South Carolina Governor Gets Called Out For Cowardly Confederate Flag Defense

News & Politics

Following the tragic mass killing in Charleston, one figure many have turned to for leadership is the state's Republican governor, Nikki Haley. She has not provided that leadership.

Her initial comment on the shooting eluded the racism explanation altogether, leading a Worcester, Mass. man to succintly condemn her remarks in a Facebook post that went viral:

This morning, Haley appeared on CBS Morning News and was asked if it is finally time for the state to stop adorning government buildings with the Confederate Flag. Haley dodged the question, refusing to give her personal opinion, and seemed to imply that a debate over the flag would be too traumatizing for her state:

HOST: There are also calls today that you have to take the Confederate flag down from the state capitol. How do you address those calls?

HALEY: I think a time like this, you have to look back at what we've done. Fifteen years ago the General Assembly at the time they had a conversation. The Republicans and Democrats and everybody came together on a consensus to bring the Confederate flag down off of the dome. And they put it on a monument out in front. I think that conversation will probably come back up again. And you what we hope that we do things the way South Carolinians do. Which is have the conversation, allow some thoughtful words to be exchanged, be kind about it. Come together on what we're trying to achieve and how we're trying to do it. I think the state will start talking about that again. We'll see where it goes. What I will tell you right now, is while a lot of issues will come up, my job as governor is to bring everybody back together again.  [...]

HOST: But what's your position on the issue?

HALEY: You know, right now, to start having policy conversations with the people of South Carolina, I understand that's what ya'll want, my job is to heal the people of this state. We had a 26 year-old that just graduated college. We had anywhere from a 26 year-old to an 87 year-old grandmother. You had a track coach.You had a librarian. This is very real to us. […] There will be policy discussions and you will hear my come out and talk about it. But right now, I'm not doing that to the people of my state.

Haley did however appear to be willing to make one policy decision – calling on the suspect charged in the shooting to be executed.

The governor's lack of leadership is in stark contrast to one state west – Georgia. There, Governor Zell Miller (D) in 1992 called for changing the Georgia flag so it no longer reflected the Confederate symbol. “The Georgia flag is a last remaining vestige of days that are not only gone but also days that we have no right to be proud of,” he said at the time. “We need to lay the days of segregation to rest, to let bygones be bygones and rest our souls. We need to do what is right.” Although the flag was not changed until 2001, Miller's call 23 years ago shows that a governor even in a deep southern state can lead on the issue if they choose to.

Haley's avoidance of the issue of racism altogether eludes the elephant in the room. Compare her words to those of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., who spoke after the 1963 Birmingham church bombing:

And yet they died nobly. They are the martyred heroines of a holy crusade for freedom and human dignity. And so this afternoon in a real sense they have something to say to each of us in their death. They have something to say to every minister of the gospel who has remained silent behind the safe security of stained-glass windows. They have something to say to every politician [Audience:] (Yeah) who has fed his constituents with the stale bread of hatred and the spoiled meat of racism. They have something to say to a federal government that has compromised with the undemocratic practices of southern Dixiecrats (Yeah) and the blatant hypocrisy of right-wing northern Republicans. (Speak) They have something to say to every Negro (Yeah) who has passively accepted the evil system of segregation and who has stood on the sidelines in a mighty struggle for justice. They say to each of us, black and white alike, that we must substitute courage for caution. They say to us that we must be concerned not merely about who murdered them, but about the system, the way of life, the philosophy which produced the murderers. Their death says to us that we must work passionately and unrelentingly for the realization of the American dream. 

What Haley does not seem to be conceding is that to heal, you must first admit to your problem. Failing to address the legacy of racism in South Carolina will only conceal a wound, not ameliorate it.

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