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. Mike, Columbus, Ohio

    To a certain extent, everyone is CORRECT. I'm an Ohio boy born and raised, and I know the Confederate flag can be used by some to represent their racism, by others to represent their pride in being Southern. Why not make the same argument about all of the confederate states' state flags?Its like the whole noose thing, recently. For some it represents oppression and racism, for others its just one of many symbols associated with Halloween. Bottom line is unless a person clearly states their beliefs, you should not "prejudge" (prejudice) them based on a symbol they choose to associate with. Racism and prejudice are both ugly.

    November 29, 2007 11:50 am at 11:50 am |
  2. pat huntington ny

    I understand why some in the South don't understand that the rest of us don't see this flag as a positive symbol of southern heritage. It literally represents division, the symbal of a failed attempt to literally divide this nation into two separate nations. It also represents racism, because it was the symbol of a confederacy that sought to create its own nation so it could continue slavery through war. That anyone in the south cannot understand, is simply still fighting that war, that civil war, not the war between the states...

    November 29, 2007 11:55 am at 11:55 am |
  3. Bradley Schaubs, Greeley, CO

    The Confederate flag symbolizes a presidency under Thompson or Romney. If they win, we'll be their slaves, to die as they choose. As for me, I'll keep the flag, and vote Democrat.

    November 29, 2007 11:55 am at 11:55 am |
  4. Tim Greenville SC

    The "Stars and Bars" represents an enemy of the United States of America. Maybe we ought to pay tribute to the Nazi flag, Japanese Flag and any other nation that fought against us.

    November 29, 2007 11:58 am at 11:58 am |
  5. Alexis

    Go ahead and fly the Confederate flag if you'd like–but why not fly the Mexican, British, or French flags as well in states that were once territories of those countires? Isn't that also a part of American history?

    November 29, 2007 12:06 pm at 12:06 pm |
  6. Glenn Scott Chicago, Illinois

    CNN has a right to air candidates in any light they want. It's not so much what CNN did as to what these men said that so inflames the Republicans. Forget about CNN and listen to what these men say. I think you flag supporters have finally seen what most "Americans" think about your beloved symbol. Fly it though as that is your right. Just remember, people will not like it and the media will always question the motivations to fly it. Deal with it because that is reality.

    November 29, 2007 12:14 pm at 12:14 pm |
  7. Christian, Tampa FL

    Did anyone notice the subtly placed Guy Fawkes mask from V for Vendetta? It's on the lower right side. For those of you who don't know, V for Vendetta is a rather exciting movie about revolution against a corrupt government in a futuristic British dystopia. That mask is a revolutionary symbol among movie fans.

    November 29, 2007 12:14 pm at 12:14 pm |
  8. Jon, St Clair Shores, MI

    It's high time we discontinue flying a different flag in this country... the flag of "Political Correctness." We have successfully degenerated into a society of collectively whining, misinformed, pseudo-sensitive numbskulls. Everyone goes on about the 2nd Amendment, while there's a reason the 1st Amendment is the FIRST. The Confederate Flag represents racism in the same way that peanut butter and jelly sandwiches do. That's just complete ignorance. I was born and raised in Detroit, but my roots are in Tennessee, and I identify with the Confederate Flag. It should be honored as part of our collective past; not just of the South, but of the entire nation. It is a symbol of independence and free-thinking, and it deserves nearly as much respect as Old Glory, since that is our National Rebel Flag from our days of rebellion from England. Flying the Confederate Flag does not make one racist, and practicing Islam does not make one a Radical Islamic Terrorist. Wake up, America.

    November 29, 2007 12:15 pm at 12:15 pm |
  9. Dick, Sturbridge, Massachusetts

    First of all there were a lot of men who died for a cause and that was the flag they fought under. My wife and I recently visited SC and the capital and respect each flag that is displayed on its grounds with a silent prayer for each person that lost their life fighting for what they believed in: Right or Wrong.
    I am tired of the racial card being played everytime the white american talks about history of this great nation, whats next, ask me to change the color of my skin.

