South Carolina

The Confederate Flag Needs the Indiana Treatment

Earlier in 2015, Indiana did a very stupid thing. Despite the rising tide of support for LGBT rights, they passed a law enabling business owners to discriminate against members of the LGBT community, thinly veiled as protection of religious rights. The response was swift. People from around the country exploded in outrage. Municipalities and states indicated they would no longer fund travel to Indiana. Scheduled national conferences threatened to cancel their events. Leaders of major corporations threatened the same, with prominent figures publicly chastising state leadership for their actions.

It didn’t take long for Indiana to backtrack, adding provisions that would protect the same community they had set out to marginalize. Why? Because money talks louder than ideals in this world, unfortunately. It’s not enough for something to be the right thing; there has to be a cost for doing the wrong thing.

In South Carolina last week, we were reminded that there is something very, very wrong with the way racism is tolerated in this country. A young man who had been incredibly vocal regarding his racist worldview ended the lives of nine black parishioners at the historical Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in an attempt to start a “race war.” His views, despite violent rhetoric, had not raised any alarms until it was far too late. The proud bearer of the Confederate Flag had already completed his murderous mission.

In the wake of this brutal attack, South Carolina also did a very stupid thing. Well, arguably, they had been doing said stupid thing for years: flying the Confederate Flag along with Old Glory at their state capitol. With the Stars & Stripes at half mast, the antiquated Battle Flag stood unmoved but by the wind, and people across the nation cried foul. How tone deaf and cruel to fly the symbol that had represented the Charleston shooter’s hatred at full mast while the mourning had only just begun?

In rapid fashion, #takeitdown began to trend. Politicians who had initially come off as ambiguous or defensive on the matter found themselves needing to backtrack as backlash mounted. South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley started by dismissing the matter out of hand until she, too, found herself calling for its removal.

Those who wish to see the flag remain present arguments just as transparent as those embraced by proponents of Indiana’s “religious freedom” law. It’s a symbol of heritage, they say. It’s a celebration of history, they say. It’s emblematic of Southern culture, they say.

These arguments are neither new nor persuasive. One need only contemplate whose heritage it celebrates (hint: certainly not that of the Black enslaved lives which prompted its creation) to recognize that this line of reasoning is privileged garbage at best and explicitly, disgustingly racist at worst. The basis of the argument is also ironically incorrect from a historical standpoint, as the prevalence of the Confederate flag technically surged in the 1950’s in response to mandated desegregation — another act of racially charged rebellion in the South. It’s really just bullshit no matter how you slice it. The same folks claiming “Southern Pride” as a justification for embracing the Confederate Flag would be appalled by Germans flying swastikas in the name of historical.

Well, for the most part.

Despite the heat facing South Carolina, though, the take down of the Confederate Flag is far from a sure thing. Its removal would require support from a supermajority in the legislature, and given that politicians are always looking to the next election, this issue gets tricky. 73% of White people in South Carolina — a demographic which makes up more than 68% of the state — want the Rebel Flag to continue to fly. Politicians taking a stand against that big a swath of the electorate would be gambling with their futures.

But revisiting battles earlier this year, let’s remember that money talks. It’s time to give South Carolina the Indiana-treatment.

Boycott South Carolina. Stop traveling there. Cancel those vacation plans today, and tell the venues WHY. Stop giving money to companies with a hub there. End your services with Verizon, skip Denny’s, get your new appliances from anyone other than GE, and tell them all WHY. Hey Angie’s List? Salesforce? Where you at? Seattle? No more travel, alright? Collectively, we can pull the purse strings tight enough to make tolerating a symbol of bigotry as a matter of public policy an untenable position, just as was done with LGBT discrimination in Indiana. It works. And it’s time.

Let’s get it done in South Carolina, but don’t stop there. The Palmetto State is far from the only offender in terms of Confederate imagery. Hell, the Confederate Battle Flag is ON THE STATE FLAG in Mississippi, with other variants present in state flags of Georgia, Florida, Arkansas, Tennessee, Alabama and North Carolina. In Maryland, Mississippi, Alabama, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Louisiana, Virginia and Tennessee, states profit off of the sale of Confederate Flag license plates. Let’s turn up the heat this summer, shall we?

But beyond your wallet, make sure you bring your beliefs with you in the voting booth. Demand that your candidates, at a minimum, oppose the governmental use of the Confederate Flag and vocally indict its personal display. For the record, Ted Cruz, Carly Fiorina, Mike Huckabee, Bobby Jindal, Rick Perry, Marco Rubio, and Rick Santorum all fail this test. They’ve said it should be up to the people of South Carolina to determine its appropriateness. You know, the people who favor its continued presence at the Capitol. Don’t cast your vote for someone who would tolerate that sort of bigotry. I mean, really, even Mitt Romney got this one right. It’s not that difficult.

