The call to take down the South Carolina capitol's Confederate flag by the governor, Nikki Haley, has been met with a lot of praise for her political courage from the "left" and the right. But this praise is at best premature. All indications are that the act was a craven genuflection to corporate interests and her own political ambition, and not an act of conscience.
Let's look at the chain of events leading up to Haley's announcement.
On Wednesday, June 17, 2015, a white supremacist named Dylann Roof murdered nine black people in the Mother Emmanuel Church in Charleston, South Carolina. The massacre shocked the nation. It was revealed that Roof has an affinity for the Confederate flag and other symbols of white power and racism.
In honor of the victims, the State of South Carolina called for all flags to be flown at half mast- all save one. The Confederate flag that waves over the Capitol grounds in Columbia stayed up. This was met with mounting outrage across the country.
On Monday, June 22, Nikki Haley called for the removal of the flag from the capitol, saying:
By removing a symbol that divides us, we can move forward as a state in harmony and we can honor the nine blessed souls who are in heaven.
Healing statement by an emotionally invested leader, right? But this is hardly the whole story. Haley's statements less than a year ago can help to explain what actually happened here. When asked about the flag in a gubernatorial debate in October of 2014, Haley said:
I've spent a lot of my days on the phones with CEOs and recruiting jobs to this state. I can honestly say I have not had one conversation with a single CEO about the Confederate flag.
In other words, the flag was a non-issue then.
It didn't matter to Nikki Haley then that a symbol of white supremacy and racial hate flies over her state's capitol. It didn't matter to Nikki Haley then that the Confederate flag stands for an actual war fought over the right of white people to hold black people in bondage for the color of their skin. And it didn't matter to Nikki Haley then that it is a "symbol that divides": no CEO had complained about it.
If this doesn't lay out Governor Haley's attitude clearly enough, look at what happened in the days between the atrocity at Mother Emmanuel Church and Haley's call to take down the flag.
As Jena McGregor reported in the Washington Post only hours before Haley's announcement, over the weekend the call to take down the flag was taken up by, you guessed it, CEOs. From Apple to Microsoft, beginning with Marc Benioff of Salesforce.com, influential business people expressed their support for removal via social media. And Jonathan Martin of The New York Times found that the South Carolina business community as a whole wants the flag gone. It's bad for business.
And there you have it. Nikki Haley's motivation for calling for the removal of the Confederate flag from the Capitol is clear. Given her previous statements on the issue, it should be apparent that the economic cost of maintaining the relic of her state's brutal past outweighs what she may face in the fallout from the decision.
Any potential political problems are minor, though. Nikki Haley just won reelection as governor. Her term expires in 2019. It is highly unlikely that someone with her ambition and political acumen would seek a third term. Haley has her eyes set on higher office and national visibility. Setting herself up as the Republican governor from South Carolina who took down the Confederate flag from the Capitol grounds is a good narrative. That she was forced into this position by the local and national business community doesn't have to be part of that story.
That Nikki Haley called for the removal of the Confederate flag from the Capitol grounds in Columbia is a good thing. The flag is a symbol of hatred and oppression. It should have no place next to where legislators decide policy for the people. But to call Governor Haley's press conference anything other than purely economic and political, or to suggest that she made a decision of conscience or courage, is ridiculous.