When Symbology Changes
Humans have used symbols to represent ideas and general concepts longer than there have been written languages. But sometimes, the meaning for a given symbol can change greatly, and sometimes that meaning can change in what seems like the blink of an eye.
For thousands of years, the swastika was used by cultures around the world. Originally, it was used to represent the sun, or strength, or power, or good luck. However, the German Nazi’s appropriated the symbol during their reign of terror. By the end of the Second World War, very few people outside of die-hard Nazis looked favorably upon the swastika. Today, it is a symbol that represents degradation, humiliation and overt racism. The original meaning is lost to the dust of history, and even the people who as recently as a century ago were using it as a good luck talisman have abandoned it.
2,000 years ago, the cross represented the very worst punishment the Roman Empire could mete out. Wherever crosses appeared, the most painful death imaginable was certain to follow. As a symbol, it represented the power of Rome and the emperor. Today, it is the principle symbol of the world’s 3 billion Christians. Rather than a symbol of oppression, it has become a symbol of freedom. Although I never met Emperor Nero, I doubt he would understand how, in less than a century, the Roman Imperial Eagle came to be replaced by the cross.
Today, we’re faced with another symbol that has undergone a radical transformation of it’s meaning: the Confederate Battle Flag. While it once stood for the right of individual states to protest the federal government and Southern Pride, it’s appropriation by various white supremacist groups today leaves it an undeniable symbol of racism and bigotry. Removing it’s use from public and/or official displays should be plain common sense.
There will still be occasions when it’s use is appropriate. Just as swastikas are flown during WWII reenactments, it’s a little hard to imagine a Civil War reenactment without the Stars and Bars. But by the same token, no matter how much I like Lynyrd Skynyrd, I just can’t imagine them continuing to use that flag as a stage prop – even though it’s been a staple of their shows for over 40 years. Yes, Skynyrd is proud to be Southern. but they’ve never embraced racism as a theme.
That’s what happens when symbols change meaning. You can continue to use them, hoping the world will understand you don’t agree with the new meaning. Or you can accept reality and move on. It’s time for us to move on and consign the Confederate Battle Flag to history.
First take: South Carolina Debate
The debate just ended and I thought this one was more spirited than the previous 217 debates.
I think Newt Gingrich won this one, but just barely. His opening was like a shotgun blast, hitting his ex-wife and John King with enough birdshot to wound both. Rick Santorum had his best debate to date, but it was fueled solely by his animosity towards Newt. On the issues, he skitchy – and his answer on SOPA was Orwellian double-speak. Mitt Romney once again survived relatively unscathed, but it’s amazing that he still hasn’t come up with a solid answer about his tax returns. (Hint: we know you’re rich, Mitt). As for Ron Paul, he was a non-factor, although the Paulbots did force King to let him answer a few questions.
As for the questions, several real issues were left out of the mix to allow for rambling, nonsensical answers to rambling, nonsensical questions. But, hey at least we avoided the Diet Coke question.
UPDATED: Rick Perry Is Out
CNN is reporting that Rick Perry will drop out of the race for the Republican nomination today.
It’s been a remarkable downfall for the Texas governor. Met with great fanfare when he announced his candidacy on the same day as the Iowa straw poll, Perry quickly shot to the top of the early polls. But some rather horrid debate performances started eroding his support, and he soon fell into disfavor with conservatives over his stance on illegal immigration. A disjointed economic proposal quickly undermined his campaign’s principle theme, that he had the answer to the nation’s economic woes – and particularly the frustration with persistent high unemployment. Recently, he’s come under attack from fellow conservatives for portraying front-runner as a “vulture capitalist.”
After failing to crack 5% of the vote in Iowa, Perry seemed ready to ditch his campaign only to re-emerge the following day. However, since then he didn’t even muster 1% in New Hampshire and the most recent polling has him with under 5% support in South Carolina, so he may actually stay out this time.
UPDATE 11:40AM: Perry is officially out, stating that “This mission is greater than any one man.” He has endorsed Newt Gingrich.
Late yesterday afternoon, the Drudge Report reported that ABC is sitting on a “bombshell” interview with Newt Gingrich’s ex-wife.
Color me unimpressed.
First, consider the source. Matt Drudge is, at best, a muckraker. His career was built on looking for the most salacious headlines. Slander and innuendo are his modus operandi. He is more publicity hound than reporter, and this story is exactly what he needed. After a few years of being an afterthought in conservative circles (and even less in liberal ones), people are talking about him again.
Further, rumors abound in conservative circles linking Drudge and James Dobson. Dobson, founder of the conservative group Focus on the Family, is backing Rick Santorum and has thrown some very un-Christian barbs at Newt’s current wife. Now Drudge leaks that ABC is sitting on an interview with Marianne Gingrich, promising details “that will destroy Newt’s campaign.”
Suddenly, Marianne has details that will destroy her ex-husband’s Presidential campaign? Sorry, but scorned women don’t make the best witnesses. What could she possibly tell us that we don’t already know? Newt is a womanizer? He has a nasty temper? He’s ambitious? He believes he’s better than the rest of us?