It’s not enough to use a hashtag. It’s not enough to be saddened or outraged. Put your money and your vote where your mouth is, because it’s overdue. If you can honestly look at the events of the past two years and say with a straight face that racism is not a current, widespread, urgent problem in this country, you’re either delusional, a liar, or a proponent of racism apologia yourself. The time for tolerating emblems of racism under the guise of culture never really was, but it certainly isn’t today.

We can’t just take it down, folks. We have to take it all down. Even that only scratches the surface of the work to be done in this country on the issue of race, but it’s a start. So let’s begin.

Mark Sanford

The Sordid Sanford Saga and Short American Memories

The Mark Sanford story is equal parts fascinating and headache. Rising from the political ashes, the former governor won the Republican run-off for the House of Representatives nomination, pitting him against Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch in the May 7th election for South Carolina’s 1st Congressional District. He celebrated his victory last night with his fiance, producing this tender moment:

Mark Sanford and Maria Chapur

From the Twitterati

It sounds like a Cinderella story, doesn’t it? If this is all you know of the tale, and you have no interest in scratching your head in confusion, you should stop reading now. Because this is not the whole story.

Does the name Mark Sanford sound familiar? Perhaps that’s because, in 2009, he was on a trajectory straight to the top. It was less than a year since Obama had taken office, but 2012 Presidential aspirations were already being discussed, along with his odds – which weren’t all that bad. Sanford seemed to embody the compassionate Evangelism that had served Bush so well, without the political baggage. As Chairman of the Republican Governors Association, he initially rejected stimulus funds for his state on principle, prompting articles like the one in Forbes, which proclaimed,”Small-government conservatives have found their champion.”

He’d eventually accept funds for his state, and went on to defend President Obama on occasion, saying “Anyone who wants Obama to fail is an idiot.” His deft political maneuvers allowed him, in some ways, to have his cake and eat it, too. He’d painted himself as a small-government advocate, but he wasn’t a demagogue; he was a pragmatist at heart. His socially conservative beliefs might have hindered him eventually, but at the time, Sanford’s future was looking rosy indeed.

Then, in June of 2009, something strange happened. He disappeared. No one knew where he was. No one had talked to him. Sound strange? That’s because it was. And the confusion was nationwide. The Huffington Post reported at the time:

South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford has been hiking along the Appalachian Trail, a spokesman said Monday night, explaining a dayslong absence that perplexed fellow state leaders.

Sanford hadn’t been at work for several days and his office hadn’t been in touch with him. The lieutenant governor, other fellow lawmakers and even his wife said they didn’t know where he was, leading critics to question who was in charge of South Carolina.

“I cannot take lightly that his staff has not had communication with him for more than four days, and that no one, including his own family, knows his whereabouts,” said Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer. Bauer said he’d been rebuffed by the governor’s staff when he tried to find out where Sanford was.

To be fair, Sanford’s staff made a valiant effort to spin the situation, harping on the fact that he was an avid outdoorsman and dodging questions about timing or circumstance. All we knew was that an American governor had literally vanished into thin air.

The South Carolina voters were angry, and with good reason. Sanford drew ire from both sides of the aisle for his stunt, with Fox News reporting:

“This is bizarre thought process and bizarre actions. It just shouldn’t happen,” said state Sen. Jake Knotts, a fellow Republican who is also a known Sanford critic. “What would the world think if the president did that?”

Knotts told he has no problem with Sanford taking some time off but that he should be reachable — or submit written notice ahead of time transferring authority to the lieutenant governor in his absence. He said the governor was pulling a “shenanigan.”

The state constitution says that the lieutenant governor has the authority to act in the governor’s place during an emergency.

But Carol Fowler, South Carolina Democratic Party chairwoman, said that since the constitution does not define emergency, a tornado or prison problem or some other issue could have triggered a “constitutional crisis” about who wields authority in his absence.

“The governor just abandoned his job,” she told Fowler said the move doesn’t bode well for Sanford’s rumored interest in a 2012 presidential bid, either.

There were rumors, of course, about what the Appalachian Trail adventure was really about. Some speculated he’d come unhinged after feeling forced to accept $700 million in stimulus funds. It was a strange theory, to be sure. But truth, in this instance, was stranger than fiction. On June 24th, 2009, Sanford was seen in an Atlanta airport, having just gotten back from Argentina – a far cry from Appalachian hiking. The State reported:

Sanford, in a brief interview with The State in the nation’s busiest airport, said he decided at the last minute to go to the South American country to recharge after a difficult legislative session in which he battled with lawmakers over how to spend federal stimulus money.

