Friday, January 18, 2008

Thank You, Senator John McCain

A Republican Presidential Candidate Takes a Principled Stand on a Racist Symbol

From the Desk of Ibrahim Abdil-Mu’id Ramey
MAS Freedom Civil and Human Rights Director

WASHINGTON, D.C. (MASNET) Jan. 18, 2008 - The three leading candidates for the Republican party presidential nomination are clearly in a bitter contest. And with the Nevada and South Carolina primaries in their sights, a racial controversy, much deeper and more divisive than the recent Obama-Clinton spat, is emerging over the issue of the South Carolina state flag.

The aforementioned banner, which contains the representation of the 19th Century flag of the Confederacy, is a long-standing issue for both white and African-American residents of South Carolina. Many white conservatives, who view the segregationist history of the state as part of their "cultural heritage", express vehement support for the public display of the flag. On the other hand, African-Americans, whose ancestors were oppressed by chattel slavery and decades of racial segregation and mistreatment, regard South Carolina's flag as a symbol of hatred and continued inequality.

So it became a serious issue when former Governor of Arkansas and evangelical Christian, Mike Huckabee, came to the apparent support of potential (and overwhelmingly white) primary voters in South Carolina; openly defending their "state right" to display and cherish their Confederate symbol. His defense of the South Carolina flag, however, was hardly thoughtful and elegant. "If somebody came to my state (Arkansas) and told us what to do with our flag, he stated, "we'd tell then where they could stick the pole."

This is a curious and crude metaphor, indeed, especially coming from a man who professes a 'special relationship' with Jesus (one is left to wonder whether Christ would also endorse a symbol so closely associated with the enslavement and mass murder of a people).

But make no mistake about it; Mr. Huckabee knew exactly what he was saying, and who he was saying it to. The "defend the right of people to wave their flag" stance was a not-so-thinly-veiled appeal to the white, evangelical voters in South Carolina, who form the "base" (and perhaps, the only real base) of Mr. Huckabee's electoral appeal.

In a contest with sharp divisions along race (and class) lines, the Huckabee's remark was a line in the sand. And the fact that the state flag of South Carolina is an anathema to "liberals" and most African-American voters, was of no consequence; they, after all, are likely to vote in the Democratic party primary.

Senator John McCain is also keen on winning his party's nomination for the presidency. He's also interested, presumably, in winning the hearts and minds of the same political base that Mr. Huckabee is courting.

But for Senator McCain, the issue of the flag is not about political appeal or expediency; it's about the need to reject a symbol of racial oppression and division that is, in essence, contrary to what this nation should stand for.

The Huckabee-McCain dichotomy on this issue is very different from the public disagreement between Democratic Senators Obama and McCain over the issue of the Martin Luther King legacy. Senator Obama might have raised interesting points in his rebuttal of Senator Clinton, but he assumed no political risk in doing so. The matter of race, either open or in subtext, is a totally different thing with regard to Mr. McCain and his candidacy.

I don't agree with Mr. McCain's staunch support for the Iraq war, or for that matter, his public statements critical of Muslims. But on the mater of his rejection of the Confederate symbol on the South Carolina state flag, he's right on point.

Mike Huckabee should be ashamed of himself. Because no state should display, or have the right to display, or treat with reverence, such a perfidious symbol of division, animosity, and oppression.

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