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. Craig-New Jersey

    I just read through this entire list of comments, and the really shocking part, isn't the back and forth, or the "liberal" this and that. It's more terrifying that a majority of you can't spell, can't write a coherent sentence, and have an undeniable sense of Self-Righteousness about the entire discussion.
    More and more I see the markings of our evolution into a facist state every day.

    Look at the candidates on both sides-either you believe their telling the truth, which is scary, and they love you for it, or like me, we will vote for the least abhorent, which I think is even scarier.

    Sad isn't it?

    By the way, the "stars and bars" is nothing but a direct attack on race. I and my redneck family are from Tennessee, and believe me, no one in the south flies that flag without knowing exactly what statement they are making-NO-ONE.

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


    November 29, 2007 12:59 pm at 12:59 pm |
  3. Jeanne, Washington, DC

    I wonder how biased an opinion the "Pro Stars and Bars" crowd would have if the German government decided to raise the Nazi flag in any of its major cities, and put it in a place of honor near buildings representing their country's ideals.

    Even Hitler was a pretty decent military strategist. Should we honor the fact that his government was formed and then extricated for what it truly was?

    What are you holding onto?

    November 29, 2007 01:00 pm at 1:00 pm |
  4. Steven, Indiana

    I grew up being taught that the Confederate Flag represented a rebellious faction that was primarily in the South. Southern Heritage is a part of American Heritage and should be honored under our nation's flag. I respect the soldiers who fought on both sides of the Civil War, but to me, the Confederate Flag represents a way of thinking that did not and does not work for a free people. God bless America.

    November 29, 2007 01:01 pm at 1:01 pm |
  5. Glenda Rutherford, Williamsport, PA

    I have no respect for anyone who panders to certain segments of the population by criticizing someone else's heritage. The Confederate flag represents many things to me and racism is not one of them. It represents my ancestors and the wonderful area of the country in which I was born and raised. The flag issue should have nothing whatsoever to do with a presidential debate; the question should never have been asked. I am, quite frankly, disgusted with all the political correctness and victimhood nonsense we're seeing in this country. Politicians, especially, need to stop trying to micromanage every minute of our lives and get on to more important issues. The government needs spend less time treating us like two year olds and more time resolving issues that actually have some effect on our way of life.

    November 29, 2007 01:01 pm at 1:01 pm |
  6. Vince, Elk Grove Village, Illinois

    Who cares. Why do we keep beating a dead horse? The South lost. End of story. Talk about real issues: How will our candidates plan to protect our borders and the American people from terrorists? CNN is becoming more like a tabloid than a real news station.

    November 29, 2007 01:02 pm at 1:02 pm |
  7. Alex - Wash DC

    If the point of the confederate flag is to acknowledge our history, why don't we fly the Union Jack next to our state capitols?

    November 29, 2007 01:08 pm at 1:08 pm |
  8. Kevin, Hattiesburg Mississippi

    I think that it's sad that of all of the issues that face our country today, GOP candidates for the 2008 term are arguing over the relevance of a symbol of our not so recent history. We've got war, national debt, poverty, immigration, global warming, and a multitude of other problems that are plaguing our country every single day. Southern heritage will be a part of our history with our without the Confederate "rebel" flag. It lives in the people. Celebrating our history is a far cry from remembering where we came from. I feel however that people will do both with or without the flag to remind them.

    So get back to the issues.

    November 29, 2007 01:08 pm at 1:08 pm |
  9. Maxwell, IL

    the confederate flag is more/less the nazi flag. however, when a nazi flag flies high people go to jail, when the confederate flag flies high, you see how many hateful ignorant people are still reproducing

    being a part of history doesnt make anything acceptable

    November 29, 2007 01:09 pm at 1:09 pm |
  10. John, Lubbock, Texas

    Did the question hurt the candidates? Not in my opinion. I probably won't be voting Republican, but this question didn't hurt their chances. In fact, Thompson's and Romney's answers to the Confederate flag question at least gave me a shred of respect for them, in that they could actually say SOMETHING that might irritate their southern white religious base.

    As for the flag issue itself: we all need a sobering reminder. More Americans were killed in the American Civil War than all other wars in which the United States has engaged, before and since, COMBINED. The idea of the confederacy cost more American lives than did Nazi Germany, by far! The defeat of the Confederacy meant the death of the national disgrace of slavery. The Confederate flag and what it represents does not deserve a shred of honor, and is unworthy flying over any state capitol. I don't honor all Americans who died in the Civil War. I honor those who chose to fight for the union and the end to the atrocities of slavery that every southern state defended.

    I've seen that confederate flag hanging on enough dormitory rooms in the two universities I have attended, and know full well the racist attitudes that those who hang it hold. Enough of this heritage nonsense!

    November 29, 2007 01:19 pm at 1:19 pm |
  11. Joe from NC

    Dave from Columbia SC,
    You said that the civil war gave rise to states rights.
    If anything, the civil war cemeted the supremacy of federal law. Before the war, many people believed in nullification, the idea that if enough states disagreed with a federal law, they could nullify it.
    Also, the civil war gave rise to the 14th amendment. Before this amendment, the United States constitution didn't apply to state governments, only to the federal government.

    November 29, 2007 01:19 pm at 1:19 pm |
  12. Hank, Houston, Texas

    Well people, would you suggest, based on the maintaining of history, that the nazi flag hang in certain historical nazi strong holds in Germany? After all, not all german soldiers were racist, perhaps just in the memory? If the your answer is no, then you shouldn't support the confederate flag either.

    November 29, 2007 01:24 pm at 1:24 pm |
  13. S. Wright

    I would like to have seen the Republican candidates state unanimously that they don't understand why they are being asked this question since it was Democrats that planted those flags over state capitals in the first place.