    November 29, 2007 12:15 pm at 12:15 pm |
  10. Dan, Tupelo

    Funny how many of the people who are critical of the Confederate flag calling it treason to fly it probably say it's freedom of speech when illegal aliens march the streets with the Mexican or other flag. When it truly comes down to it, those hanging the Confederate flag are the ones with the freedom of speech as they are actual citizens. I guess I'm just a some white supremacist, though, that doesn't understand anything.

    November 29, 2007 12:16 pm at 12:16 pm |
  11. Ronald, White Plains, New York

    The idea by CNN to have a post debate panel is commendable.However, to give someone like Bill Bennett so much air time was not only short sighted but showed how soon we all forget. This is a man who less than three years called for ethnic genocide on national radio airwaves.
    How quickly we all forget and forgive.

    November 29, 2007 12:21 pm at 12:21 pm |
  12. V, London

    Is that a Guy Fawkes mask in the background of that pic?

    November 29, 2007 12:31 pm at 12:31 pm |
  13. Shane, Kansas City

    Is this really news? Is CNN defending this? Honestly! The flag is a symbol of what was our past, now it's a symbol of historical racism. Bringing such questions as this to a presidential debate is just ludicris. How about next time we actually talk about something series.

    November 29, 2007 12:33 pm at 12:33 pm |
  14. Willam Ward Camden, TN.

    Why doe's the liberal people of this country want to complain about our history and our heritage. I'm from the south and I'm very proud of the fact. I'm also very proud of other places in this country and the roles they have played in making this country the greatest one on earth. The confederate flag is a reminder of our history and heratage, it should never be used as a symbol of raceism. I think that completely removing it from public view would be like telling part of a story. Do we soon outlaw the word rebel or the color gray? Be proud of our history both good and bad and tell the whole story, future generations will thank us for it.

    November 29, 2007 12:33 pm at 12:33 pm |
  15. alessandro biglioli, italy

    As a European I don't really understand the issue, nobody in their mental sanity in europe (especially governments) flies the Nazi germany swastika flag, it's not even an issue, the symbols of fascism and nazism in Italy and Germany have been very carefully taken down from public buildings built in that era, there is a now a movement to preserve some of them for historical reasons but surely not for "representative" reasons.
    If people in the south of the US feel "represented" by a flag that was issued by a pro-slavery society, well then they are in accordance to those ideas, in europe whoever flies a nazi flag or uses a swastika (as in the US i guess) does it so for support of the ideologies that the flags represent.
    I think it's time for the south to put the confederate flag in museums where it belongs.

    November 29, 2007 12:34 pm at 12:34 pm |
  16. Anonymous

    Werent there ove 150+ different battle flages during the confederate war? Why fly this one? And one has to consider the reemmergance of this flag during the 50's and 60's to resist the growing civil rights movement. Just saying.

    November 29, 2007 12:34 pm at 12:34 pm |
  17. Frank, Dayton, Ohio

    The arguments about the Confederate flag only representing a culture, a region, or a mere historical event ring very hollow. The same things could be said about the SWASTIKA, but I hope no one waffles about that the way they did last night about the symbol for a key early primary state. What panderers!?

    November 29, 2007 12:37 pm at 12:37 pm |
  18. Rick from Bryan, Texas

    Which part of "I pledge allegiance to the flag of the UNITED States of America" don't you understand?

    November 29, 2007 12:38 pm at 12:38 pm |
  19. Gitonga,Manchester,NH

    Did you see underdogs in the debate. Who didn't see mccain,Guliani and Huckabee as ones? I think this debate isn't what I expected. I think CNN is bias and I don't think is good for a common citizens.

