Kevin Williamson's take . . .
So is the brouhaha over the Confederate flag in South Carolina in the wake of the horrific massacre at Emanuel AME Church. For about 30 seconds, the political ghouls of the Left were looking to pick another gun-control fight, swooping in, in their habitually indecent fashion, before the bodies had even grown cold. But that turned out to be a dead end, since the killer acquired his gun after passing precisely the sort of background check that the Left generally hawks after a high-profile crime, regardless of whether it is relevant to the crime. We might have spent some time thinking about whether law enforcement was too lax in the matter of the murderer’s earlier encounters with them — the South Carolina killer had a drug arrest on his record but was able to buy a gun because he had been charged only with a misdemeanor. But the Left isn’t in any mood to talk about whether the cops aren’t being hard-assed enough. So, instead, we had a fight over a completely unrelated issue: the Confederate flag flying at the state capitol in Columbia.
You have to credit the Left: Its strategy is deft. If you can make enough noise that sounds approximately like a moral crisis, then you can in effect create a moral crisis. Never mind that the underlying argument — "Something bad has happened to somebody else, and so you must give us something we want!” — is entirely specious; it is effective. In the wake of the financial crisis, we got all manner of “reform,” from student-lending practices to the mandates of Elizabeth Warren’s new pet bureaucracy, involving things that had nothing at all to do with the financial crisis. Democrats argued that decency compelled us to pass a tax increase in the wake of the crisis, though tax rates had nothing to do with it. A crisis is a crisis is a crisis, and if a meteor hits Ypsilanti tomorrow you can be sure that Debbie Stabenow will be calling for a $15 national minimum wage because of the plight of meteor victims. If you can make enough noise that sounds approximately like a moral crisis, then you can in effect create a moral crisis.
I bear no brief for the peckerwood-trash cultural tendencies that led Fritz Hollings, then governor, and the rest of the loyal Democrats who ran segregation-era South Carolina to hoist the Confederate flag in 1962. My sympathies are more with John Brown than with John Calhoun. Yet Lost Cause romanticism was very much in fashion for a moment, and not only among Confederate revanchists; Joan Baez, no redneck she, made a great deal of money with her recording of “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” in 1971. About every third Western of the era had as its hero a conflicted Confederate veteran, his wounded honor and stoicism in defeat compelling him to roam westward in search of a new beginning. That story lives on into our own time: Who are Mal Reynolds and the Browncoats if not another remnant of the Lost Cause relocated from Virginia to the frontier in space?
Of course the Confederate flag is a symbol of Southern racism. It is a good many other things, too, none of which was the cause of the massacre at Emanuel AME. It is strange and ironic that adherents of the Democratic party — which was, for about 140 years, not only the South’s but the world’s leading white-supremacist organization — should work themselves up over one flag, raised by their fellow partisans, at this late a date; but, well, welcome to the party. Yet Democratic concern about racist totems is selective: The Democrats are not going to change the name of their party, cancel the annual Jefferson-Jackson dinner, or stop naming things after Robert Byrd, senator and Exalted Cyclops of the Ku Klux Klan. Hillary Clinton is not going to be made to answer for her participation in a political campaign that featured Confederate-flag imagery.
The Confederate flag, and other rebel iconography, is a marker of Southern distinctiveness, which, like American distinctiveness, is inextricably bound up with the enslavement and oppression of black people. But only the South is irredeemable in the Left’s view, and it has been so only since about 1994, when it went Republican. Which is to say, the Confederate flag is an emblem of regional distinctiveness disapproved of by 21st-century Democrats.
Their reinvigorated concern is awfully nice: When the South actually was a segregationist backwater that African-Americans were fleeing by the million — when Democrats were running the show — they were ho-hum. Today the South is an economic powerhouse, dominated by Republicans, and attracting new African-American residents by the thousands. And so the Left and its creature, the Democratic party, insist that Southern identity as such must be anathematized. The horrific crime that shocked the nation notwithstanding, black life in Charleston remains very different, in attractive ways, from black life in such Left-dominated horror shows as Cleveland and Detroit, and the state’s governor is, in the parlance of identity politics, a woman of color — but she is a Republican, too, and therefore there must be shrieking, rending of garments, and gnashing of teeth.
This is a fraud, and some scales are starting to fall from some eyes.