Though people in the political sphere often forget it, actions do speak louder than words. Jeb Bush's actions as Florida governor had already put him on record about whether the Confederate flag should be flying at state capitols; he had already removed one from Florida's capitol in 2001. So, speaking in South Carolina yesterday, Jeb decided not to hedge and outright said he thought the Confederate flag was a racist symbol.
He explained that during a debate in neighboring Georgia over wether the Confederate flag should fly over that state's capitol, Jeb first thought about the one flying at the Florida capitol.
Indeed, it stood alongside three other flags that have flown over Florida — the British Union Jack, a French flag, and the flag of the Spanish Empire — on the west side of the new capitol building in Tallahassee.
A Confederate flag (right) flies in front of Florida's capitol.
Photo by Donn Dughi courtesy of State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory
Interestingly, the flag in Tally was not the Confederate battle flag, but rather an official national flag of the Confederacy dubbed "The Stainless Banner." That particular flag featured the battle flag motif on a sea of white.
What did that white mean? Well, as the flag's designer noted, "As a people, we are fighting maintain the Heaven-ordained supremacy of the white man over the inferior or colored race; a white flag would thus be emblematical of our cause." Though the Confederacy never officially recognized that symbolism, it still adopted the flag as its second national flag.
Bush had been under some pressure from then-Rep. Kendrick Meek and the NAACP to remove the flag, and did so, along with the three other foreign flags, in 2001 very quietly. He never publicized the move. Not even a news release was typed up. The flags were then placed in the Museum of Florida History in Tallahassee.
"I decided to do something politically incorrect," Bush said while speaking at a campaign stop at a manufacturing plant. "I decided to remove the flags. I mean, I was governor. I figured I could do it. I did."
At the event, an African-American woman asked Bush about the flag.
"The symbols were used in the most recent modern history, not in perhaps at the beginning at the time, the symbols were racist," he continued. "And if you're trying to lean forward, rather than live in the past, you want to eliminate the barriers that create disagreements. So I did."
Though we did establish that actions speak louder than words, many are parsing Bush's words, including:
1. His use of the term "politically incorrect" — removing a racist flag from display at a government building is the textbook definition of political correctness, and that's just a term right-wingers made up to attack liberals anyway.
2. Bush used the phrase "lean forward," which many have noted is MSNBC's slogan.
Heard Jeb Bush talking about Confederate Flag as racist symbol, said "...if we want to lean forward" isn't that MSNBC's slogan?— desmaraiswork (@cdesmarais) June 30, 2015
3. In this case, as per the flag designer's own words, the version that flew over Florida was inherently a symbol of racism and flat-out white supremacy "at the beginning." Full stop.
Of course, you can visit the comments section of any right-wing news site to find that this perhaps hasn't played the best for Bush in the short-term among the diehards of the Republican base.
Though, politically speaking, taking this stance against the Confederate flag may actually work out for Bush in the long run. A few reasons it might make sense for Jeb to take this tack:
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SHOW ME HOW
"Last Sane Man Standing" Theory of the Republican Party
Take a look at the past two Republican primary cycles. A bunch of colorful characters who might have actually been trying to run for a hosting job at Fox News as much as they were the presidency eventually faltered, with mainstream Republican voters finally congregating around a more moderate candidate with less inflammatory rhetoric. Bush is clearly hoping that happens again and positioning himself squarely toward the center.
Will the Confederate flag controversy still be a hot-button issue by the time Republican voters go to the polls? It might be, but hundreds of other controversies will clog up the news cycle before they get there.
He Doesn't Need the South in the Primary
Let's remember that northern Republicans like to consider their party "the party of Lincoln." This stance won't hurt him in New Hampshire, the first primary, and it likely won't turn voters away from him en masse in his home state of Florida and perhaps even his native state of Texas.