“The base” — first of an occasional series

All politicos know, understand, and appreciate what their political base is and how important it can be. Let’s begin with an attempt to explain what a political base is.

In order to be successful as a candidate, or in order to be successful as a legislator trying to get some legislation approved, you need to know how to count – accurately. In building your majority, or is some cases, your plurality, you start out with those who you can depend on most. Hopefully it is large enough to get you close to where you need to be. It is not likely to be large enough by itself to carry the day. That is your base – people who generally think as you do and support what you are proposing.

The base, unfortunately, can often and easily put politicians in a bind. How they handle that, and if they simply retreat to the base or show some courage on a hot button issue, tells us a lot about the character of the politician.

Both political parties have “bases,” and both sides of the political aisle in legislative bodies usually have “bases.” There’s a lot to look at here. Hillary Clinton’s efforts to deal with the Democratic base and our state legislators’ efforts to balance bases in portions of our state are future topics to get into on the subject. Today, given the immediacy of the issue, this post will deal with base issue du jour – the flying of the confederate flag on the grounds of the state capital in Columbia, South Carolina.

South Carolina was the birthplace of the confederacy and many in that state still hold that tradition dear. They don’t refer to the War Between the States as the civil war. They call it the war of northern aggression.

The civil war ended 150 years ago but it seems like it is still being fought in some places. The tragic murders of nine black individuals gathered for prayer in a Charleston church by a white supremacist shows that issues remain unresolved in the heads of some people even though there was a definitive legal conclusion reached about those things long ago.

President Obama and others have stated that the place for a confederate flag is in a museum, not in front of a state capital. It is interesting to note that the confederate flag didn’t officially find its way to the state capital building in Columbia until 1962, as the civil rights movement was headed into high gear. Now it will take a supermajority vote of the South Carolina state legislature to remove the flag.

With the 2016 presidential election heating up, and with the Republican party very dependent nationally on the votes coming from the states of the old confederacy, some presidential candidates and other leading Republicans are taking a position on principle, while others are having some problems articulating a position on the subject. Here is a quick rundown:

  • Mitt Romney – “Take down the Confederate Flag”
  • Nikki Haley – recommending to the South Carolina State Legislature that the flag be removed from the Capitol – a courageous move for a South Carolina Governor.  Move her up in the list of potential VP candidates.
  • Lindsay Graham – revising his original position, Senator Graham of South Carolina now supports Governor Haley’s stance on the issue.
  • Jeb Bush – noted that he removed the flag from the Florida State Capitol when he was governor in the 1990’s.
  • Marco Rubio – hasn’t addressed the issue directly; as a Florida state legislator he opposed relocating or removing Civil War artifacts such as the flag.
  • Scott Walker – “The placement of a Confederate flag on the Capitol grounds is a state issue…”  After Governor Haley’s announcement yesterday, Walker tweeted that he supported her decision.  (“tweeted” seems like the perfect verb to describe Walker’s actions)
  • Ted Cruz – he sees both sides of this issue and was making jokes about guns a couple days after the murders.
  • Rand Paul – no specific position on the issue.
  • Rick Perry – noted that he supported the decision of the Texas Motor Vehicles Board to reject placing the flag on Texas license plates, a decision affirmed by the Supreme Court last week.
  • Rick Santorum – when asked repeatedly whether he agreed with Romney about removing the flag, he could only say “we should let the people of South Carolina go through the process of making the decision.”
  • Mike Huckabee – says the Constitution does not require a president to weigh in on all issues and he does not personally display the flag.

This issue certainly will not be the deciding factor in determining who is elected president next year, but it speaks loudly about the character of the candidates. Jennifer Rubin, a conservative blogger for the Washington Post whose blog is entitled “Right Turn,” had this to say yesterday about how the presidential candidates are handling this challenge:

One element of leadership is modeling character traits — honesty, empathy, kindness, historical awareness — and unfortunately too many Republicans did not do that in this instance. They took a process view (not my job!), seemed tentative (now is not the time!) or they acted as if were obligated to be contrarian because liberals deplored flying the Confederate flag.

If Republican presidential candidates want to reach out beyond their core base, they are going to have to show they care about all Americans. Too many in this instance did not need not demonstrate that they understand the sensibilities of Americans from all walks of life


Enough said.