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. Glen, Boston, MA

    In response to an earlier poster from Kentucky, I don't understand what the issue of abortion has to do with the Confederate flag.

    The deep South was predominantly liberal up until about twenty years ago and conservatives actually had a pro-choice agenda because they believed government should not interfere in the personal decisions of its citizens.

    It was not until the well-orchestrated and planned take-over of the Republican Party beginning in the 1970s and culminating in about 2003 by a small evangelical religious faction that the South made that switch and the conservatives adopted a pro-life stance in order to win Southern Democrat votes.

    That was all long after the Confederate flag's reputation was established, meaning there is no connection between the single issue abortion voters and the Confederate flag.

    November 28, 2007 11:41 pm at 11:41 pm |
  2. David - Portland, Oregon

    How do you like your state's rights now....?

    November 28, 2007 11:41 pm at 11:41 pm |
  3. Eric Murphy Ayden, NC

    Hawk in Texas said, "the confederate war was fought over states rights"

    Exactly! The right to have slaves. In fact a few of the southern states war declaration stated the right to own slaves as the reason for their entering it.

    Mississippi declaration, "Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery – the greatest material interest of the world."

    Texas delcaration, "She (texas) was received as a commonwealth holding, maintaining and protecting the institution known as negro slavery – the servitude of the African to the white race within her limits – a relation that had existed from the first settlement of her wilderness by the white race, and which her people intended should exist in all future time."

    Georgia (second sentence), "For the last ten years we have had numerous and serious causes of complaint against our non-slave-holding confederate States with reference to the subject of African slavery."

    South Carolina, "A geographical line has been drawn across the Union, and all the States north of that line have united in the election of a man to the high office of President of the United States, whose opinions and purposes are hostile to slavery."

    Please either learn the so called "heritage" or stop being dishonest. OR be honest about your dislike of black people. Not only was it about slavery but the south STARTED IT!

    November 28, 2007 11:53 pm at 11:53 pm |
  4. Eric, Johnson City, TN

    If "heritage not hate" is a valid argument for flying the rebel flag, wouldn't that also be a valid argument for Germans to fly the flag of the third Reich? Please folks, think your arguments through. These sort of selective hypocrisies are dangerous: The arguments given against allowing openly gay American citizens (and human beings) are the same arguments that were used against the integration and desegregation of this country. Learn your history don't warp it and flaunt it like you already do with the Bible.

    November 29, 2007 12:08 am at 12:08 am |
  5. Joel, Carol Stream, Illinois

    All the canditaes are similar to Bush in ways but hey, I like Bush

    November 29, 2007 12:13 am at 12:13 am |
  6. Lee, Mays Landing NJ

    The original Republicans, the party of Lincoln, must all be rolling in thier graves.
    Modern Republicanism has evolved into the party of reaction and the party of nostalgia for the bad old days.

    November 29, 2007 12:35 am at 12:35 am |
  7. Casey from Austin, TX

    Although I agree that it is respectful when you have a strong opinion about something, especially when there is diversity... I still think that wanting to keep people from displaying it is stupid in nature.

    I definitely agree that they should be able to hang them in their rooms but I think if a state government really wants to hang it up from the building – what the hell, let them and let people hang it from their homes.

    It's like the Germans denying that the Holocaust happened. We can't cover our past and we have to learn from it to progress into the future.

    It can be seen as a symbol of racism, at the same time, symbols are subjective anyhow. Just as much as a symbol of racism, it can be seen as a sign of rebellion and states rights.

    If people want to use it as a white pride symbol and speak out about white supremacy – then let them be stupid.

    November 29, 2007 12:38 am at 12:38 am |
  8. here since forever, corvallis, Or.

    I never saw the Stars 'n Bars for what it was or is until I lived in the South.

    If I see it around, say, Boise, I wonder what kind of bunker the guy lives in. If I see it in the South, where it's about geography and a sense of place, not racist m.f. ideology, I cut him some slack and w/hold judgement.

    November 29, 2007 12:46 am at 12:46 am |
  9. Allan Camden, SC

    Romney and Thompson gave the correct answer, not the PC answer. That flag means one thing, and one thing only, and it isn't the honor of a lost cause. I ought to know because I grew up 30 miles from the SC state capitol building, and the Confederate flag has been a symbol of racism for as long as I can remember. Note: the correct answer from those guys does not mean I would vote for either of them. I won't.

    November 29, 2007 12:47 am at 12:47 am |
  10. Dave Columbia South Carolina

    Actually, this flag should represent the rights of states within the USA to create laws. If the civil war never happened, every state would be exactly the same, and a copy of federal laws. There would be no room for states to argue for their rights as self contained governments, responsible for their own people. California and Arizona would not have legal pot, nor Prostitution and Gambling in Nevada. The Confederate flag actually represents diversity. Just my opinion.

    November 29, 2007 12:57 am at 12:57 am |
  11. Brett, Madison, WI

    To the people saying the Confederate flag was one that "flew over our nation" – the fact is that the Confederate flag has never flown over our nation. It's only flown over the Confederate, not the United, States of America. Although I'd never vote for him, I agree with Mitt on this one.

