November 29th, 2007
10:40 AM ET
15 years ago

Romney, Thompson criticize Confederate flag

Leroy Brooks from Houston, Texas asked the candidates what they thought the Confederate flag represents.

COLUMBIA, South Carolina (CNN) - Former Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney both criticized the Confederate flag during the CNN/YouTube debate on Wednesday.

The flag happens to be hoisted on the Statehouse grounds in the early primary state of South Carolina, where both candidates are leading in polls.

The candidates were asked by YouTube user Leroy Brooks from Houston, Texas if "this flag right here represents the symbol of racism, a symbol of political ideology, a symbol of Southern heritage - or, is it something completely different?"

"I know that everybody who hangs the flag up in their room like that is not racist," said Thompson, who has played up his southern roots while campaigning in South Carolina. "I also know that for a great many Americans it's a symbol of racism."

Thompson added that, "as far as a public place is concerned, I am glad that people have made the decision not to display it as a prominent flag, symbolic of something, at a state capitol."

But the Confederate flag in South Carolina's state capital is in a very public place - located on the Statehouse grounds along Gervais Street in Columbia, next to the Confederate Soldier Monument.

It was moved there from atop the Statehouse dome in 2000 after an explosive national debate between supporters of the flag, who see it as a symbol of southern heritage, and opponents, who regard it as a symbol of slavery. After months of demonstrations, the state legislature moved the flag off the dome as a compromise.

Sen. John McCain, in the midst of his 2000 presidential bid during the flag controversy, did not call for the flag to be removed from the dome, although he later said he regretted his inaction, calling it a "sacrifice of principle for personal ambition." McCain was not asked about the flag during CNN/YouTube debate.

On Nov. 6, Thompson held a campaign event on the Statehouse grounds, just yards from the flag.

Thompson said Wednesday that using the flag in the context of a memorial - as it is used in Columbia - is acceptable.

"As a part of a group of flags or something of that nature, you know, honoring various service people at different times in different parts of the country, I think that's different," he said.

(Thompson's campaign spokesman Todd Harris said after the debate that, "The flag stands right next to the Confederate Memorial on the capitol grounds, honoring, as Fred says, the 'various service people at different times and different parts of the country.'")

The former senator concluded: "As a nation, we don't need to go out of our way to be bringing up things that to certain people in our country that's bad for them."

Romney's criticism was blunter: "... that flag, frankly, is divisive, and it shouldn't be shown."

"Right now, with the kinds of issues we got in this country, I'm not going to get involved with a flag like that," Romney said. "That's not a flag that I recognize so that I would hold up in my room."

"The people of our country have decided not to fly that flag. I think that's the right thing."

Both candidates may have to answer questions about those comments next time they hit the state.

- CNN South Carolina Producer Peter Hamby

Filed under: Fred Thompson • Mitt Romney • South Carolina
soundoff (192 Responses)
  1. Richard Sisson, Charlotte, NC (aka Banks Bloodworth)

    The ignorance coming from some of the Northerners is staggering.

    November 30, 2007 09:16 pm at 9:16 pm |
  2. Steve, Landing, NJ

    Richard Sisson–

    Enlighten us, please, what is this ignorance you're seeing and why is it only coming from Notherners?


    December 1, 2007 07:19 pm at 7:19 pm |
  3. Paul Bergeron, Baton Rouge Louisiana

    The question was an excellent question, reflecting the ongoing culture war in this society.

    Steve from NJ, you may oppose the display of the Southern flag in your belief that it represents racism, but your flag represents lethal violence used to achieve social change–against Native Americans, Mexicans, Southerners, Spaniards, and in this century, mostly the unborn. Your flag is offensive too. You won't understand this unless you have a conscience.

    December 2, 2007 12:14 am at 12:14 am |
  4. delbert mcgraff Pa

    well now,....

    racisim, hatred, slavery all bad words

    anyone dare to think that THE US Flag flew over this country for what?... 100 years while slavery was below it

    what does a confederate flag have ANYthing to do with
    protecting our borders, jobs back in America, you know things that matter
    am I wrong or does something that happened
    147 years ago more important than real issuses of today?

    PS by the way it was a battle flag– and by the way
    the "slave" issue wasn't what the war was about and by the way that slave card came out in Lincoln's term years after the war started- and caused riots in the streets of New York because it was a draft hijinx
    and by the way what does that have to do with anyone living today?

    history is amazing thing when you actually pay attention to it
    I hope the history of electing the right president unfolds

    Ron Paul anyone?

    December 2, 2007 01:12 am at 1:12 am |
  5. Steve, Landing, NJ

    Delbert McGraff–

    Funny, because the four states that wrote explanation of secession and the vice president of the CSA all thought slavery *was* the reason for the war. Funny how they were all wrong! Glad you explained it for those of us who weren't paying attention.

