- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 22, 2000

A week after erstwhile Dixiecrat and self-proclaimed Country Boy Al Gore imposed himself on a South Carolina issue, it turns out that he helped fan the flames of a debate that needs to end for South Carolina's sake. Whether or not the Confederate flag flies over the state capitol building is an issue that state legislators need to clear up before other, more important matters fall by the wayside.

Over the past several days the presidential candidates in South Carolina to campaign for the upcoming primary have been grilled on this petty provincial matter, which can only be legally resolved by the South Carolina legislature. Both Mr. Gore and Bill Bradley, who called the flag "an offense to our common humanity," should know better than to tread on local politics.

"The citizens of goodwill everywhere must take a position on [the flag]," Mr. Gore said on CNN, "and see that in fact the American flag heals us and the Confederate flag divides us." But the very thought of a Beltway carpetbagger trying to tell South Carolinians the meaning of the flag is divisive in itself, not to mention unnecessary. This isn't civil rights legislation it's a piece of cloth, a symbol. The best advice on the flag issue came from the three Republican candidates George W. Bush, John McCain and Steve Forbes who said that the issue was a diversion best addressed by South Carolinians. State residents would probably rather their presidential candidates talk about issues of real, national importance: taxes, health care and the like. Admittedly, a different response might have been political suicide for any of these GOP candidates; but at least they got the right handle on the issue.

As far as South Carolina stands, it is understandable why the Confederate flag makes some residents uncomfortable. History is indelible, and the flag serves as a reminder of both slavery and the South's approach to civil rights legislation. But that is the nature of our national artifacts. Even the Constitution, our nation's backbone, includes the later amended three-fifths clause. But to assume that the Confederate flag or the Constitution, for that matter is represented entirely by its one set of interpretations is downright ridiculous. Many Southerners who support the flag rightfully point out their pride in a heritage that has not only emphasized family and community, but produced some of this country's finest politicians and writers.

But it looks as though there will need to be some decision, and the best will be one that a plurality of South Carolinians agrees upon. It should be reached before a more uncivil war breaks out. The flag debate has already provoked some of the worst kind of gas-bag politicking. The NAACP called for a boycott of South Carolina's travel destinations which will produce a stunning victory in the month of January, when temperatures rarely rise above 60 while state Sen. Arthur Ravenel called the NAACP the "National Association for Retarded People." This needs to stop now. As for Mr. Gore, he has said he will not follow the travel boycott at least, one suspects, until primary season ends in South Carolina.

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