If there is any columnist in the country that conservative Southerners should pay no attention to, it’s George Will, whose Big Government, Union First political philosophy of “statecraft as soulcraft” is the exact opposite of everything Thomas Jefferson, John C. Calhoun and Jefferson Davis fought for. Nevertheless, Mr. Will evidently expects to be attended to in the South since he recently bestowed upon all of us the gift of his reflections on the Confederate Flag.
In South Carolina, the flag is embroiled in a controversy that refuses to die. It has been flown over the state Capitol building since 1962, and despite repeated efforts by the NAACP and similar lobbies to remove it, it flies still. Now the NAACP is trying to mobilize a boycott of the whole state to force businessmen to tell politicians to take the flag down. But since the previous governor lost his seat because he paid attention to the flag’s foes, politicians still in office might have learned something.
Not, however, Mr. Will. Disguised as a counsel of moderation, his column is a not very thinly masked insult to the South in general and the state of South Carolina in particular. But apart from the insults, it might be useful for the legislators, before they decide about their flag, to hear what’s wrong with Mr. Will’s solution.
Mr. Will begins his column by accusing South Carolina of having “an aptitude for disgruntlement,” mainly because most of its citizens want to keep the Confederate flag up. It’s curious how gangs of professional gripers like the NAACP can initiate the controversy and demand the state alter one of its basic symbols because it’s offensive to them, and it’s the South Carolinians who are the ones who have an aptitude for disgruntlement.
Mr. Will also observes that while South Carolina “may have suffered more than any other state from the Civil War,” it “deserved to, having done more than any other to ignite it.” Of course, it is probably not true that the state did more to ignite the war than Lincoln himself, and even if it did, it hardly follows that it deserved the kind of devastation that Union armies inflicted.
So much for the insults, however. After Mr. Will has refreshed himself with false statements and tortured logic, he gets down to a proposed “compromise” solution to the flag crisis that he endorses. The flag should be removed from the Capitol and “moved to a Confederate monument not yet built on the capitol grounds and the governor would press to make Martin Luther King’s birthday a state holiday.”
This is compromise already? In return for surrendering on the flag, the pro-flag forces would also get to surrender on the King Holiday. Where exactly is the gain for them? What exactly do the foes of the flag give up, other than outright burning the flag? Moreover, why, if the flag is so offensive a symbol, should the state adopt some new means of honoring it in the unbuilt Confederate monument? If the North had enjoyed the diplomatic skills of George Will in 1861, the Confederate flag would be flying in Washington itself.
But the big gun in Mr. Will’s battery is that a retired state legislator has revealed that the flag was not raised over the Capitol to symbolize resistance to the civil rights movement, as its enemies have claimed, but rather to honor the centennial of the Civil War itself, as the U.S. Congress and the Eisenhower administration had urged be done. Actually, flag supporters have been saying that all along, but most people were so busy yelling about “racism” that they paid no attention.
But, Mr. Will argues, if that’s the real reason the flag was raised, then “the flag can be removed from the capitol without conceding any imputation of racism, and the reason for removal cannot be used to attack other commemorations of the Confederacy.” That’s simply flapdoodle.
The whole reason for the attack on the flag and on other Confederate symbols is that they supposedly do symbolize “racism,” which in this context means merely allegiance to the political and cultural ideals of the Old South (and, for that matter, the Old America). You can take the flag down under whatever pretense you can fabricate, but the pretenses will not disguise the fact that it was taken down because the NAACP demanded it and white, conservative and mainly Republican politicians were too weak to resist it.
Mr. Will’s statecraft is less soulcraft than outright witchcraft, and you don’t have to be a Southerner to see through its false logic, factual errors and phony conservatism. South Carolinians need to pack Mr. Will’s advice away in a carpetbag and do whatever it takes to keep the identity and the heritage their Confederate flag symbolizes.