    Being from South Carolina, Mr. Hamby, you should know that.

    November 29, 2007 01:48 pm at 1:48 pm |
  14. Zeke, California, CA

    Its obvious they want to plant the names of Hillary and Rudy into voter minds so when voters go to the polls, they vote for the (Planted) names. Get it. If the media are for the frontrunners then it will be surprising who America is really for.

    November 29, 2007 01:49 pm at 1:49 pm |
  15. Steve, Landing, NJ

    I'd just like to remind people here that serious historians rarely cite economic problems as the cause of the civil war. Further, "states' rights" was a posthumous defense of the Confederacy more than a genuine ideological rationale for secession. The confederacy claimed the US government had no right to tell the states they couldn't have slaves, but then turned around and told the Confederate states they had no right to ban slavery in violation of the CSA's endorsement. Hmm.

    From Georgia's cited reasons for secession–

    "The people of Georgia having dissolved their political connection with the Government of the United States of America, present to their confederates and the world the causes which have led to the separation. 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."

    The civil war was not as noble a thing as revisionists would like to make it out to be.

    November 29, 2007 01:51 pm at 1:51 pm |
  16. Wyatt from SC

    you yankees are still getting on my dagnab nerves to this days. that flag is the flag of MY COUNTRY!!! I am proud of my flag. not YOUR flag. i dont care none of what your president says the war is not over. i will never be a part of your yankee country and i will hang this flag proudly from my house until the day i die. LONG LIVE THE SOUTH!

    November 29, 2007 01:51 pm at 1:51 pm |
  17. Christopher, Chicago, Illinois


    Someone please remind D. Williams that FALSE PRIDE falls on the Seven Deadly Sins.

    November 29, 2007 02:01 pm at 2:01 pm |
  18. AJ, IL

    The Confederate Flag has no place in public domains (or personal domains in my opinion). There is only one true flag that we should fly, and that is the American Flag, to symbolize our unity as a nation. States that fly their own state flags is more for state pride reasons. The state flag of SC has a Palmetto on it, not an X with stars (aka Confederate flag). For us to be discussing publicly displaying this divisive and racist flag in the 20th century is beyond me. Re-enactments and confederate cementaries are one place that can fly the Confederate flag, but no other public places should even want to fly this flag.

    November 29, 2007 02:05 pm at 2:05 pm |
  19. Jessie NYC

    Hey southerns get over it, you lost we won. A Yankee!

    November 29, 2007 02:17 pm at 2:17 pm |
  20. J, Dallas, TX

    If you can fly your Battleflag because your grandpappy was a loser in the War Between the States, then anyone should be able to fly the swastika if their grandpappy was a loser in WW2. Hell, we should all fly the Union Jack, because THAT is this country's heritage. Retards...

    November 29, 2007 02:22 pm at 2:22 pm |
  21. Bill C., Northport, AL

    I find it utterly cowardly what they said and what other people here have been saying, that we should capitulate to those who insist on the Confederate flag being condemned as a symbol of racism. That view is WRONG. It should not be embraced nor pandered to or validated. The acceptance of it is nothing but cowardice. The flag to me represents standing up against government tyranny and against the notion that NY has the right to tell SC to do just because they said so, and a noble people who stood for defending the concept of free and sovereign people rather than subservient to some collective overmind. The people of the Confederacy actually believed that the government should work in their interests and not abandon them for rhetoric and special interests. Sound familiar? Basically the very power of the people to revolt when the government became hungry for power purely because of its own sake was exercised, and sadly, it lost. If we bury the flag, then it becomes a total failure. To me it stands for refusing to be a sheep. Everyone would do well to learn that, and don't you dare attempt to brand that as evil.

    November 29, 2007 02:23 pm at 2:23 pm |
  22. John Cumberland, Maryland

    I would never hang that flag in my living room as well. Mitt Romney says he never wants to hang that flag in his living room as well. I used to live in Texas like the youtube person last night but I didn't live in Houston. I love to see the Confederate flag torn down and forgotten by history.

    November 29, 2007 02:37 pm at 2:37 pm |
  23. Kaycee, TX

    "Racists use the terms "heritage" and "history" to attempt to excuse their continuing hatred.

    Posted By Matthew, Des Moines Iowa : November 28, 2007 10:58 pm"

    Well Matthew...Rev. Jesse and Rev. Al use these two words in EVERY speech that they make. So thank you for defining their character!! Kudos to you, Matthew!


    No one won, you twit. Next time use a dictionary to help with your spelling. It is spelled SOUTHERNERS.

    I'll laugh if I see this actually posted because CNN is a "yankee-based" network.

    November 29, 2007 02:46 pm at 2:46 pm |
  24. P. White Trash, Columbia, SC

    Ah, the good old Confederate Battle Flag! It's the proud emblem of descendants of poor and working men who proudly fought and died in a rich man's war for the right to be sharecroppers and other sorts of white trash. I've never understood some of my fellow (white) Southerner's obsession and yearning for a time of a privileged, landed gentry that held them in total disdain and exploited their labor.

    November 29, 2007 02:52 pm at 2:52 pm |
  25. Bubba, Swainsboro GA

    Poor Mitt doesn't even know what it is; his ancestors weren't in the USA back then. Frankly, if the Klan would stop flying it at cross burnings and the hick mayors would stop buying it out of tax money, no one would care any more.

    Seriously, it's become a racist symbol even if it wasn't intended as one. The former Confederates are now the most loyal Americans, so it isn't being flown as a sign of insurgency. It should never be bought with public money, or flown at a public area unless it's a cemetery, and the same goes for THUG LIFE t-shirts.

    November 29, 2007 02:53 pm at 2:53 pm |
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