- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 18, 2000

The Confederate battle flag emerged yesterday as a powerful and polarizing issue in the presidential races in both parties.
Thousands took to the streets of Columbia, S.C., yesterday to protest the flying of the Confederate battle flag over its Statehouse.
Bearing posters saying "Your heritage is my slavery," the protesters marched a week after flag advocates staged their own demonstration.
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is urging tourists to boycott South Carolina, and now the Rev. Jesse Jackson is trying to spread the boycott to Georgia until the state removes an element of the Confederate battle flag from its state flag.
Mr. Jackson noted that Atlanta will host the Super Bowl on Jan. 30 and urged players to make some sort of protest.
Georgia elected officials of both parties made it clear yesterday they have no interest in changing the flag, despite the threat.
"I'm saying what I've said all along we have a lot of issues on our plate and this is just not one that's in the mix right now," said Gov. Roy Barnes, a Democrat.
Presidential candidates Al Gore and Bill Bradley, during a Democratic debate last night, described the Confederate battle flag as racist and said it should be removed from the South Carolina Statehouse.
But Mr. Gore also told his questioner he would not participate in the NAACP boycott, because "I don't think a president of the United States should ever boycott an individual state."
The vice president said that "it's only the GOP White House hopefuls" who refuse to disavow the flag because they are "so scared of the extreme right wing."
However, President Clinton, when he was governor of Arkansas in 1987, signed a bill that designates a star in the Arkansas state flag as symbolic of the Confederacy.
During his years as governor, Mr. Clinton issued proclamations designating a birthday memorial for Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy.
Arkansas law sets aside the Saturday before Easter as Confederate Flag Day. Mr. Clinton made no effort to overturn the law during his 12 years as governor.
A White House spokeswoman yesterday deferred comment on the issue of flags and the Confederacy until at least today so that White House Press Secretary Joe Lockhart could discuss the issue with the president.
The leading Republican candidates Texas Gov. George W. Bush, Arizona Sen. John McCain and publisher Steve Forbes say individual states should decide which flags to fly.
One prominent Republican sided with the Democratic candidates. William Bennett, a New York native and Reagan Cabinet officer who has advised both the Bush and McCain campaigns, yesterday said the Republicans are making "a mistake" on the issue.
"In the general election, this is going to come back and hurt John McCain or it's going to hurt George Bush," Mr. Bennett said in an interview with CNN. "For people who want to hold that office, we have the right to know what their opinion is, what their conviction is, on this issue."
Asked by interviewer Judy Woodruff whether this makes Mr. Bush and Mr. McCain "racist," Mr. Bennett said no.
"I just don't think it looks very good for them," he said. "They should stand for the removal of that flag. Although there were great individuals who fought for the Confederacy and their individual memory should be honored, what that flag stood for was slavery and the separation from the Union. And that, I think, is not something to be flown, to be hailed or to be saluted."
The issue has been particularly troublesome for Mr. McCain, who has alternately said that the flag is racist, and that it is an important symbol of Southern heritage. Campaigning in New Hampshire on yesterday's Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, he refused to take sides on the flag flap.
"I was in the state of Arizona when we had a huge controversy over Dr. Martin Luther King and his recognition," Mr. McCain said. "People coming in and telling us what to do in Arizona hurt our effort to recognize Dr. King, rather than help it."
The Confederate battle flag has been an on-again, off-again political issue for decades in several Southern states.
Alabama stopped flying the Confederate flag over its Capitol dome in 1993 after a judge ruled it violated state law. South Carolina raised the flag in 1962 during the Civil War centennial, and it flies atop the Statehouse along with the U.S. and state flags.
Alabama and Florida also have state flags that are considered derivative of the Confederate battle flag. A diagonal Cross of St. Andrew dominates each banner.
In this season's presidential campaign, the issue lay dormant until Jan. 7, when MSNBC anchor Brian Williams asked Republican candidates about it during a debate. Mr. Williams was loudly booed by the audience in South Carolina, which holds its GOP presidential primary on Feb. 19.
Mr. Bush grinned as if approving the audience reaction before giving an answer he has repeated numerous times in the past week and a half.
"I believe the people of South Carolina can figure out what to do with this flag issue," he said. "If I may, I don't believe it's the role of someone from outside South Carolina and someone running for president to come into this state and tell the people of South Carolina what to do with their business when it comes to the flag."
The only presidential candidate who has strongly defended the flying of the flag is Pat Buchanan, who seeks the Reform Party nomination.
"The men who fought here and died here to defend Columbia, [South Carolina], it seems to me, ought to be respected and so should the flag under which they fought and died," Mr. Buchanan said.

Dave Boyer in Iowa contributed to this report, which was based in part on wire service reports.

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