Sanford said he had considered hiking on the Appalachian Trail, an activity he said he has enjoyed since he was a high school student.

“But I said ‘no’ I wanted to do something exotic,” Sanford said “… It’s a great city.”

Sanford said he has been to the city twice before, most recently about a year and half ago during a Commerce Department trip.

Sanford said he was alone on the trip. He declined to give any additional details about what he did other than to say he drove along the coastline.

If you think that story sounds fishy, you’re not the only one. The deluge of press attention that followed Sanford’s return from South America didn’t last long, though. Realizing he was drowning, Sanford called a press conference before he could even talk with his family. As it turned out, it would be one of the most bizarre and meandering press conferences… well, ever. (Longer video, but you’ll be spellbound. Just watch it.)

Read the transcript of the press conference here.

To say this was a bombshell doesn’t really do the scene justice. The chattering class exploded, and the story got more and more sordid with time. At first, there were those who believed the whole circus had been a mass cover up on Sanford’s behalf,  but it became clear that no one had known where he was. Under the terms of the separation from his wife, he could have no contact with his family, so they didn’t know. He hadn’t told his staff where he was, so they didn’t know. He had literally gone off the grid.

Though he firmly denied any wrongdoing, he was brought up on 37 separate ethics charges related to misappropriation of state and campaign resources in his personal affairs, and agreed to pay $74,000 in fines for the charges.

Let’s recap, shall we?

  • Sanford disappeared from his office for six days without telling anyone where he was going, abandoning his responsibilities and ignoring his obligation to the people of South Carolina. 
  • Sanford disappeared from his office for six days in a foreign country without telling anyone where he was, presenting a major potential security threat.
  • Sanford, who built his political brand on his personal faith, carried out a long-standing affair with another woman behind his wife’s back.
  • Sanford, who built his career, in part, on calling out the shortcomings of President Bill Clinton, lied to the public about his whereabouts, and continued to try to cover it up after returning home, only coming clean when he’d been clearly caught.
  • Sanford firmly denied any wrongdoing in terms of misappropriating state funds for personal use, but paid the fines, and wants us to take his word for it despite his track record of dishonesty.

In spite of all this, Republicans in South Carolina decided they still want him in public office. In spite of all this, he’s viewed as having an advantage over Colbert Busch in the state.

You’ve got to be kidding me.

What’s almost funny in all of this is the amount of people trying to justify Sanford’s political resurgence by drawing comparisons with Bill Clinton’s sexual missteps. But let’s not pretend Sanford is somehow better than Clinton in this regard. They both had affairs. They both lied. Clinton lied under oath; that’s about the only level on which Sanford’s decisions are not equal. But Sanford also attempted to lie and cover up the story. In fact, had he not been caught in the airport, he may have kept on lying to the South Carolina voters and American public. Pair this with the ethics charges on misuse of state and campaign funds, and the comparisons ring hollow. And bottom line? Clinton never fell off the face of the planet for a week.

But the comparisons are largely irrelevant. Clinton isn’t running for public office anymore, nor will he be anytime soon; Sanford is. Who was skeezier in their stint as slimeball supreme doesn’t change the fact that both made some crappy decisions. Look, I’m not even all that irked by the affair. Do I think it reeks of hypocrisy? Obviously, but that’s par for the course in politics. I’m sympathetic to the idea that politicians should probably not participate in extramarital affairs because it leaves them vulnerable to extortion, or may compromise confidential state information. That being said, that wasn’t an issue here, and I would be a hypocrite to hold Sanford to a different standard than I do Clinton or any other politician on the matter.

So the affair really isn’t the problem here. The problem is that he disappeared. The problem is that he lied about where he was during that disappearance. The problem is that, while there is evidence we can point to which indicates he misused state and campaign funds for his affair, we’ll never see his side vetted in a legal proceeding. The problem is that Sanford is unreliable, dishonest, and, if his past behavior is any indication, potentially unbalanced.

This is not a Cinderella story; it’s a tragic comment on the state of political affairs today. The tender moment depicted above with Sanford and his mistress-turned-fiance is not uplifting; it’s theater of the absurd. His tale is not one of redemption and forgiveness; it’s tribute to the inconsistency in American voter priorities. We’re not watching a feel good underdog political story; we’re caught in the middle of a nightmare. Here’s hoping the voters in South Carolina realize that before it’s too late.