Now-former prospective Democratic candidate Jim Webb swings, misses on Confederate flag

The Confederate flag is having a bad week. Steadily losing support among its most ardent defenders — Republicans in the South — and being steadily removed from the inventories of major retailers such as Wal-Mart, eBay and Amazon, this isn’t a very good time to be pro-Stars and Bars.

Even Republican candidates who are trying to curry favor with South Carolina’s racist caucus are coming out against the flag being displayed on public grounds — after they got the go-ahead from Governor Nikki Haley, of course. Since she called for the flag’s removal from South Carolina’s State House, every GOP candidate who has been asked has agreed with her that, yes, a treasonous, racist flag that was originally installed in the 1960s as a middle finger to integration has no place on public grounds. Even Mike Huckabee, who originally tried to dodge the issue by emphatically stating that he refused to emphatically state anything on the subject, eventually came around and endorsed the decision.

In other words, a consensus has formed. The Confederate flag is the political equivalent of a hanging curve that any politician can hit out of the park if they so choose.

Yesterday, likely Democratic candidate Jim Webb, displaying an inexplicable lack of understanding of his party, public policy and basic decency, took a swing and missed wildly.

As Webb wrote in a Facebook post:

Jim Webb speaks — listen and act.  Today.

Jim Webb

This is an emotional time and we all need to think through these issues with a care that recognizes the need for change but also respects the complicated history of the Civil War. The Confederate Battle Flag has wrongly been used for racist and other purposes in recent decades. It should not be used in any way as a political symbol that divides us.

But we should also remember that honorable Americans fought on both sides in the Civil War, including slave holders in the Union Army from states such as Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland and Delaware, and that many non-slave holders fought for the South. It was in recognition of the character of soldiers on both sides that the federal government authorized the construction of the Confederate Memorial 100 years ago, on the grounds of Arlington National Cemetery.

This is a time for us to come together, and to recognize once more that our complex multicultural society is founded on the principle of mutual respect.

To paraphrase: “Take down the flag if you must, but don’t be a jerk about it because DID YOU KNOW A FEW OF THE GOOD GUYS HAD SLAVES, TOO???”

Webb is right to say that our “complex multicultural society” is founded on the principle of mutual respect, which is why it’s so important for our culture — to say nothing of our government — to reject racist symbols that display an utter lack of respect for the human dignity of our citizens. It doesn’t matter if the soldiers fighting for the Confederacy didn’t own slaves, or even if they were honorable young gentlemen before they went to war. At the end of the day, they were fighting for the right to hold slaves. That doesn’t deserve our respect. And just because we decided to memorialize them before we decided that the descendants of those they fought to enslave deserved an equal right to vote doesn’t mean that decision was a good one.

There is no kumbaya moment to be had when it comes to the Confederate flag. It was a rallying symbol for those who fought in the name of slavery over 150 years ago, and it remains a rallying cry for those who think the wrong side won the Civil War today. Jim Webb prides himself on his “radical centrist” image — a pro-pollution Democrat; an anti-war veteran — but taking the wrong side of a one-sided issue just for the sake of being a “cooler head” is no way to earn anyone’s respect. It’s a great way to remind everyone that you aren’t going to be president.

Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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