son or daughter in the face and justify that flag flying anymore.” Politics were not an issue, she said. The flag flew over the Capitol for 53 years. But it only took 53 hours to take it down. Sure, there was a national outcry and the “keep it up” position had become untenable politically. But that was not a factor in her decision.
On the other side, Hillary Clinton has reminded us that she has spoken against the flying of this flag “for years.” She did, in fact, speak out for its removal in 2007, while running for the Democratic nomination for President. But in 1987, she offered no resistance when her husband, then Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton, signed Act 116, which stated, “The blue star above the word ‘ARKANSAS’ is to commemorate the Confederate States of America.” Mrs. Clinton, to this day, has not commented on that act, nor has she ever offered resistance to it.
Paul Begala, co-chair of a pro-Hillary Clinton Super PAC, explained the change. “Times change. Circumstances change,” he said. Times have suddenly changed for the likes of Jeb Bush, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, and Mike Huckabee, as well. One pro-Confederate racist became the personification of evil last week. And though there is zero evidence that a contributing factor was the Confederate flag, times have now “changed.” Similarly, “times have changed,” favoring more gun control, in light of the shooting. Never mind, Mr. Roof violated two existing gun laws that horrific night. It’s hard to imagine that one more law would have changed the evil that filled his heart.
So where does that leave us? Sadly, I must disagree with Mr. Begala. Times have not changed. Political expediency is what it has always been – the single most significant driving force in the forming of positions by politicians from both parties. The Civil War ended 150 years ago. Seven southern states have continued to display the Confederate symbol prominently for decades. Taking the flag down or leaving it up will have no bearing on what a crazed man like Dylann Roof does in the future. If anyone truly thought the flag had that kind of effect, it wouldn’t have been put up in the first place. The political leaders are right to bring down the flag. But it would be nice to hear one of them say, “We should have done this decades ago. I’ve been as guilty as anyone. While the flag represents southern heritage to millions who proudly recognize their ancestors, it is a symbol that brings too much pain to be sanctioned on government grounds.” The sad fact is that our elected leaders have not come to their positions for any reason but one. Mr. Begala said, “Times have changed.” The only thing that changed was that the Confederate flag’s approval rating fell under 50 percent. So, the next day, it had to go. Political leaders do and say what benefits them at the time. So no, Mr. Begala, you are wrong. Times have not changed