    December 2, 2007 01:30 am at 1:30 am |
  6. Steve, Landing, NJ

    Paul Bergeron–

    First, I never said the flag shouldn't be flown because it's a symbol of racism. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I said that it shouldn't be flown by the US government because it's a symbol of opposition to the US government.

    Second, there is an enormous difference between the symbol of a country or organization that did bad things and the symbol of a country or organization that was formed specifically for the purpose of doing bad things. German flag? AOK. Nazi flag? Bad.

    The US does nasty, evil things sometimes, I certainly don't deny that. But what is your point, exactly? The US shouldn't fly its own flag? People should write off the country they live in and condemn it rather than caring about it and working to make it better? Unlike the CSA, the USA is here and it was founded on some genuinely good ideas. Read the Declaration of Independence some time, then compare it to the Declaration of the Causes of Secession. Which of these documents is worth waving a flag over?

    December 2, 2007 01:48 am at 1:48 am |
  7. Roy B. Perry Jr. Fredericksburg, Virginia 22405

    It grieves me to see my southern heritage tossed aside by men such as Thompson and Romney concerning the Confederate battle flag. The flag in itself was not a National flag but a flag that represented the common southern soldier. After skirmishes soldiers would scribe into its cloth their battle honors to remember friends and family members who were killed by a senseless war of northern aggression. Thompson and Romney refer to the battle flag as being a symbol of slavery, yet slavery was a way of life under the U.S. flag for over 100 years before the Confederate battle flag was even created and remained a vital institution in 5 northern occupied states through out the entire war. Have Thompson and Romney forgotten that slaves were owned by Washington, Jefferson, Grant and even Lincoln’s family, none of which carried the Stars and Stripes. If the flag represented slavery then why did it take the U.S. government another 100 years to free the slaves? The civil rights came about in the 1960 didn’t it?

    December 2, 2007 08:00 am at 8:00 am |
  8. Paul Bergeron, Baton Rouge Louisiana

    Steve from Landing NJ: "In either case, the flag is still a symbol of an ideology that's incompatible with modern society.
    Posted By Steve, Landing, NJ : November 29, 2007 11:36 am"
    The Louisiana Ordinance of Secession does not mention slavery. But fine, your flag represents treason against the Crown. In fact, the Royal Governor of Virginia offered emancipation for slaves who supported the British government. "How is it," asked London's famous author, Samuel Johnson, "that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of negroes?" Today the names of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and other "Founding Fathers" have been removed from the schools in New Orleans. Your flag is offensive too. If you demand that Southerners remove the only symbol that uniquely represents them, take yours down too.

    December 2, 2007 09:31 am at 9:31 am |
  9. Steve, Landing, NJ

    Paul Bergeron–

    I could certainly see why one would believe the US flag represented treason against the crown. I've actually never been utterly convinced that the US revolution was actually as right, necessary, or heroic as anyone here says (I'm British by birth, and so less inclined to buy automatically into the US side of things). However, the US Flag is not flying over Parliament, and if it were, I would advocate for its removal.

    It is well known that many of the founding fathers, Jefferson among them, advocated the freeing of slaves, but compromised on the issue in an effort to (you guessed it) convince the South to join them in the war effort and, later, the Constitution. It would be frankly bizarre to say that the US was founded in order to perpetuate slavery, whereas the Confederacy clearly was.

    And bringing up the Louisiana Ordinance of Secession is obtuse in the extreme. The Ordinance merely states the fact of secession, it in no way delves into the reasons for it. Only four states released documents doing so at the time, and each of them lists slavery, three of them at least as the primary motivator.

    As for Southerners taking down the only symbol that "uniquely represents them", your comparison is ludicrous. There is no "flag of the North". There's only the flag representing a united nation, with fifty stars and thirteen stripes for every state and every original colony, or the flag that represents the division of the country. The latter does not belong.

    December 2, 2007 05:34 pm at 5:34 pm |
  10. Paul Bergeron, Baton Rouge Louisiana

    Steve from Landing, NJ:

    At least we agree on one thing, the US flag must not fly over Parliament. You may want to read "When in the Course of Human Events" by Charles Adams (Rowman and Littlefield, 2000) and learn what your fellow Britons Charles Dickens and Lord Acton thought of the 1861-1865 war. Or you might consider this poem entitled "A REPLY TO THE CONQUERED BANNER" by Sir Henry Houghton, Bart. (1809-1885)

    Gallant nation, foiled by numbers!
    Say not that your hopes are fled;
    Keep that glorious flag which slumbers,
    One day to avenge your dead.
    Keep it, widowed, sonless mothers!
    Keep it, sisters, mourning brothers!
    Furl it now, but keep it still–
    Think not that its work is done.
    Keep it till your children take it,
    Once again to hall and make it,
    All their sires have bled and fought for;
    All their noble hearts have sought for–
    Bled and fought for all alone!
    All alone! ay, shame the story!
    Millions here deplore the stain;
    Shame, alas! for England's glory,
    Freedom called, and called in vain!
    Furl that banner, sadly, slowly,
    Treat it gently, for 'tis holy;
    Till that day–yes, furl it sadly;
    Then once more unfurl it gladly–
    Conquered banner! keep it still!

