Flag Battle Not Quite Over in SC

As the New York Times‘ Alan Blinder reminded us yesterday, it may seem like the battle over the Confederate Battle Flag flying on the Statehouse grounds in Columbia, SC, is over, but it’s not:

The South Carolina legislature is expected on Monday to take up the fate of the Confederate battle flag that flies on the State House grounds, responding to demands that it be removed after the June 17 massacre of nine people at Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston.

The State Senate, encouraged by Gov. Nikki R. Haley and many other elected officials, is scheduled to consider a bipartisan proposal to move the battle flag, long viewed by African-Americans as a defiant tribute to South Carolina’s segregationist past, to the state’s Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum in Columbia.

If the Senate approves the measure, the debate will shift to the House; Republicans control both chambers. A survey of lawmakers by The Associated Press, the South Carolina Press Association, and The Post and Courier, a newspaper in Charleston, found last month that there was most likely enough support in the legislature to approve the plan.

Still, observers expect an emotional debate, particularly in the House. And in the Senate — where the church’s slain pastor, the Rev. Clementa C. Pinckney, served — one member, Lee Bright, has announced plans to seek a statewide referendum.

“Let the people decide” is always a nice dodge of responsibility on issues like this one, of course. It is very unlikely to prevail this time around. But if resistance to the change is stronger than expected, let’s don’t hand out any profile in courage awards to Nikki Haley and other South Carolina Republicans who have read the handwriting on the wall, and let’s don’t buy the revisionist argument that the GOP has no responsibility for the flag flying as long as it did. Republicans have controlled both Houses of the South Carolina legislature since 2000, and have had trifecta control of state government continuously since 2002. They saw that flag flying on the Statehouse grounds every single day. If it shocked their consciences, they could have done something about it.

UPDATE: So this afternoon the South Carolina Senate voted to take down the flag flying from the Statehouse grounds by a 37-3 margin. Perhaps things won’t be as close in the House as some projected.

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.