    November 29, 2007 12:41 pm at 12:41 pm |
  20. Paul Allendale SC

    I moved to SC from Pa four years ago, and I am not bothered by anyone, either in PA. or SC who flew the Confederate Flag. Any item can be made into a symbol, with groups vying to make their view the dominant one. As a historian, I know the true reason for the secession of the states, which were the rights of states versus the will of a Federal Government. Slavery was an issue, but a side issue to the main argument. When we demonize our history, especially 150 years after the fact, and denigrate the positive aspects of what those in the South felt was a noble cause, that is a crime of monumental proportion, causing division and animosity to fuel some groups private agenda which is criminal. The Flag is part of our history, North and South, had those who stood on the village green in Lexington had a flag, I am sure that one would have also been displayed on bumper stickers to show they rebel against conformity, informing our Federal Government that Americans ARE guaranteed the right to address political wrongs, and may use arms to achieve those goals as gauranteed by the first 10 Amendments to the Constitution. That is what the flag is to me, a symbol that the American people have a right to fight against tyranny, and will if pushed to it.

    November 29, 2007 12:45 pm at 12:45 pm |
  21. David - Buffalo, NY

    Flags are pieces of cloth with symbolic meaning attached – nothing more. The symbolic meaning of ANY flag differes from person to person – from geographic location to geographic loacation; based on the personal experiences and knowledge of that person.

    To people from many other countries, the Confederate Battle flag contains no meaning whatsoever – it is merely a colored rag. For some people – the Confederate battle flag is a symbol of degradation and slavery; or treason. For others, a point of pride in their ancestors and history.

    Personally – I don't have a big preference either way. My family arrived in America long after the Civil War was over; and I have not experienced the intolerance that certain supporters of the Confederate Battle Flag have given to people of other ethnic backgrounds.

    I think NOT flying the flag is merely a matter of courtesy. Just about everyone who flies the Confederate battle flag KNOWS the reasons why some people don't like it. I don't go out of my way to threaten and insult neighbors; and to many African Americans – that flag is exactly that. A threat and an insult – a reminder of time, attitudes, and ideas best left in the past.

    I have *no* problems with it being seen at museums, memorials. and historical sites. The people who fought under that flag were as brave and courageous as any people who have fought under the American flag. Nor do I take issue with people flying it personally. After all – I don't know what that specific flag symbolizes to any indvidual person. And if you are intentionally being rude and using it to symbolize some of the darker messages – well – it IS a free country. You can say or think as you want...

    But a government building is *SUPPOSED* to be there to serve the citizens. Purposefully displaying a symbol that you KNOW is offensive to a portion of your constituents strikes me as exceedingly disrespectful. A government is supposed to serve and protect its people – not threaten them.

    For that reason – I feel that removing the Confederate Battle flag from the top of the Dome was a good idea.

    November 29, 2007 12:50 pm at 12:50 pm |
  22. Diego, Wichita Kansas

    The Confederate flag was made for one reason to go to war with the AMERICAN FLAG you can not wave it and be a patriot of AMERICA. The people that made that flag no longer believed in the AMERICAN way of life so they want to go their own way. Take a history class. If they had won does anyone think that the AMERICAN FLAG would be wave anywhere inside what would be it domain. If they had won how many more times would this country have been split? The civil war was a war of good vs. evil and good won. But some people wont to wave their evil proudly.

    November 29, 2007 12:50 pm at 12:50 pm |
  23. RF, Hillsborough, NJ

    The civil war was fought because of slavery. The confederate flag was the flag of those who wanted to keep slaves. It is not merely a symbol of the south. It is on par with the Nazi flag and should not be displayed in the USA.

    November 29, 2007 12:53 pm at 12:53 pm |
  24. Jerry Pursley, Matagorda, Texas

    The Confederate flag is a part of the heritage of all native Southerners, and part of the US history, high points as well as low points. For most modern displays, it is a symbol of regional pride.

    November 29, 2007 12:57 pm at 12:57 pm |
  25. Nat, Richmond, Virginia

    The rebel flag represents opposition to tyranny, same as the US flag. It represents bravery and valor and freedom. Lincoln declared war on the South for tax reasons as has been clearly documented. The federal government was engaged in unconstitutional economic extortion, as it is now. Sic Semper Tyrannis.

    November 29, 2007 12:58 pm at 12:58 pm |
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