“Constitutional Conservatives” and the Confederacy

In my TPMCafe column this week, I tried to look a little more deeply at the SC Confederate Battle Flag controversy, and particularly at the interesting position of the three leading Republicans–Gov. Nikki Haley and Senators Tim Scott and Lindsey Graham–who are now calling for the flag to come down.

On the one hand, the three pols for different reasons have a common interest in purging the state GOP of its Dixiecrat heritage. On the other hand, Haley and Scott at least, and Haley’s mentors Mark Sanford and Jim DeMint espouse a “constitutional conservative” ideology that has strong anti-centralist and illiberal themes in common with neo-Confederacy. I also mentioned Rand Paul as exemplifying the ambivalent attitude of “constitutional conservatives” on race-related subjects, exhibiting an authentic-seeming interest in making the GOP less of a White Man’s Party but really struggling to regard basic anti-discrimination laws as constitutional.

In any event, while I’m happy these Republicans have changed positions on the formal symbols of the Lost Cause. But let’s don’t had out too many trophies (or in Haley’s case, vice presidential mentions), since (a) a real profile in courage on this would have been taking this position a couple of decades ago (as Democrat Zell Miller and Republican Newt Gingrich did in Georgia in 1993), and (b) there’s more to positive race relations than not being a neo-Confederate.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.