Editorial: Taking down flag an easy call

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How can the good people of South Carolina honor the nine men and women who were killed by a white racist last week in a Charleston church?

Take down that Confederate flag flying over state grounds. It is a symbol of hate as much as anything, and government has no business officially sanctioning hate.

That is a fine thought, expressed Monday by a bipartisan group of local political leaders in Charleston. Haul down the flag, they said, because culture matters. Racist killers are not so much born as made.

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It is easy for this newspaper to call on South Carolina’s legislature to take down the flag above a memorial to Confederate soldiers. We’re sitting up here in a big Northern city, far from the Southern culture wars, though we have our own history of racism and our own on-going racial challenges. We’re also not a Republican candidate for president.

So we have nothing but respect for a short but growing list of Southern leaders who are putting their foot down. That list now includes South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who called on Monday for the flag to come down.

She’ll get plenty of grief, you bet.

Or will she?

We can’t help but wonder if the Southern backlash so many politicians fear is mostly in their heads. Polls show that a strong majority of white South Carolinians favor flying the flag, but how deep are those convictions? They got over it in 2000 when the flag was removed from the statehouse dome. This is not Strom Thurmond’s South Carolina.

All this comes at the same time Texas, another Southern state with a proudly independent streak, won a case in the Supreme Court to keep the flag off their license plate. Texas officials didn’t seem overly worried about losing the rebel banner vote.

Quite a few Republican candidates for president keep saying this flag business is for South Carolina to sort out, as if that’s an excuse to put their conscience on ice. They worry too much about losing the bigot vote. They underestimate how far the South has come since 1948, when the flag first made its resurgence as a symbol against federal efforts to end racial segregation.

Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, one of those presidential candidates, finally got around Tuesday to saying the flag should come down, which should have been an easy call.

The Confederate flag symbolizes a number of things, none of which can be separated out. Fly the flag of Southern pride and you also fly the flag of white supremacy.

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