All of those things are already well-documented over Newt’s 30+ years in elective politics. I have my own doubts about Newt being Presidential material (that temper is troubling when deciding whose finger is on the nuclear button), but Dobson and Drudge seem to be heading into John Quincy Adams territory with this line of attack. The end result of that smear campaign was Andrew Jackson winning, his wife dying, and a man with a well-pronounced vindictive streak seeking retribution for the 8 years of his Presidency (and very nearly causing the Civil War to break out 30 years early in the process).
Rather than inflaming passions of the more prurient, Dobson would be best served by focusing on Newt’s questionable policy arguments.
UPDATE: Andrew Breitbart is now reporting that ABC will air the interview on their Nightline program tonight. Since they’re bypassing higher profile (and viewership) slots to air it, it further reinforces my thought that this doesn’t break any new ground.
Reexamining Rick Perry
After sounding for all the world as if he were dropping out of the Republican primary race Wednesday morning, Rick Perry tweeted he wasn’t less than 12 hours later (said tweet included the picture to the left).
It’s yet another mystifying twist for the Texas governor, who has managed to parlay what was once strong conservative support into a mere 10% finish in the Iowa caucuses. This is despite the fact that he is telegenic, has an immense campaign war chest, the Super PAC “Make us Great Again” is in his corner and has a history of job creation in his home state that should play well in this year’s campaign cycle. Despite these advantages, Perry’s poll numbers continue to drop precipitously. For the past month, he has basically tracked at around 6% nationally; suggesting his relatively good showing in Iowa may be an outlier and portend even worse electoral showings in the future.
There are several reasons that the more the country has gotten the chance to know Rick Perry, the more his numbers drop.
- Public speaking isn’t a strong suit: For most of us, this would be problematic. For a politician, it’s failing at their bread and butter. Perry often comes across in public speaking engagements as befuddled. That may actually be a kind way of expressing his speaking abilities. The reality is he is cringe-inducing when on stage, whether reading from prepared statements or trying to speak “off-the-cuff.” Anyone who watched his bumbling attempts at reading a campaign activist’s letter the other night couldn’t have been impressed. It’s a continuation of a theme that began in earnest with his debate performances (or rather, non-performances). Perry supporters continually dismiss his speaking ability is irrelevant, but the American people have a different opinion. Why? Anyone who has ever taken a public speaking course knows the answer. How you speak in public conveys hidden information regarding your confidence and intelligence. If you want to be seriously considered as Presidential material, it’s fine to be an average speaker. But turning in performances that wouldn’t be suitable for kindergarten won’t win you many votes.
- Illegal Immigration: Perry actually has strong record on attempting to get the Federal government to live up to its responsibility in maintaining border security. That includes urging the current administration to assign National Guard units to patrol the border between Texas and Mexico. Unfortunately for him, he was side-swiped by a decision he made to offer in-state tuition rates to the children of illegal immigrants in Texas. For immigration hard-liners (for whom, nothing short of execution will seem satisfy them), this was a couple of steps too far. Having a moderate position regarding immigration isn’t really anathema to Republican rank-and-file (Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush both shared similar values), but there is a hard core movement on the right that absolutely refuses to address immigration pragmatically. Rather than take time to fully outline his immigration policy (a sensible plan, that actually reinforces the American ideals of fairness while adopting a tough stance on border security), Perry has vacillated on the issue under the heat of public scrutiny.
- The HPV Mess and privacy rights: In 2007, Governor Perry mandated that underage girls be given the HPV vaccine. His motives sound reasonable. After all, cancer is a terrible disease and a vaccine that can help prevent a form should be lauded. But the mandate runs afoul of several long-standing conservative principles. First is that conservatives (and most liberals, as well) have an aversion to the idea the government can determine what is best for our children. Second is the idea that the government can enforce rules regarding our personal health. Finally, while not particularly vocalized but certainly an affront to religious conservatives, is that the vaccine is used to prevent a sexually transmitted disease in underage girls. It certainly didn’t help Perry’s case when Merck, the maker of the vaccine, was found to have made significant contributions to the Perry campaign. He has attempted to disavow the mandate since, but it’s a bit like closing the barn door long after the horse left.
There are other issues that Perry has found himself fending off, such as his supposed Islamic leanings. (Personally, those seem to be fabricated). Undoubtedly, he never counted on facing such intense scrutiny from his right flank but his inability to properly counter says something about his fitness for office. So does his inability to properly staff his campaign, leading to his not being on the Virginia primary ballot. Can Perry overcome the numerous gaffes he and his campaign have made thus far and still win the nomination? If this were any other candidate possessing the campaign money he does, I would say certainly. But I can’t see it happening here. Perry has yet to demonstrate a feel for the national political stage and worse, seems to be slow on the uptake. I suspect more than a belief he can win the nomination is his personal animosity towards Mitt Romney. If preventing Romney from winning the nomination is the overriding reason Perry is staying in the race, I suggest he drop out sooner than later. I don’t see a way this version can sell his candidacy outside of Texas and his staying in the race will only serve to fracture the conservative base of the party. In case anyone else remembers, it was Fred Thompson’s misguided attempt at reviving his campaign in South Carolina that led to John McCain’s coasting to the Republican nomination in 2008. We all should remember how that turned out.
In light of these failings, I urge Governor Perry to exit the race and support the one true conservative left in the race, Senator Rick Santorum.