Friday, July 10, 2015

1964





It seems so long ago but yet still fresh on everyone's mind, especially in the wake of the massacre at the Emmanuel AME Church.  Ever since the passage of the Civil Rights Act there has been a civil war going on in the South, as states try to deal with the legacy of their "Lost Cause."

South Carolina raised the Dixie flag over the statehouse in April,1961, supposedly in commemoration of the beginning of the Civil War, which it had started by attacking Fort Sumter that month a hundred years before.  The Stars and Bars has flown on the state capitol grounds pretty much ever since, moved from the statehouse to a civil war memorial in 1999 after the NAACP planned a boycott of the state.  It took another 16 years to remove the flag once and for all from statehouse land.

One would think this would be the end of the story, but Republicans seem on a collision course with history, as there has been so much backlash in the Heart of Dixie toward all this anger directed at their time-honored fag that House Republicans got cold feet and are now trying to repeal an amendment that would have removed the display and sale of Dixie flags on federal lands, particularly National Parks.  This was a rather amazing about face, especially given a California representative, Ken Calvert, introduced the bill on the behalf of his Southern comrades.  Apparently, persons could place Dixie flags at parks that commemorate the Confederate dead on specific days, and of course all sorts of Dixie paraphernalia is available at national historic sites like Fort Sumter.

For some Southerners, the Dixie war banner represents heritage, at least that's what its spokespersons have been saying on Fox and other conservative media outlets.  Charlie Daniels even penned an open letter to President Obama, sounding more like the "unmanly spoiled child" he claimed the President to be over this kerfuffle concerning the Stars and Bars.  Needless to say, Charlie probably could stand to read a little history, as the flag in question only became a marker for all these misplaced feelings after the war.

It flew for two short years, preceded by an earlier Confederate States of America flag.  It represents the South not from an antebellum point of view, which many Southerners like to invoke, but rather the war itself.  If this is the "heritage" they are attempting to convey then so be it, but all this tripe about peace and brotherhood needs to be tossed in the garbage pail, because this particular flag represented resistance to Federal forces, and was flown in defiance.

No one is saying that guys like Charlie Daniels can't fly their flag on private property or put it in the back of their pickups, or wear it in any manner they like.  What people are saying is that you cannot fly this flag on public property, state or federal, as it is a deeply divisive symbol and stirs very ugly feelings, as we saw at the Emmanuel AME Church.  Even Jefferson Davis' descendant, Jenny Horne, demanded the South Carolina state legislature to remove this "symbol of hate" from the statehouse property once and for all.

Ms. Horne, like many Republicans, doesn't want to see a repeat of 1964, when recalcitrant legislators refused to budge on Civil Rights and ended up being brandished as the enemy.  This was the case with Barry Goldwater, who defiantly held his ground against the Civil Rights Bill despite most Republican US Congressmen voting for it.  At that time the most recalcitrant element in Congress was the caucus of Dixiecrats, or Southern Democrats, who were resolutely against any such bill, and had stood their ground for nearly 100 years.

In the wake of the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964, these Dixiecrats jumped ship, joining the more recalcitrant elements of the Republican Party who nominated Goldwater for President that year.  After his defeat, they rallied behind George Wallace in 1968 and eventually left the Democratic Party all together, becoming Reagan Republicans after his landslide victory in 1980.  Since then, they have waged a not-so-silent battle against additional civil rights legislation, notably affirmative action and the Voting Rights Act.

The most heinous attempt has been the battle over voting rights, as many Republican states have pushed for picture-ID laws and other means of stifling voting that has been disputed in federal courthouses.  A bitterly contested Supreme Court decision paved the way for a sweeping electoral victory in 2014, when Republicans won the Senate to retake control of Congress.  But, there is generally low turnout in midterm elections anyway, the real question is whether these blatant efforts to stifle voting rights will hold up in a presidential election year.

It doesn't help if half your party is rushing to the support of the Dixie flag, which is long associated with repression, not just voting rights but everything else.  Charlie Daniels grew up as a white boy in the South, so his experience was demonstrably different than that of a black boy, but he seems as blithely unaware of the vast discrepancies as the head quack of the Duck Dynasty family, who a couple years ago voiced pretty much the same sentiments.  What can you expect from two long-haired country boys, but, do you really want this element to represent your party's values?

Dixie may burn bright in the hearts of many Southerners, but it is a very poor political cross to bear.  Nikki Haley knows that all too well and pushed the South Carolina state legislature to pull down the flag as quickly as possible so as not to cause any more damage to a party desperately trying to reach out beyond its white conservative base.  Unfortunately, John Boehner doesn't appear to have the same control over House Republicans, many of whom are answerable to the redneck vote and don't want to be "teabagged" in the upcoming Congressional elections.

The sooner the Republicans can retire this flag the better, as it threatens to undermine their gains in Congress and undercut any Presidential bid for the White House.  It's your call, Republicans!


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