Media Report False Sightings of Haley's Comet
If integrity is doing the right thing when no one is watching, opportunism is doing so only under the spotlight. And when it comes to South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, much of the American media is confusing the two.
Reading Politico or the Washington Post's resident conventional wisdom regurgitator Chris Cillizza, you'd never know candidate Haley in 2010 declared that the issue of flying the Confederate battle flag on the capitol grounds had been "resolved to the best of its ability" or that Governor Haley in 2014 declared "not a single CEO" had raised concerns over South Carolina's banner of slavery and secession. Just as damning, in the immediate aftermath of the obviously racist terror attack at Emanuel AME Church Governor Haley would offer only "we'll never understand what motivates anyone to enter one of our places of worship and take the life of another."
Nevertheless, Rick Klein of ABC News gushed Tuesday:
Yes, this raises her veepstakes stock. But that's almost secondary to the example she set. She managed to drain the politics out of a charged debate over the Confederate flag that's been popping up for longer than she's been alive.
For his part, Cillizza personally tried to resurrect the Lost Cause of her vice presidential hopes in a paean titled, "Nikki Haley just showed her tremendous political upside":
Haley was poised and forceful -- acknowledging that there are good-intentioned people who value the Confederate flag while making clear that it was time for the flag to come down. "It is time to remove that flag from the Capitol grounds," she said to prolonged applause. "That flag, while an integral part of our past, does not represent the future of our great state"...
Politics is not always about being first. Oftentimes it's simply about not being last or, at least, not being perceived as late. By that measure, Haley succeeded.
But by the much more important yardstick of the truth, Brian Beutler correctly pointed out in the New Republic, "Nikki Haley Is not a hero. She's just doing damage control for Republicans." Actually, what Haley did in her belated call to take down the Confederate flag was far more pernicious than that. She was intentionally misleading from behind.
Like many Neo-Confederate defenders of the banner of bondage and treason, State Senator Tom Davis (R-Beaufort) protested that "the fact is, hate groups have misappropriated this flag and made it a sign of their hatred. It may not be right, but that's a fact." That's neither right nor a fact. Dylann Roof, the Conservative Citizen's Councils, the Sons of Confederate Veterans and their ilk are using that flag precisely as its designers intended. Yet Governor Haley found two sides to a debate in which there is only one truth by inventing a straw man in defense of a banner dedicated to owning other, actual men:
That brings me to the subject of the Confederate flag that flies on the State house grounds. For many people in our state, the flag stands for traditions that are noble. Traditions of history, of heritage, and of ancestry.
The hate filled murderer who massacred our brothers and sisters in Charleston has a sick and twisted view of the flag. In no way does he reflect the people in our state who respect and, in many ways, revere it. Those South Carolinians view the flag as a symbol of respect, integrity, and duty. They also see it as a memorial, a way to honor ancestors who came to the service of their state during time of conflict. That is not hate, nor is it racism.
At the same time, for many others in South Carolina, the flag is a deeply offensive symbol of a brutally oppressive past. As a state we can survive, as we have done, while still being home to both of those viewpoints. We do not need to declare a winner and a loser here. We respect freedom of expression, and that for those who wish to show their respect for the flag on their private property, no one will stand in your way.
Unfortunately for Haley's attempt to whitewash history and her own past indifference, those "ancestors who came to the service of their state during time of conflict" committed treason against the country in a war that claimed more than American lives than all of its others combined. And it was all done, as Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens articulated in March 1861:
The new constitution has put at rest, forever, all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institution -- African slavery as it exists amongst us -- the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization. This was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution...
Our new government is founded upon...its foundations are laid, its corner- stone rests upon the great truth, that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery -- subordination to the superior race -- is his natural and normal condition. [Applause.] This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.
At the end of the day, Nikki Haley deserves one cheer for yielding to overwhelming demand by the American public to take down that symbol of South Carolina's enduring shame. But the kudos end there because Haley could not speak the full truth even during her finest hour:
No one who displays that flag can be an American patriot. No state that flies that banner of slavery and fratricide can be considered anything but a national disgrace. And no political party that casually traffics in the racist rhetoric and treasonous tenets of nullification and secession deserves either power or respect.
Those like Nikki Haley whose years of silent complicity ended only in the face of an inescapable horror deserve neither credit for leadership nor the vice presidency of the United States of America. One hundred fifty years after the end of the Civil War, "better late than never" shouldn't be a rallying cry but a humiliation.