Wanna change the flag? I’m with you on that. Have been for a long time. But here’s what I know for a fact – a majority of Mississippi voters and politicians aren’t there. Yet.
I think there are several issues regarding both strategy and tactics that folks, particularly Mississippians who aren’t Republicans, need to understand.
- People who want to change the flag have to embrace the fact that not everyone in Mississippi who doesn’t want to change the flag is a knuckle-dragging racist. I can’t emphasize this enough. It doesn’t mean there’s not a subset of folks who want to keep the flag for the wrong reasons (because there are), but by vilifying everyone on the other side, it makes people dig in – even those that might be willing to privately vote your way. The reason to change the flag is not that its supporters are racists; it’s that it doesn’t represent all of us. I won’t get into the hate vs. heritage thing, but there are folks that feel like the more folks are “cramming something down their throat” the harder they should fight it. And folks who dig in are the least likely to change. People who justifiably want a new flag need to have some of the folks that aren’t as excited about a new flag on board, and portraying them as racists is usually not a good starting point.
- People who want to change the flag need to recognize that there are still more people that don’t want a new flag than those that do. But this is not like the civil rights movement. The courts are largely not at our disposal on this issue. The right thing to do still essentially has to be a choice. There’s plenty immoral about the state flag but there’s nothing illegal about it. We’ve had a referendum and several elections where the flag is an issue. There have been lawsuits. But the issue really hasn’t moved much. There has been real polling performed on the issue. It’s pretty clear that in Mississippi a unilateral “change the flag” vote that’s not done the right way is still an incredibly heavy lift, particularly for Republicans, but it’s going to take agreement to get it there. Maybe there is some positive energy that can come as a result of the George Floyd tragedy, but that energy has to be channeled.
- Take advantage of momentum. Even just yesterday, NASCAR banned confederate symbolism from their events. That’s a good thing. There is societal momentum and a chance to use this to get a good result.
- Republican voters particularly need leaders they respect to tell them that amending this symbolism is OK. That sounds self-explanatory, but it’s still tough. Philip Gunn and Roger Wicker are the two most notable people who have certainly made their feelings known on the flag but neither expended a lot of political capital on the issue. We need rural voices of trust in areas where this is less popular to take the lead on this. More people that voters trust need to come out in favor of a new flag proposal that everyone can get behind . . . and it may not be the Stennis Flag design that a lot of people have gathered around. I’ll get to that later.
We need to be asking policy makers and voters a different question. The question heretofore has been, “Would you support getting rid of the existing flag because it’s a racist symbol?” I think it is, but that’s just me. Many Mississippians who vote have come to a different conclusion. Instead of asking them the same question over and over again (and getting the same answer over and over again), we need to ask them a different question. Former Speaker Pro-Tem Greg Snowden had come up with a solution that was brilliant.
A co-equal flag.
Hear me out. Instead of asking legislators or voters to get rid of what we have (which forces them to demonstrably repudiate the past), what about having them consider advancing another flag design of equal stature so that any entity in Mississippi or beyond could opt for the existing state flag or a new state flag design, and it still be “official”. That is a MUCH MUCH easier vote that can happen quickly. For conservatives, it essentially gives people a choice and that’s a very conservative/liberty-oriented position.
Say, for instance, the Seal Flag or the Magnolia Flag were advanced as a co-equal flag with the existing flag. The US Capitol would likely opt to fly that in place of our current flag, and that would be just fine. There might be some communities that like the existing flag that could opt to keep flying it. I think the inevitable result is that 90%+ of all governmental entities would likely choose to fly the new flag. After a couple of years, you’d likely have a huge imbalance of what flag is flown. Then, maybe, one day the decision is made to retire the old flag officially.
The politics in the state Legislature is that, at this point, you’d have to have enough votes in both chambers to Suspend the Rules. That’s a 2/3rds vote, which makes the legislative hurdle that much higher. Again, you might could get support if Republican leaders were brought on board to do that with the co-equal flag idea and you might could get that done without a referendum. In essence, how people and entities fly the flag essentially becomes the referendum (where you don’t actually need a vote at the polls) and gives an artful way for politicians to say that “the voters have decided”.
And then there’s the question of design.
My top 3 are
- The Mississippi Seal Flag;
- The Magnolia Flag, which flew over Mississippi before our existing flag; and
- The Stennis Flag. While that flag is light years better than what we have, it bears the name Stennis. Although it was designed by Lauren Stennis, when people in Mississippi hear “Stennis” they think John and not Lauren. John Stennis was a segregationist US Senator from Mississippi and it’s hard to believe that we would replace our flag with racist symbolism with anything that may ultimately get drafted with that connotation. But regardless, Lauren gets huge kudos for advancing the cause.
Although there have been voices in the black community on the need to change, there’s not been unanimity of what the replacement should be. This is an interesting perspective from the Ole Miss Rhodes Scholar Arielle Hudson.
Also, this effort will take a bunch of money to do it the right way and it will likely need to be run by and targeted to Republicans.
And then there’s the media.
The reporting over the last 72 hours about the effort in Mississippi has been embarassing and done damage. Real damage. Adam Gauncheau of Mississippi Today wrote an article that could be portrayed as either wildly inaccurate or intentionally misleading. Then a follow-up article that doesn’t have any House Republicans on the record supporting came out. The state of affairs in the state Capitol is that there is enormous pressure on Democrats from their constituents to act and act right now in response to the George Floyd tragedy. The flag seems to be the lowest hanging fruit of which there is some support, from both black and white Mississippians, to make a change. But there’s not a massive movement afoot among legislative Republicans as Mississippi Today is trying to sell. There just isn’t. This is an incredibly delicate balance, and unbridled “click-chasing” is the sort of thing that will really mess things up. Not to mention that the House Republicans we’ve talked to say there’s “almost a zero chance” they’ll vote unless they essentially have the votes guaranteed on the Senate side with full leadership support.
Liberal moneyed media interests largely need to muzzle their attack dogs on this issue if there’s to be any hope whatsoever. They are hurting and not helping the cause. Both Democrat and Republican legislators I’ve visited with have said so. The more that local and national liberal media demagogue the issue for clicks and media echo-chamber virtue signaling, the harder it will be to win it. Those who backed Initiative 42 probably will remember.
Like every idea, mine has drawbacks. It might be easy to dismiss this as a “separate but equal” thing. I would argue that it’s “separate and co-equal”. And I get that it’s not ideal. Were I king for a day, I’d fix it. But I’m not and I can’t. The goal of this, however, is to bring more folks together faster and not keep them apart. I absolutely believe this is the way to progress toward the goal of minimizing and ultimately removing symbolism that really doesn’t embody who we are or how far we’ve come.
This is a winnable issue. Like all things in Mississippi, it’s complicated. But the numerically inferior need to be tactically, strategically and financially superior to win the day.
Let’s work to make that happen soon.