I’m a Jewish conservative who strongly identifies with civil rights, despite frequent disagreements with that movement’s current leaders.
As of late, the Confederate battle flag has again become the subject of controversy and many on the left have equated its symbolism to that of Nazi Germany’s Swastika. While I understand the ugly history and connotations associated with the Confederate flag, I do not agree with that comparison.
The Confederate battle flag, adopted in 1863 to celebrate military victories, is not the official flag of the Confederate States of America — but arguably suggests white supremacist tendencies — despite the fact that many who display it are not racist.
The same cannot be said of the Swastika, which bears little military significance despite its incorporation onto Nazi armourmants and is undoubtedly the official flag of The Third Reich. It began as an ancient Indian peace symbol but those who display it likely condone Nazi genocide.
Unlike the Confederate battle flag, which many attribute to their heritage, it is hard to derive an alternate meaning from the Swastika.
Both understandably provoke strong emotions. They also received different treatment after their respective regimes were defeated.
Germany outlawed Nazi memorabilia shortly after World War II while in the United States, Confederate symbols are still prominently featured. The recent killing of nine in Charleston’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, and the revelation that suspected shooter Dylan Storm Roof is a white supremacist who frequently displayed Confederate and apartheid-related apparel, has renewed the debate.
South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, requested Confederate flags be removed from Capitol grounds Wednesday and encouraged the state’s legislature to act accordingly.
Haley, an Indian-American and conservative Republican, deserves credit for her courageous decision and likely symbolizes the new face of Southern politics.
Shortly after Haley’s announcement, Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley, also a conservative Republican, unilaterally removed four Confederate flags from Capitol grounds.
Bentley’s decision, starkly contrasts that of fellow Alabamian and staunch segregationist George Wallace, who as governor fifty years ago, vigorously promoted the flag in defiance of civil rights.
That Wallace, like most segregationists, was a Democrat, is largely unknown and overlooked by modern progressives.
As is the fact that deceased Arkansas Senator J. William Fulbright, for whom Bill Clinton worked and greatly admired, was an ardent segregationist as well.
Yet, Republicans are more likely to be associated with racism due to 1964 Presidential candidate-Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater’s decision to vote against the Civil Rights Act on libertarian grounds.
Goldwater, who had supported integration efforts in his home state, believed public accommodation clauses in the bill were unconstitutional. Yet, there is no evidence to suggest Goldwater, the grandson of Jewish immigrants, was racist.
However, the damage was done and segregationists flocked toward his candidacy. Since then, Republicans have been largely unsuccessful communicating their message to African-American audiences.
Shortly after being elected President, George W. Bush acknowledged this, telling the NAACP, “The party of Lincoln has not always carried the mantle of Lincoln.”
Bush understood that Republicans could not remain competitive if they did not make inroads with minorities, and it is doubtful he would have ever been President had he not been able to garner significant support among Hispanic voters. Even his brother Jeb recently put it bluntly to a South Carolina audience, calling the Confederate flag “racist.”
And in a nation with rapidly changing demographics, such support cannot be underestimated.
Perhaps the removal of Confederate emblems from public display in Southern, largely Republican states, at the behest of GOP officials, can begin to change the way conservatives are viewed by Americans of color.
After all, Republicans have recently made great strides in this area:
- Florida Senator Marco Rubio, a Cuban-American, could conceivably become his party’s nominee for President in 2016.
- Dr. Ben Carson, an African-American neurosurgeon and presidential candidate, is widely admired among conservatives.
- Utah Congresswoman Mia Love recently became the first African-American-Mormon-Republican-female elected to the U.S House of Representatives.
Maybe with the right candidates and message, Republicans can return to the party of Lincoln.