I think that avoidance is America’s national pastime, especially when it comes to dealing with subjects that make us uncomfortable. It’s the only explanation as to why presidential candidate Mike Huckabee’s blatant appeal to racism has been ignored by the media.
I find this fascinating because the media never hesitates to pounce on alleged racism that generally consists of nothing more than foot-in-mouth disease. Witness the focus on Imus’ ill-chosen remarks and the more recent hoopla about the comments by the sports commentator pairing lynching and Tiger Woods in the same sentence. Or my personal favorite, Larry King’s astonishment that black people were just like everyone else and not consumed with a desire to shout motherf**** while drinking iced tea in a restaurant. All of these remarks were thoughtless, but hardly a major indicator of racist thought or action, and they certainly had no ability to affect the lives of black people in any meaningful way. Even the more vicious comments such as those spouted by Dog the Bounty Hunter are nothing more than words. What do you really expect from a man who calls himself Dog?
However, Huckabee is a horse of a different color. First, he is a former state governor, and, oh yeah, he’s running for president of this country. So what did Huckabee say?
“You don’t like people from outside the state telling you what to do with your flag,” he told an audience in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. “In fact, if somebody came to Arkansas and told us what to do with our flag, we’d tell them where to put the pole.”
When my friend, SG, sent me this illustrious quote from Huck, my immediate response was, “Funny, I don’t recall anyone complaining about South Carolina’s state flag. It has a lovely plametto tree on it.”
I was being facetious. The flag that Huckabee references is the Confederate battle flag, first hoisted above the South Carolina state capital building in 1962, as an in-your-face, screw the civil rights movement act of defiance. That flag has never been the state flag of South Carolina, and was removed from its display over the state capital, by a majority vote of both South Carolina legislative houses in 2000. (Progress moves more slowly than molasses going uphill in the winter time.) It is currently flown over South Carolina’s memorial to its fallen soldiers in the Civil War.
It’s not Huckabee’s evident affection for the Confederate flag that disturbs me; it’s the rhetoric that he uses to assert that affection. Huckabee’s word’s echo those of the most virulent of the segregationists, including one of Huckabee’s predecessors as governor of Arkansas, Orval Flaubus. In 1957, Gov. Flaubus called out the Arkansas National Guard to prevent the implementation of Brown v. the Topeka Board of Education, defying the Supreme Court and the federal government to prevent black children from attending school with white children in Arkansas. One of Flaubus’ repeated references was to speak disparangingly of the “outside agitators” that had come in to stir up Arkansas’ Negroes. The feds sent in a group of mostly “outsiders,” the 101st Airborne Division, to escort the young black students who integrated the public school system in Little Rock, Arkansas.
I also am disgusted that a presidential candidate would express approval for a symbol of an effort to destroy this country. The goal of the Confederacy was secession, to destroy the Union and set up its own government. The flag that South Carolina flew proudly over the state capital from 1962 to 2000 was not just an affront to its black citizens, but to all Americans. The Confederacy tried to destroy the bonafide and duly elected government of this country; I think that they call this treason. The Confederacy sought the help of foreign governments to destroy the union; refused to obey the laws of this country; and tried to overthrow its government by the use of force. I definitely call that treason seasoned with terrorism. This adulation of the Confederate flags (yes, there was more than one), is misplaced at best, and a repugnant desire to recapture a glory that never was, at its worst.
So how come the media has given Huckabee a pass? Maybe it’s because we, as a country, are incapable of having an intelligent and reasoned discussion of race. Maybe it’s because most of us think that history means something that happened in the 1970s, and we’re not too clear on events preceding that era. Maybe it’s because we take a perverse pride in our anti-intellectualism. Don’t believe me? Ask any group of people to name someone living or dead that they admire, that they aspire to emulate, and see how many philosphers or scientists show up on the list in comparison to athletes and movie stars. I get it that Huckabee said what he thought would secure votes for him in South Carolina, what I don’t get it is why no one called him on it.
Interestingly, the flag that South Carolina flew over the state capital was not the official flag of the Confederacy, known as the Stars and Bars. It was a latter version, known as the Confederate Battle Flag, the one that has become associated with a nostalgia for the good old days and a fond wish that the south will rise again. The battle flag is associated with a viciousness on the part of the Confederacy that was demonstrated in the commission of desperate atrocities against Union prisoners as certain defeat of the Confederacy loomed on the horizon. If you don’t know the difference in the flags, I’ve provided a visual aid at the end of this post. The battle flag is to the left; the stars and bars is to the right.