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. Steve, Landing, NJ

    No, really, the Confederacy was about slavery. Sure, there were other complicating factors, but it was. The idea that the confederate states seceded because of noble ideas about the rights of people to stand up to tyranny is a flagrant falsity, made up after the fact to try and justify the war. Look up the term "Lost Cause of the Confederacy" some time. The noble cause of secession is a romantic myth. The South seceded first and foremost because they wanted to keep their slaves, that's all there is to it.

    November 29, 2007 02:57 pm at 2:57 pm |
  2. Greg M., Naperville, IL

    Several posters have intimated that they know the “true” cause of the “War Between the States,” and that those who choose to study the matter will learn that slavery had little or nothing to do with it. Well I have studied the matter, and there is a virtual mountain of evidence to support the argument that the perpetuation of slavery was the prime motivation behind the secession of the southern states that directly led to the war. This is not political correctness, or a liberal attempt to rewrite history; it is plain and simple fact.and anyone who attempts to assert the primacy of some other factor as a cause for the war is ignoring the 800 lb. gorilla in the room.

    November 29, 2007 03:29 pm at 3:29 pm |
  3. Anonymous

    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!

    November 29, 2007 04:11 pm at 4:11 pm |
  4. Anonymous

    The civil war was not fought over slavery unless you consider that the
    leaders in washington at that time did not want states to have state right.also slavery from time up to civil war was also under the american flag no one wants to admit that and also slavery was comon in the one wants to
    admit that.long may the Rebel flag wave

    November 29, 2007 05:25 pm at 5:25 pm |
  5. MikeB NJ

    Why couldn't the candidates have just said that is a symbol and a symbol is what you make of it. That is the point of symbols, they have meaning to those who give it meaning. If your Great Great Grandfather served the south well then its family history. If they came over from Europe after the fact like mine did it doesn't mean much to you. If your ancestors were slaves then to you its a symbol of slavery (not racism slavery is much worse then racism. Just like murder is much worse then assault and battery).
    If your point is to offend people with it then its a symbol of hatred but if your point is to offend no one and honor your ancestors with it, or your a civil war buff. Then it is not a symbol of hatred for you.

    Its just a symbol. There is no greater truth in a couple yards of cloth. Sometimes it just doesn't have an intrinsic value.

    November 29, 2007 05:47 pm at 5:47 pm |
  6. Anonymous

    God save the South...from Romney and Thompson; Clinton and Obama.

    November 29, 2007 06:15 pm at 6:15 pm |
  7. Genifer, Washington, DC

    As an African American I naturally find the flag offensive. As a plain old American, I find it doubly offensive. This flag represented a group of people that basically said if we don't like what the government is doing, we have to the right to not be a part of this nation any longer. That's a pathetic history to want to honor.

    November 29, 2007 06:15 pm at 6:15 pm |
  8. rik parker

    It is a symbol of hate and cowardice, plain and simple. Dallas TX

    November 29, 2007 06:30 pm at 6:30 pm |
  9. Ice9

    I've posted a blog about this. There are currently 3 or 4 entries about this subject. Feel free to stop by, read it, and leave a comment.

    November 29, 2007 06:59 pm at 6:59 pm |
  10. Richard, Atlanta, GA

    Romney tossed away a large part of the Southern vote with his venomous response to the Confederate Battle Flag. I can think of no better way that he could've said "I'm not one of you (Southerners) and I never will be."

    November 29, 2007 07:05 pm at 7:05 pm |
  11. Marcus, Gettysburg PA

    The Confederate Flag that is behind Leroy is NOT a historically accurate flag.

    Check out your history books.

    November 29, 2007 07:18 pm at 7:18 pm |
  12. Steve, Landing, NJ


    States rights was a cover for the real issue of slavery, not vice versa. How else do you explain the fact that the confederate states demanded that Northern states be forced to obey the *federal law* that required them to return freed slaves to their owners?

    November 29, 2007 07:23 pm at 7:23 pm |
  13. tm Riverside, CA

    Unless CNN and Anderson wanted to damage certain Canidates with such a DUMB question with certain southern voters, why put on that question. shows how CNN will try any thing to support the Democrats. That is not an important issue and does not have anything to do with running our great country.

    November 29, 2007 07:54 pm at 7:54 pm |
  14. Tim R., Los Angeles, CA

    The bottom line is that the Confederate flag is anti-American. It represents a political entity that sought to separate itself from the United States. Confederate soldiers did not die for the United States, they died for the Confederacy, and by extension, for the right of Southerners to own slaves. They may have been honorable men, but so have many men who took up arms against the United States. However, we would never tolerate the banners of such combatants to fly alongside Old Glory.

    November 29, 2007 07:55 pm at 7:55 pm |
  15. Reginald, New York, NY

    If the South had won the civil war, would slavery still exist today?...hopefully not! How anyone can cherish such "history" and "heritage" exemplifies why slavery existed. As for bravery on the battlefield by southern ancestors fighting to maintain slavery, then anyone fighting on the side of cruelty and injustice can be considered "brave"...including nazis. How many non-white southerners respect this "heritage" and "history" of slavery, 89 years of Jim Crow laws, and segregation? ..."Whites Only", "Black People To Back of BUS", "Bathrooms For Whites Only", "Universities For Whites Only", "Movie Seating For Whites Only" I wonder what confederate flag supporters from South Carolina felt after they learned about Strom Thurmond's love child...with a black woman! YEEEEEEE HAAAAAA!!!!!!!