    Responses such as "Bizarre", "Obtuse" and "ludicrous" do not make arguments; such is the position of "might makes right." And the Union Jack is offensive. Take it down.

    December 3, 2007 12:25 am at 12:25 am |
  11. Steve, Landing, NJ

    Paul Bergeron–

    1: Whenever I used a word like "ludicrous" or "obtuse" this was either before or after an explanation of why.
    2: That being said, you seem to have dropped several points. Given the declarations of secession I cited, do you concede the point that the primary motivator for the formation of the CSA was, in fact, the continuation of slavery?
    3: Just because I'm of British birth and my family is British does not mean that I'm going to default my own opinion to the opinions of some of history's great Britons. Authority is not an argument.
    4: So do you genuinely think the South was correct to rebel? Would the world be a better place if the USA was now divided? When do you think they would have gotten around to ending slavery on their own?
    5: So now the Union Jack is offensive? Is the flag of every nation on earth offensive, then, as the US flag and the British flag are? I draw the line rather differently, and say that the flags of groups that rebel against a nation, causing horrific warfare, and cite crimes against humanity as their primary motivation for doing so, should not later fly in that nation's public square. Individuals can do what they like, though it'd be nice if they didn't.

    December 3, 2007 07:59 am at 7:59 am |
  12. You KNOW Who! Tampa FL

    Anyone who honors the confederate flag and considers it "their flag" is NO better than a terrorist. No better than the piece of garbage suicide bombers on 9/11. My question is, why don't people like that just have a huge party in the middle of the desert & blow THEMSELVES up? That would solve some hate issues now wouldn't it? ABOLISH HATE, in fact. If you hate Americans, if you hate black people or spanish people or white people for that matter–YOU'RE ALL THE SAME! Worthless people who are so weak & pathetic that you resort to hating other people who are most likely BETTER than you. HATE is the problem in this world. Guess what? Nobody likes YOU either!!! Get over racism & flying that "loser" flag from a gazillion years ago. YOU are NOT an American!!!!!!!!!!! So much for a melting pot when white people can't get over themselves!!!!!! I AM A WHITE–just in case any KKK members have something they'd like to say to me!!!

    December 3, 2007 12:17 pm at 12:17 pm |
  13. Jay, Washington, N.C.

    I would fly the Confederate Flag at the White House if I were president. On the moon if I went there. If you don't like the flag, don't buy one. Otherwise leave it alone.

    December 6, 2007 02:33 pm at 2:33 pm |
  14. Benny Watt Terry

    "the people of our country have decided not to fly the flag" Mr. Romney obviously knows little about "the people of our country". Those of us who have Confederate ancestors are proud of that flag because the brave soldiers who fought under it were. It never ceases to amaze me how uneducated so many educated people are. Is he against the U.S. flag, because it flew over more slaves than the battle
    flag ever did. The north had slaves as well; New Jersey was the last state to free their slaves. The people who won the War wrote the history books and got every one to believe that the main reason for the war was slavery. It was about State'sRights and the heavy, unjust taxation the Federal Government imposed on the Southern states. Slavery was an abomination, but it was a part of that past that I hope no one is proud of. If you have questions, do some research; you can find the "real history" that some are trying to rewrite. Benny Watt Terry

    January 4, 2008 02:33 am at 2:33 am |
  15. John Simon Flushing

    Anonymous said...

    "That flag should never be flown over any government building in this country.

    Ignoring the racism claim, it's the flag of a treasonous lot. It's not part of my history, it's part of the history of Southern Treason!"

    That's absolutely false. The United States of America are supposed to be a VOLUNTARY UNION of INDIVIDUAL STATES. The southern states did not commit treason; they merely chose to leave the Union. Common sense tells me that if you can join the Union, you should be free to leave the Union.

    Abraham Lincoln had no business conquering and occupying an independent nation. The southern nation did NOTHING that warranted being conquered.

    And anyway, if Jefferson Davis and other southerners are guilty of treason against the Union (as you say), wouldn't General George Washington be guilty of treason against the British Empire?

    January 13, 2008 12:27 pm at 12:27 pm |
  16. donna in sc

    why do so many people think the civil war was about freeing the slaves? it was about states rights and self government. freeing the slaves was an after thought that happened several years into the war. even the northerners didn't really care much about the issue until the blacks left the south and arrived in north.truth be known, the yanks didn't take too kindly to having a former slave being called their equal.but then again,history is written by the victors.

    January 18, 2008 10:07 pm at 10:07 pm |
  17. unknown

    again leave my flag alone . to all you non beleivers of my flag

    January 20, 2008 04:00 am at 4:00 am |
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