    November 29, 2007 01:01 am at 1:01 am |
  12. Brian, Syracuse NY

    It's about time either of those two said something right.

    November 29, 2007 01:15 am at 1:15 am |
  13. Ginger Lee, Northern Utah

    I hope this really does hurt them in the end and that Huckabee can take SC & Iowa and then the ticket...cause I support the Dems in 08 and there's no way Huckabee would win in a general election.

    November 29, 2007 02:13 am at 2:13 am |
  14. Steve,Lyons,CO

    "I live in the Southeastern part of Kentucky, I am pro life and pro Confederate Flag I hate abortion and I fly a Confederate Flag 24/7/365, if you yankees don't like it stay where you are in you're yankee land."

    Who the hell would want to come and visit a moron living in 1863? Sounds like you hate a lot more than abortion. I'd seek professional help, as Dear Abby used to say.

    November 29, 2007 02:18 am at 2:18 am |
  15. Mad Jayhawk, Madison, SD

    As the historian said above, the Confederate Flag represents a period of history in our country just as the Nazi flag represents the period in German history. Both flags should be put in glass cases with appropriate explanations of their history in museums and not flown over state buildings.

    The Confederate Flag is just one more object or word that has become so politicized in our country to the point where if you happen to go to a gun club where flag is hanging in a obscure tool shed on the property you are labeled a hardcore racist.

    November 29, 2007 03:38 am at 3:38 am |
  16. Eric O, Marysville, Ca.

    Why would anyone have a problem with Thompson's remark regarding that flag? He specifically stated that he believes not everyone who flies it is racist, and that under the right circumstances and as a symbol of the right sentiment, he has no problem with it whatsoever. Whats the issue here?

    November 29, 2007 03:39 am at 3:39 am |
  17. Anonymous

    Ron Paul was BLATANTLY ignored, and the some of the questions picked were completely inappropriate! oooo!!! sports! nice finish CNN!!
    the debate made me want to vomit.

    November 29, 2007 04:14 am at 4:14 am |
  18. jw, canadian,ok

    Don't talk about my flag. Youse guys have already lost every minority voter and if you keep craping on my flag, you gonna lose da south.

    November 29, 2007 05:29 am at 5:29 am |
  19. Mike

    Interesting.... The same crowd that thinks the Confederate Flag should be banned also feels that burning the American Flag is o.k.? Selective freedom of speech.....

    November 29, 2007 07:25 am at 7:25 am |
  20. Thomas, St. Petersburg, FL

    I watched the entire Republican debate last night.

    In my view, it is absurd to place the confederate flag issue on the front burner in this age of terrorism and mass illegal emigration to our shores.

    The terrorists want to murder us, and the Mexico want to export it's poverty stricken to our nation.

    Sorry, I missed something; did someone mention a confederate flag?

    God bless America.

    November 29, 2007 08:07 am at 8:07 am |
  21. Xavier, Washington, DC

    As an African American and former military officer, I am doubly offended by that flag. The confederacy took up arms against the U.S. and that is treason. That flag is a symbol of treason that was motivated, at least partially, by racism. It has no business being prominately displayed in the United States. And to all of you who believe that the confederate flag is a part of our history and should be displayed, do you believe that Germans should display the Nazi flag because it too is a part of their history?

    November 29, 2007 08:29 am at 8:29 am |
  22. John Karsten, Virginia Beach, VA

    I think this flag means different thing to different people and I am going to leave it at that. But I did see someone say that they live in S.C. and should take down that flag. I am from S.C. and that is not our state flag. The S.C. state flag is blue with a half moon and a palmento tree on it, not the stars and bars. Every other southern state displays the stars and bars in some form, but not S.C.

    November 29, 2007 09:16 am at 9:16 am |
  23. Anonymous

    Bill Clinton stumbles on stump for wife

    November 29, 2007 10:31 am at 10:31 am |
  24. Freedom Writer, Jeff City, MO

    BN of Fort Myers, FL, and Steve Grycel are right. CNN and the mainstream media are a joke. For too long the media have tried to drag the electorate down to its level, but the Internet is opening the playing field. Stop trying to destroy our Republic and replace it with the abortion known as Democracy. Majority government and group rights suck. Individual liberty is the ONLY answer.

    November 29, 2007 10:35 am at 10:35 am |
  25. Steve, Landing, NJ

    I don't understand why people think it's acceptable to fly the flag of the people who rebelled against this country, fought against its army, and opposed its democratically elected government. Sure, many of those people were good and noble, but was the confederacy a noble pursuit? If you really think so, you should probably find another country to live in, because the USA isn't for you. Either you want the United States, or you want the divided states that the Confederacy represents, they're mutually exclusive.

    And, I'm sorry, I don't buy this "it's a part of our history" stuff. How many places fly the "Don't Tread on Me Flag" these days? It's a part of history, we teach it in our schools, and that's where it should end.

    November 29, 2007 10:35 am at 10:35 am |
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