    November 29, 2007 07:57 pm at 7:57 pm |
  16. James, Little Rock AR

    I am a proud Southerner and am not ashamed of the fact. I am descended from several Confederate soldiers. They belonged to what was know as the Confederate States of America (CSA). I'm sure that at least some of them thought they were doing what they had to do and what made sense to them at the time. However, this is the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, nothing but it. Remember history, honor the dead Confederate soldiers at appropriate times and places. Since this is no longer the CSA, there should be no debate – take the flag down.

    November 29, 2007 07:57 pm at 7:57 pm |
  17. Ronnie, Pikeville, Kentucky

    Well, Mr. Thompson you just lost one vote here! I had really high hopes for you but I am glad that you at least made your stance clear. I will give you that much.

    November 29, 2007 08:22 pm at 8:22 pm |
  18. Steve Blaine Washington

    The Confederate flag can be symbol of racism but it can be a symbol of death of soldiers who died in battle under the flag.
    I had lots of relatives that died in the Civil war on both sides. I think it is ok for the confederate flag to be displayed in Cemeteries if and only if the relatives want it displayed to honored their kindred dead but otherwise the flag has no business being displayed
    on public property.

    November 29, 2007 10:04 pm at 10:04 pm |
  19. Jim, Lawrenceville GA

    S.C. should be ashame for still flying flying the Confederate flag on the grounds of the state capital.

    The Confederate flag represents division, and hatred of the USA.

    Confederate flag lovers need to get over it. There will never be a Confederate States of America. The Union won the war. Let in go.

    November 29, 2007 10:10 pm at 10:10 pm |
  20. CP, HI

    So many people rip CNN on how it picked mostly the front runners for Q&As, and gave the 2nd/3rd tiers runners little time and silly questions. Does Ron Paul deserves more time and substance? Well, so does Kucinich. Not fair? sure, what is? Is having only two parties fair? A system that virtually promises an independent little chance of Success fair? Is Walmart fair to the mom/pop stores? Is Starbuck fair to all the artsy-fartsy coffee shops? Is our country of "Do it our way or the highway" foreign policies fair?

    My point is, it has NEVER been fair! The bullies mostly win, thats why we have feel-good movies to compensate our needs to "feel" fair!

    The point is: Do you think that you just woke up one day and thought that having an SUV is a must? or that going green is the right thing to do? No, you didnt know what to think until the great American marketing machine bombarded you with certain images days in and days out, and made you think taht it was your ideas to start out with! Yeah, there you go "trend-setters"!

    So, do we EVER have an independent view on anything? You can, but you better do you homework. In our world of "give me the info pronto, sum it up for me in a minute, will ya!" culture, you can bet most voters vote based on an impression rather than facts and substances. How do you think we got Jr. Bushie and that we in this Iraq mess to begin with? Rest asured, the 4th wing of govt is stronger than you think!

    November 29, 2007 11:54 pm at 11:54 pm |
  21. chris, Chicago, IL

    A flag that represents slavery should be taken down but a God that represents 2000 years of hidden war is held on high.

    Go Jesus.

    November 30, 2007 12:50 am at 12:50 am |
  22. Ginrou, Wasilla AK


    Someone please remind D. Williams that FALSE PRIDE falls on the Seven Deadly Sins.
    Posted By Christopher, Chicago, Illinois : November 29, 2007 2:01 pm

    Someone please remind Christopher of Chicago that the idea of the Seven Deadly Sins came from Dante's Inferno and Divine Comedy, books written as pieces of fiction and that were never canonized as scripture. They are opinion pieces, as is his writing. But remember, people, what opinions are like: minds. Some are right, some are definitely wrong, everyone has one (or more), yet all are valuable. We're a democracy, in theory. Everyone's entitled to their own opinion(s), therefore let's respect the voice of everyone and stop with this irritable sniping and actually start discussing facts, rather than trying to prove who has the loudest voice and can say the most controversial thing.

    November 30, 2007 01:09 am at 1:09 am |
  23. Harry, Houston TX

    When I see the condfederate flag my quick initial reaction is that it is a symbol of racism and hatred. Then on further reflection I understand that it is also a symbol of Southern heritage before it was manipulated into what the symbol stands for today. The fact is while it is a symbol of southern heritage, majority of people see it as a symbol of hatred today. For example, you would not see someone putting up flags of swastikas in public places, although the swastikas were a symbol of peace by buddhists and hindus before Hitler manipulated it into his image. So shouldn't the same apply to the confederate flag?

    November 30, 2007 01:34 am at 1:34 am |
  24. ProudToBeAmerican, Every State

    For all the people that say that the North won and the South lost....

    No one won that war. How can any side be a winning side when a war happens on our own soil with our own fathers and sons fighting against each other. We all lost. North and South.

    To consider it a prideful statement to say that the North won is to be a war-monger. Call yourself a Yankee; call yourself a Rebel: YOU ARE ALL STILL AMERICANS OF MANY COLORS. Get over it.

    November 30, 2007 09:54 am at 9:54 am |
  25. Jack Heim Fort Worth, TX

    With all these history buffs making their point on the Civil War and Confederacy lets not forget the Act of March 9, 1906 (P.L. 38, 59th Cong., Chap. 631), authorizing the furnishing of headstones for the graves of Confederates who died. Right, the US Government provides headstones to those
    who fought in the Confederacy.

    And what does all this have to do with the Presidentail debate? You tell me?

    November 30, 2007 10:29 am at 10:29 am |
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