Charleston, Big Government, and the Confederate Flag

New Jersey Governor and presidential candidate Chris Christie, hewing close to his party’s line on the Charleston atrocity:

“Laws can’t change this. Only the goodwill and the love of the American people can let those folks know that that act was unacceptable, disgraceful, and that we need to do more to show that we love each other.”

From Rand Paul:
“There’s a sickness in our country, but it’s not going to be solved by our government.”

Carly Fiorina:
“We ought not to start immediately rushing to policy prescriptions or engaging in the blame game.”


No, oppressive laws or “policy prescriptions” from an overreaching “socialist” government can never change anything.

Of course, there was that tiny matter of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863.

And the Supreme Court, those “big government” meddlers, deciding in Brown vs. Board of Education (1954) to ban segregation in public schools.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964. The 24th Amendment’s abolition of the poll tax in the same year.

The Voting Rights Act of 1965.

And then the autocratic actions by evil “big government” presidents:

Truman’s executive order to integrate the Armed Forces in 1948.

Eisenhower sending troops to Little Rock to protect Central High’s African American students in 1957.

Kennedy sending troops to Mississippi to ensure James Meredith’s state university enrollment in 1963.

Johnson’s executive order for affirmative action in 1965.

The Supreme Court at it again in Loving vs. Virginia (1967), establishing the right to interracial marriage, which was then banned in 17 states, all of them in the South. The states claimed their “racial purity” laws were deeply embedded in tradition and endorsed by God.

And so on, the heavy hand of the dreaded “big government” intruding into both the private and public prejudices of people deeply rooted in the “traditions” they were struggling to uphold.

But all these were mere trifles, of course. We all know government can never provide solutions to our problems, because government is itself the problem. (President Reagan told us so.)  Only the people can effect change.

Wait—we are a government “of the people, by the people, and for the people?”

Just where on earth did that come from? (Lincoln, in case you’re hazy, in another “big government” overreach known as The Gettysburg Address.)

Yes, we have met the government, and it is us, only us…

One more thing government could do, which will not bring those nine lives back in Charleston and will not soon change the minds and hearts of millions of racists harboring their dark fantasies across this country, but which will put government firmly and powerfully—because symbols are powerful—on the side of the United States of America and not the slave-holding Confederate states of 1861:

Ban the flying of Confederate flags from any government institution.

Just ban it, now. Send a powerful symbolic message.

It’s the least we, the people comprising our government, could do in solidarity with the mourners of Charleston.



Twitter: @AndrewHidas


Rotating banner photos at top of page courtesy of Elizabeth Haslam, some rights reserved under Creative Commons licensing, see more at:

8 comments to Charleston, Big Government, and the Confederate Flag

  • Moon  says:

    How would we have reacted to the citizens of Germany flying the swastika flag after WWII? We removed all reminders of the Baath party and Saddam after the Iraq invasion. The confederate battle flag is symbolic of goals and ideals of the confederacy, who advocated that the Negro was inferior and was destined for nothing more than to be enslaved by the white “race.” That philosophy was defeated in thought, spirit and battle…the battle flag should be eradicated.

  • Kevin  says:

    Good points Moon – powerful reminders Andrew – simply can’t abide the Confederate Battle Flag as a public symbol – I mean if sports teams can change mascots because symbols are offensive to Native peoples can’t southern state houses do likewise??

  • Andrew Hidas  says:

    Moon, your comment about the complete vanquishing and repudiation of the Southern war cause bears much reflection. Many Southerners have been ready to move on and build a “new South” ever since, but a stubborn, virulent minority clings to racism and then cloaks it in images of nostalgia for a lost way of life. There are countless fine Southern traditions they could glom onto in recalling their genteel history without hauling out the single most offensive possible symbol of a war effort bent on retaining the right to enslave other human beings. It still astounds me that this is even an issue in 2015.

    Kevin, I think the key difference between sports teams with offensive mascots and states flying offensive flags is that sports teams are closely attuned to public acceptance and maintenance of their image, so they readily see the folly of offending a good portion of their customer base with a poorly chosen or outmoded mascot. But the racism that underlies flying the Confederate flag is so inherently irrational and unfocused on serving anyone but the racist’s deep-seated prejudice that any call for them to examine the practice just sees them grow even more hostile and defensive. It’s a sad state of affairs, which I think will continue to get better over time —but not without many more battles like this one being fought today. It represents the longer war for people’s hearts and minds that started in 1865 and has been going ever since…

  • Loren Webster  says:

    I remember being quite offended when fellow officers from the South drove onto post with Confederate Flags flying from their cars, and yet, as highly disciplined as Army life was, no one said a word to them.

    I suspect that hasn’t changed even today.

  • joan voight (@shapelygrape)  says:

    Have any of you spent significant time in the South? I haven’t. I’m curious, how does the everyday Southerner explain the flag?

    • Andrew Hidas  says:

      Joan, all told, I’ve spent probably a month or so spread over more than half a dozen visits to some ten states there over the decades. Of course, there are many varieties of “everyday Southerner,” but in terms of the segment that in some way still defends the flag but is otherwise of sound mind, they seem to always fall back on “tradition,” as if all Southern traditions—sweet potato pie, mint juleps, long screened-in porches, the southern drawl, and um, an overt symbol of slavery—were equally sacrosanct and impervious to change, especially when anyone from outside the region agitates for it. (The latter usually brings out the “You’re an outsider, and you just don’t understand the South” argument, which is quite the debate-ender.)

      Anyway, mere “tradition” is an exceedingly weak argument to make regarding the flag or anything else, and I increasingly sense most semi-rational Southerners don’t much believe in it themselves anymore, even though some of them continue to mouth half-hearted defense of it in the abstract. That said, millions across those lands also fight tirelessly to root out racism and acknowledge rather than defend the South’s troubled history in that sphere. I sense the Charleston shootings will redouble their efforts and bring even more people to that cause.

  • Gerry  says:

    “NASCAR distances itself from Confederate flag after massacre”.

    That’s it—problem resolved!

    • Andrew Hidas  says:

      When NASCAR has fallen, you know the defenses have been shredded and the entire war is lost…

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