The big mistake made by the opponents of Mississippi's current state flag was to permit actual voters to choose. The results: the proposed shredding went down to defeat by 2 to 1. Much to the shock of the media, pro-flag forces even won majorities in mostly black counties.
In this case, as in many others in which voters are actually asked their opinion, the people have outwitted the elites. The old flag stands for freedom against government tyranny, while the new one — in addition to being ugly — stands for nothing other than the brow-beating of special interests.
The "controversy" over the old Mississippi flag, of course, revolves around the Confederate battle emblem in the corner. I put the word "controversy" in quotes because it is largely artificial. The current state flag was instituted in 1894 as a means of signifying the state's role in the Civil War, and underscoring the noble stand for independence from the federal government. As with most official flags, nobody paid that much attention to its meaning and symbolism, though they probably should.
Then the attacks began. A small cadre of elites with a predictable membership in the media, government, and academe, began to assault the flag as somehow a symbol of racism and hate. Of course, this critique is not just an assault on the flag. It is a smear of an entire people, all their ancestors, and all their history that has thus far tolerated, and even rallied around, a supposed symbol of hate.
It may surprise the ideology-soaked brains of left-liberals that neither blacks nor whites in the state want to believe such malign things about their home and history. They recognize this rhetoric as an attack on all that is Mississippi.
The critique that the flag is hateful is also impossible to limit. Once you agree that the flag is evil, then everything has to go, including songs, literature, statues, constitutions, and anything else that reminds anyone of Mississippi's past. The Jacobin approach ends in completely robbing a state and a region of its history and meaning, and all its people of their dignity.
The attacks have also succeeded in radicalizing people of the state as they more closely examine the reasons for the original secession and discover that the preservation of slavery was less important than the desire to be independent of federal encroachments. In other words, the reason Mississippi seceded seems very timely. Hence, they want to rally around the flag even more.
The demonizing approach may be favored by columnists and professors with nothing to lose, but for purposes of the political campaign against the flag, the opponents chose a different route. They admitted that the flag may be a symbol of heritage and freedom to many, but the trouble is that it is bad for business. The flag is a deterrent to companies that would otherwise locate in the state.
This critique would indeed send a powerful message. If the residents believed that their flag is endangering their prosperity, they would probably vote to change it. The trouble with this point, however, is simple: it was a lie.
Flag opponents couldn't cite a single case of a business that left the state, or one that refused to come, on grounds of the flag. The real trouble with Mississippi's economy is the taxes and welfare imposed by the federal government and its allies in the state — the very people who wanted to change the flag. If changing the flag signaled that statist left-liberals were running the state, business would have been deterred even more.
A final problem was the proposed alternative flag. Whereas the current flag has grace and tradition on its side, the proposed new one was made up out of whole cloth. It sparked no sentiment and had no roots. It was created by a bureaucracy that had no sense of what makes Mississippi so beloved to its residents.
But what about the Southern Cross? Hasn't its associations with the KKK ruined its status as a symbol of rebellion against tyranny? To fall for that argument is to allow the Klan to have control over what symbols we accept or reject for ourselves. The Klan also claims to love motherhood and apple pie, but that's no argument against them.
Besides, if anyone is promoting that linkage between hate and the rebel battle flag, it is left-liberal conspirators themselves, who desire a complete social and political upheaval so they can more easily impose socialism.
And what about the claim that the battle flag symbolizes slavery? It's true that slavery existed in the old South after having originated in the old North that flew the Stars and Stripes. When the Stars and Stripes fly, people don't think "slave trade!"; they think freedom. So it is with many Southerners and the battle flag. If we were to scrap all symbols that were somehow linked with human-rights violations, there would be very few that remain.
There is a Mississippi flag that predates the current one: the Magnolia Flag adopted after secession but before 1894. It features the single white star on a bonnie-blue background as a symbol of secession, and a green magnolia tree that recalls the pine-tree flag of the American Revolution.
But the Jacobin flag burners would have none of it, probably because this older flag is more steeped in history than the current one. And history is precisely what they want to shred, so that they can make all of us ever-more dependent on the central state and the class of social managers that aspire to run our lives. Black and white Mississippians were united in telling those people to go bother someone else.
April 20, 2001
Copyright © 2001 LewRockwell.com