Friday, March 30, 2007

A semi-fisk of Brad Warthen

Brad Warthen today dredges up a 10-year-old column to complain about David Beasley, my former boss. My personal view is that Brad spends a lot of time being disappointed by politicans, most of the time because they never remove themselves from politics. Except, of course, for St. Joe the Beloved from Charleston.

Brad's appearance on the ETV radio show he links to essentially is a rehash of that column. It would be nice if Brad had some new thoughts or even actual evidence about how the Confederate flag controversy got resolved, who helped make sure it wouldn't get resolved, and who dropped the ball on the way to resolving it. He doesn't. Essentially, Brad's sole argument then was that had David Beasley made more public speeches and public proclamations about the flag during 1997, he would have met with more success.

I doubt it. The more public the governor went, the more the Legislature dug in its heels. So for a couple of months in 1997, when Brad Warthen most wanted the governor to be lobbying the public to pressure the Legislature, David Beasley went quiet. Brad takes that to mean he did nothing. Which isn't true, not that I can prove otherwise other than what I know from being there.

Meanwhile, behind the scenes, several Democratic members of the state Senate, whose constituents clearly wanted the Confederate flag moved, did all they could to keep a Republican governor from getting traction on the flag. And Republican members of the House went as fast as they could away from an issue because they had their eye on small but loud voices inside the GOP primary.

Could Gov. Beasley have overcome all this? Maybe. Could he have overcome it with more public speeches? Very unlikely -- and there certainly isn't any evidence that I've seen that he could have.

Brad said about Gov. Beasley in 1997:
Count me among those who believe it was a genuine, road-to-Damascus experience, born of true concern about race relations in this state.

But now on the radio Brad says David Beasley's desire to be President is the reason he wanted to move the flag. So which is it? For what it's worth, all politicians have big egos and dreams, even St. Joe the Beloved of Charleston, who, if he had applied a little more work in the spring and summer of 1994, could have been governor himself.

Brad in 1997 said:

The governor, a veteran of the House, was apparently taken by surprise that leaders of the lower chamber resented being the last to know about his plans - even though they were the ones who would have to do the dirty work to make it happen.

What Brad surely had to know when he wrote this was that Gov. Beasley and staff met with members of the House before his plans became public. They weren't the last to know, and they didn't resent it because of when they were told, but more likely, that they were told at all.

The people who leaked the plans to the press were members of the House who didn't like the plans to begin with. I know. I got one of those leaks when I was a reporter.

I do not blame Brad Warthen for Gov. Beasley's failure to convince the General Assembly to move the flag. I also disagree with Gov. Beasley that the flag issue was the reason he lost re-election, and I could spend three more posts hashing out why David Beasley lost in 1998 (it isn't the flag, in my opinion, though it's silly to say it's not some factor).

The question that we're never able to answer completely is what would have happened had the flag debate taken a different turn in 1994. That year the South Carolina General Assembly nearly passed a compromise that would have moved the flag. Later that summer, David Beasley could have endorsed that compromise -- some prominent pro-Confederate flag senators backed it -- but he didn't. I wish he had.



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