Writings and observations

First Take

The political response on the Confederate battle flag Monday was remarkable – a collapse of support among Republican political leaders for flying that flag, a recognition that it had become socially toxic. But what of the reaction down below?

The key event was the statement by South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley that she would back a removal of the flag from state grounds, where it long has flown. Almost immediately, a bunch of other Republican officials around the country, from Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker to the speaker of the House in Mississippi (where the Confederate flag is woven into the state flag’s design) called for removal.

It’s a sudden sea change in attitude, as the debate began to be focused on the idea that the flag represents racism, not heritage – the flip of a recent bumper sticker popular in some places. The Washington Post blog suggested, “It was as if some kind of interrogation room spotlight was turned on Monday and Republican officials all over the country suddenly, all at once, saw the flag in a new and different way. Of course, opinions do change. Circumstances can make even the most complicated issues clear and new constituencies matter. But it is also possible that what we witnessed Monday was a great flight to a new position now that it constitutes relatively safe political ground.”

As always, though, the question that really arises here is, what’s going on below?

What about all those southerners who continue to plant some variation of the battle flag on their trucks, windows, or elsewhere? Did their attitudes change so quickly? Probably not, almost certainly not, and if not, what will they think about the wave of officials who they have viewed as in their corner, abruptly decamping? Will they feel betrayal? If so, how do they react?

Only part of this has so far played out. – rs

(photo/Gerry Dincher)

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