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. Brandon, Tampa, FL

    As much as I hate these two candidates, I'd have to agree with them on the Confederate flag.

    November 29, 2007 10:43 am at 10:43 am |
  2. Jeb Stuart

    Educate yourself, Who died in the Civil War, All americans!!, How many Confederates that died owned slaves?, Hardly Any. How much did a slave cost in 1862 and what was average net worth of a confederate soldier. Look it up. The war or the FLAG were not about salvery.

    November 29, 2007 10:45 am at 10:45 am |
  3. David, Atlanta

    The Confederate flag is an old symbol of the southern Democrats way of life. Lincoln, the first Republican president, freed us from that evil and now we use the US flag as our symbol for the new Republican south..

    November 29, 2007 10:59 am at 10:59 am |
  4. Howard, NY

    The Civil War was such a shameful part of our history, and I don't understand why people are still trying to fight it. The funniest part to me is that the people who want to fly a Confederate flag and call it "heritage" are often the same people who would go ballistic if they saw someone flying a Mexican flag. You can't have it both ways.

    November 29, 2007 11:05 am at 11:05 am |
  5. Destroy PC Police, The South

    If America takes the stance that a Confederate Flag is a 'racist' image, then why do we still have tours of slave plantations? Get real folks, it is a part of history that can be learned from and just because a bunch of whiny 'politically correct' say it should not be flown – does not make it right. Nex t thing you know, the PC Police will say we cannot fly the American Flag because it also is 'racist.'

    November 29, 2007 11:06 am at 11:06 am |
  6. Matt H.Nashville ,TN

    This is a joke! The confederate flag is for people who long for life to be like it was in their "Southern Heritage". It's an idealolgy like that kid said-the idea of wanting America to be racist again. Is this new news to all you yankees,not s**t changed. To all you people that think like this–"Educate yourself, Who died in the Civil War, All americans!!, How many Confederates that died owned slaves?, Hardly Any. How much did a slave cost in 1862 and what was average net worth of a confederate soldier. Look it up. The war or the FLAG were not about salvery." Posted By Jeb Stuart : November 29, 2007 10:45 am

    YOU'RE WRONG its what meaning it gets across,not what it was the flag of.

    November 29, 2007 11:07 am at 11:07 am |
  7. Anonymous

    This flag is a symbol of treason against the United States, treason incited by fear of losing the "right" to inslave people. It is a symbol of a failed rebellion with racism at its root. Treason, nothing more, nothing less.

    November 29, 2007 11:08 am at 11:08 am |
  8. Khalil Monroe NJ

    That flag is the flag of traitors every person who hangs that flag is commiting treason by doing so.

    November 29, 2007 11:10 am at 11:10 am |
  9. Ryan, Nashua NH

    While this flag may scare some people, it is an undenyable part of history. If American's died fighting under this flag, then it deserves to be featured in a prominent place at thier memorial.

    November 29, 2007 11:11 am at 11:11 am |
  10. Christian in NYC

    Funny how you never find very many - if any - black people getting all supportive of the Confederate flag as a symbol of "Southern heritage". Probably because for blacks, "Southern heritage" means an oppressive society based on human slavery.

    November 29, 2007 11:11 am at 11:11 am |
  11. Josh, Atlanta, GA

    "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."

    That is an ignorant statement and I think you need to think your arguments through. The Third Reich's policy was world domination and purifying the human race. That includes mass genocide of homosexuals, people of religious differences, etc. Don't compare the two because you obviously have no valid argument. It only makes you as foolish as these politicians.

    November 29, 2007 11:11 am at 11:11 am |
  12. RuthieM

    Yes, racism is very much alive and well right here in the United States, right here on stage among Republican candidates running for president. The fact this flag still stands in any state is an atrocity. It represents the confederacy, non-union, which was in favor of slavery, racism, and all these white presidential candidates know that. That flag needs to come down and like Obama said a while back, 'put in a museum'. If not that, it should be burned and the ashes buried.

    November 29, 2007 11:12 am at 11:12 am |
  13. Joe Thornton Warrenton VA.

    This question strikes a cultural nerve. The Conferate battle flag has always been to me, having grown up in the south, a regional symbol of pride and heritage. I do not like the way some groups have used it for racist purposes and demagoguery, but this does not have to be a zero sum game. The flag has a place as a historical symbol of the courage and fortitude of the southern patriots who fought under it. Let's try to focus on that and not the idiots who misuse it as an advertisement of their own hatreds and ignorance.

