Tuesday, January 2, 2024
Year : 1, Issue : 18
by Sidney Blumenthal
Nikki Haley’s feigning of staggering ignorance about the cause of the US civil war unintentionally revealed her quandary in the Republican party. It was not a gaffe. Though it was a stumble, it was not a mistake, but a message she has delivered for years and that has served her well until now. Her carefully crafted and closely memorized garble was a deracinated version of an old lie, which she had used before to attempt to mollify hostile camps in order to skid by. Some in the past praised her evasive formula as governor of South Carolina as her finest moment. It lifted her star. Yet one simple question instantly produced panicky rapid eye movements that are the telltale sign of a person desperately cornered, followed by an unstoppable stream of blather that she hoped would make it all evaporate into a meaningless ether but instead this time slid her into an abyss. Her performance, the most memorable of her entire career, was so devastating that even Ron DeSantis, the paragon of political aphasia, in the most cogent remark of his campaign, indeed his life, commented: “Yikes.” Nikki Haley turned Ron DeSantis woke.
“What was the cause of the United States civil war?” a man asked Haley at a campaign town hall in North Conway, New Hampshire. She reacted as if she were being physically threatened. Haley immediately turned her back to the questioner, breathed fast and heavy into the microphone, and walked quickly away. When she swiveled to face the crowd, she did not speak at first. Gaining her composure, she replied with an accusatory edge: “Well, don’t come with an easy question.”
Of course, the answer is an easy one for any eighth grader. But for Haley it went to the molten core of the history and politics of South Carolina, where she had been governor, to the southern strategy that realigned the Republican party, and to its hard crystallization in Trump’s party. She retreated as if struck, not because she didn’t know the obvious answer, but because she knows that it is more fraught than it has been in decades.
“I think the cause of the civil war was basically how government was going to run, the freedoms and what people could and couldn’t do,” Haley began haltingly. Then she stopped.
“What do you think the cause of the civil war was?” she asked her questioner. He replied that he was not running for president and wished to hear her thoughts. “I think it always comes down to the role of government and what the rights of the people are,” Haley continued, and continued, and continued. “And I will always stand by the fact that I think government was intended to secure the rights and freedoms of the people”.
She looked to her questioner in the hope that her flood of verbosity had overwhelmed him. “In the year 2023, it’s astonishing to me that you answer that question without mentioning the word ‘slavery’,” he said. She shot back with her own question, as if in a spat: “What do you want me to say about slavery?” She wanted the townsman to answer for her. “You’ve answered my question, thank you,” he said.
Her recoil from the question about the civil war was an ingrained instinct. She keeps trying to pass the southern test.
Her language in New Hampshire was the same as the rhetoric she honed in South Carolina. The Wall Street Journal editorially praised her in 2010 for an interview she gave to a neo-Confederate group, the Palmetto Patriots. “‘You had one side of the Civil War that was fighting for tradition, and I think you had another side of the Civil War that was fighting for change,’ she said. She did not use the word ‘slavery’ but hinted at it, saying that ‘everyone is supposed to be free.’” The Journal noted approvingly: “She pledged to retain a political compromise that gave the Confederate flag a place of prominence in front of the State House, a position that puts her within the mainstream among GOP leaders in the state.”
Haley’s answer was an attempt to repeat her balancing act in the birthplace of secession, offering ‘lost cause lite’. Her rationale was a muffled echo of that of Confederate leaders justifying secession.
Alexander Stephens, the Confederate vice-president and framer of the Confederate constitution, in his speech of 21 March 1861 proclaiming slavery as its “cornerstone”, stated that it “secures all our ancient rights, franchises, and liberties”.
It may not have occurred to Haley that there are no Confederate monuments in New Hampshire. There are nearly 100 in the state to the Union cause. One-tenth of the population of New Hampshire at the time served in the Union army: 32,750 men, of whom nearly 5,000 died, 130 in Confederate prisons. The fifth New Hampshire volunteer infantry had the highest casualty rate of any Union regiment. About 900 soldiers from New Hampshire fought at Gettysburg, suffering 368 casualties, many of whom are buried at the cemetery there, where Lincoln delivered his address explaining their sacrifice for a “government of, by and for the people”. The monument to the fifth New Hampshire is one of five monuments to Granite state units at the Gettysburg battlefield.
If Haley appears unfamiliar with the history of New Hampshire’s contribution to the preservation of democracy and emancipation, she is certainly well acquainted with South Carolina’s attempt at its destruction, and the history that both preceded and followed it, which has been apparent in her efforts to soften and cover it up.
Surely, when she entered her office as governor in the state capitol of South Carolina in Columbia, Haley recognized the larger-than-life brass statue of John C Calhoun, ideologue of the master class and leader of nullification, who declared slavery to be a “positive good”, standing in the middle of the rotunda. The Confederate battle flag that flew above the capitol was raised by an act of the legislature in 1961 as a protest of defiance against civil rights and waved there when she was elected governor.
On 17 June, 2015, Dylann Roof, a 21-year-old white supremacist and neo-Nazi, murdered nine Black members of the Bible study group of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal church, intending to ignite a race war. In the aftermath, after a contentious debate in the legislature, the Confederate flag was removed from the capitol. Haley favored its lowering. In 2020, another John C Calhoun statue, which had stood on a pedestal 115ft above central Charleston for 120 years, was removed.
Since the controversy over the Confederate flag, Haley has defended neo-Confederates who see it as a symbol of their “heritage” while trying to separate it from Dylann Roof. “For many people in our state, the flag stands for traditions that are noble – traditions of history, of heritage and of ancestry,” she stated as governor. “The hate-filled murderer who massacred our brothers and sisters in Charleston has a sick and twisted view of the flag. In no way does he reflect the people in our state who respect and, in many ways, revere it. At the same time, for many others in South Carolina, the flag is a deeply offensive symbol of a brutally oppressive past. As a state, we can survive, as we have done, while still being home to both of those viewpoints. We do not need to declare a winner and loser.”
In a Washington Post op-ed, she wrote that the flag was “a symbol of slavery, discrimination, and hate for many people”. But, she added: “Today’s outrage culture insists that everyone who holds a view that’s different from our own is not just mistaken. They must be evil and shunned.
Courtesy: The Guardian