“Y’ever wonder why we don’t have any black friends?”
This is “progress,” I suppose, but not until the Duke boys are finally caught will we truly be able to declare victory over the Confederacy.
One of the most iconic pop-cultural images of the Confederate flag — atop the famous “General Lee” car in The Dukes of Hazzard TV show — is about to fade away. Given current controversies swirling around the sale of merchandise bearing Confederate imagery, Warner Bros. Consumer Marketing has decided to stop the licensing of General Lee toys and models with the flag.
“Warner Bros. Consumer Products has one licensee producing die-cast replicas and vehicle model kits featuring the General Lee with the confederate flag on its roof — as it was seen in the TV series. We have elected to cease the licensing of these product categories,” said the company in a statement provided to USA TODAY Network.
As recently as 2012, the Confederate flag was still safe-ish enough to be emblazoned on top of the General Lee, another small reminder of how sudden the cultural epiphany over its pedigree is. Big question now: What to do about “Dukes” re-runs? It’s a given that they’ll go back and edit out any overhead shots of the car for syndication, but that only works so well. We’re bound to catch a searing, hurtful glimpse of the flag now and then when Roscoe’s hot on their tail and the boys slide through the windows to make their getaway. The name “General Lee” itself is probably verboten under the new rules. Maybe overdub that to “General Grant” or — gasp — “General Sherman”? Or maybe they could do a reunion show where John Schneider and Tom Wopat ceremonially beat the car with hammers to signal its purging from popular culture. Whatever it takes to keep this highly bloggable moral panic going.
More seriously, the governor of Alabama ordered all four Confederate flags on the statehouse grounds in Montgomery to be removed this morning. When asked why, Gov. Robert Bentley (a Republican) framed his decision as a matter of avoiding distraction: The state has more important business, like setting a budget, to work on than to get bogged down in flag politics. In less than a week, we’ve gone from the flag flying mostly unremarkably in capitols of the deep south to the flag being removed mostly unremarkably, ostensibly because it’s a trivial flashpoint that the government can’t be bothered with. That’s an astounding cultural transformation; I’d be curious to know if there’s any analogue to it in recent American history. Also, when was the last time major politicians have been as eager to frame their reversal on policy as a crisis of conscience? Here’s Nikki Haley, who brushed away concerns about the flag as recently as last fall during a gubernatorial debate, on her decision to call for taking it down:
“It came down to one simple thing,” Ms. Haley said in a phone interview Tuesday. “I couldn’t look my son or daughter in the face and justify that flag flying anymore.”
Here’s Mississippi Sen. Roger Wicker:
After reflection and prayer, I now believe our state flag should be put in a museum and replaced by one that is more unifying to all Mississippians. As the descendant of several brave Americans who fought for the Confederacy, I have not viewed Mississippi’s current state flag as offensive. However, it is clearer and clearer to me that many of my fellow citizens feel differently and that our state flag increasingly portrays a false impression of our state to others.
In I Corinthians 8, the Apostle Paul said he had no personal objection to eating meat sacrificed to idols. But he went on to say that “if food is a cause of trouble to my brother, or makes my brother offend, I will give up eating meat.” The lesson from this passage leads me to conclude that the flag should be removed since it causes offense to so many of my brothers and sisters, creating dissention rather than unity.
And here’s South Carolina Rep. Mick Mulvaney:
In speaking with many people over the course of the last few days, it has become clear that the flag does in fact mean different things to different people in our state. And I blame myself for not listening closely enough to people who see the flag differently than I do. It is a poor reflection on me that it took the violent death of my former desk mate in the SC Senate, and eight others of the best the Charleston community had to offer, to open my eyes to that. And because of those very different — and very valid — impressions of what the flag represented, I admit that the flag has become a distraction: something that prevents us from talking about all that is good about South Carolina. It strikes me as particularly disappointing, for example, that we have spent more time talking about the flag for the last few days than we have talking about the extraordinary display of faith, love, and forgiveness shown by the families of the victims of the shooting in Charleston. If the flag has become an excuse for people to ignore things like that, then perhaps time has come for a change.
That’s an unusual amount of self-flagellation from politicians over a position they held as recently as last week. The only analogy I can think of is Democratic pols like Hillary belatedly coming around on gay marriage, but even that’s typically framed as an “evolution” over time. (If you believe Obama’s public statements on gay marriage, which you shouldn’t, he was a work in progress on the issue for years before he finally switched his position.) Haley, Bentley, Wicker, Mulvaney and others, to all appearances, have “evolved” in the span of days. The cynical read on that is that it’s a matter of the Overton window having moved in politics, possibly enabled by the fact, as Sean Trende says, that Democrats have given up on rural whites and therefore southern Republicans have less to lose in potentially crossing their base on a cultural issue. The less cynical read is that it really did take a bloodbath to open some eyes. In their grief after the Charleston shooting, some pols otherwise inclined to defend the flag naturally felt deep sympathy for the victims (one of whom some of them knew personally) and wanted to do something to make a gesture of solidarity. The flag was a natural target.