- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 18, 2000

Some people driving past the battlefield at Manassas, just off Interstate 66 in suburban Virginia, swear they're hearing the raucous laughter of bemused ghosts.

Some of the Confederate soldiers who died there are clearly having a high old time. They're getting a kick out of a last laugh at history.

They've been lying there under the green for 138 years, a-mouldering in their graves, and still getting under the skins, black and white, of ignorant yankees. All on account of that irrepressible Confederate battle flag, which, despite all the heavy artillery employed against it, just won't stay dead.

Thousands of black folks and a handful of whites rallied against the flag yesterday in Columbia, where it flies above the South Carolina Capitol. The protestants marched under banners proclaiming to white Carolinians that "Your heritage is my slavery."

The Rev. Jesse Jackson woke up in Decatur, Ill., where he was trying to rally the folks in defense of a grand old tradition of brawling at high school football games, and noticed in the morning papers that the action had shifted overnight to South Carolina. He figured it was too late to get in on the scam in South Carolina, and when with a little research he learned that Georgia had incorporated Confederate iconography into its state flag he hitched a fast freight to Atlanta to announce a boycott there. He wants the black players in the Super Bowl, to be played in Atlanta later this month, to boycott, or protest, or complain, or sneer, or something.

Bill Bradley and Al Gore challenged each other last night in New Hampshire to a groveling match, each man spending the night on his knees trying to persuade voters that he was suffering greater flag shock than anyone else. Al had dropped to his knees a good 24 hours earlier, decrying the flag of his native region as gross, bad, awful, shocking, offensive, and not very nice. Mr. Bradley had no good explanation why he had dribbled up to the issue late, but he tried to make up for his tardiness with a larger than usual dollop of his usual stale piety.

Al, for his part, was unable to explain how he had let seven years pass without rebuking Bill Clinton for his having not only tolerated the Arkansas flag, with its place of highest honor for the star representing the Confederacy, but for having signed, as governor of Arkansas, legislation protecting and preserving the Confederate iconography. Oh, the shame of it all.

Mr. Bradley recited a laundry list of blacks in his campaign: the issues director, a campaign director, the superintendent of the motor pool, the keeper of the ice bucket, the senior professor of pandering, all the important positions. For his part, Al recognized Mr. Clinton's Cabinet officers in the audience, or at least the ones not yet indicted.

There were occasional semi-grace notes, but these were drowned by the braying of the usual mules. Martin Luther King's son, Martin Luther King III, opened the day at a prayer breakfast at the University of South Carolina, and was almost conciliatory enough to make his daddy proud. "This is the kind of thing we need to be doing on Martin Luther King's birthday," he said. "The flag is a terrible symbol that brings a lot of negative energy. And while we believe the flag has an appropriate place, it just does not belong on top of the Capitol."

A man could laugh at the absurdity of it, as if the day needed only the rhyming and the melodies of Gilbert and Sullivan to make it a day to remember. But it was all very sad, too.

Where was someone brave enough to hitch up his pants, straighten his tie, clear his throat, swallow twice, and say to one and all: "Look, that war is over, and the yankees have got to get over it. Let's furl the flag of Lee and Jackson, and give it a rest. We can fly it on special days, like Robert E. Lee's birthday, or Memorial Day, but not every day. White folks have got to understand that black folks, ignorant though some of them may be about Mr. Lincoln and his war, have hurt feelings about this.

"And black folks have to understand that Southern white folks have feelings, too. Southerners may be the only people in America who can name all eight of their great-grandparents, almost none of whom ever owned a slave, and they're going to love and honor the sacrifices they made for the Southern flag. The point is, what everyone really wants is respect, and to get respect you have to give it."

Of course this is not going to happen. Pandering is to politicians (of both right and left) what breathing is to the rest of us. The Democrats have written off the white South. Republicans are neutered at birth. Who can blame those Confederate ghosts for laughing?

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