    November 29, 2007 11:17 am at 11:17 am |
  14. Karen, DC

    I can't wear a swastika, which is a symbol of my family's faith, Buddhism, because of ignorance of symbolism. Americans are so narrow-mined on symbols.

    November 29, 2007 11:18 am at 11:18 am |
  15. Ben, Lewisville, Texas

    This is exactly why I have no respect for CNN's coverage of anything political. Zero. None.

    November 29, 2007 11:22 am at 11:22 am |
  16. Ryan Johnstown, PA

    I reject the argument that the flag represents "southern heritage" or "pride". The flag represented a segment of America that did not wish to part of the Union, slavery played a prominant role in the conflict. The South lost, and are a part of the US that flag has no business being displayed except in historical context. You will never see a Nazi flag on public display in Germany outside of a museum. The Confederate flag represents those who wished to no longer be American.

    November 29, 2007 11:28 am at 11:28 am |
  17. marshoutlaw

    "This is question is nothing more than candy for CNN's liberal base"

    Are you for real? CNN liberal...that is so laughable. The corporate media is right wing, and if you are to the right of that then you are an extremist.

    November 29, 2007 11:31 am at 11:31 am |
  18. Jon Hughes, Miami, Florida

    "The people of our country have decided not to fly that flag."

    Really? We have? All of us? I don't remember being asked. If I was, I would have voted to keep it flying as a historic symbol of the Confederacy and the Civil War, a period of US history that we must learn from, not ignore. What's next, deleting that entire period from our history books? Shall we abandon facts in the face of hate? Don't cave-in to self-appointed characters whos' real messages are: "See? I can make you take down your flag, therefore I must be powerful"

    November 29, 2007 11:31 am at 11:31 am |
  19. Anonymous

    the flag is the equivalent of a foreign country's, it is NOT a flag of the USA

    November 29, 2007 11:34 am at 11:34 am |
  20. Humberto, Washington, DC

    Britain lost and Americans don't fly British flags or hang them up in their rooms. Likewise, the Confederates lost so hanging the Confederate flag shouldn't be hung. Why would you want to associate yourselves with a losing effort? We are America, we are winners.

    November 29, 2007 11:35 am at 11:35 am |
  21. Steve, Landing, NJ

    Josh in Atlanta–

    I think it's a fair point. Certainly, the degree to which the Third Reich was wrong is greater than the degree to which the Confederacy was wrong, but in either case why would we continue to fly the flag of a discredited national movement that led to destruction and death? There were brave, noble people in the confederate army, but there were probably brave and noble German soldiers in World War II who died for patriotism, not empire or genocide. In either case, the flag is still a symbol of an ideology that's incompatible with modern society.

    November 29, 2007 11:36 am at 11:36 am |
  22. Frank, San Diego

    What does that flag represent? Until 1939, it represented the worst cause for which brave men ever fought. Now, it simply represents an inability to cope with modernity. But I wouldn't expect the heirs of Richard Nixon's "southern strategy" to be able to voice that sad truth.

    November 29, 2007 11:36 am at 11:36 am |
  23. Michael, Atlanta, GA

    This question was a set up question to hurt the Republican party. I thought it was handled well by Thompson & Romney addressed it differently but correctly. There are a lot more major problems that need to be addressed than a flag hanging in someone's room. I found the question irrelevant to the issues, and it should not have been a part of the debate.

    November 29, 2007 11:42 am at 11:42 am |
  24. Surrealist, Fort Myers, Fl

    This guy in this photo is sure no Democrat!!! Southern flag and Texas flag. Bet he has a 10 gallon hat, a 45 Colt, a pick-up truck, and horse dung on his boots. Hey...sounds like Huckleberry and the geriatric karate kid.

    November 29, 2007 11:43 am at 11:43 am |
  25. Jason, Houston, TX

    As an African American whose family is originally from S. Carolina I can tell you that the confederate battle flag definitely carries serious connotations of racism and oppression with it. Some say its about Southern heritage, well that's fine if you want to fly "your flag" on private property. Since the confederacy was defeated and no longer exists only the American and official state flags should fly on public property. We don't fly the Union Jack on top of the state capitals of New England to honor their British heritage or the flag of Mexico at the capital in Austin to honor TX's Mexican heritage. You lost the war....GET OVER IT!!!

    November 29, 2007 11:49 am at 11:49 am |
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