Former US Sen. Jim Webb (D- Virginia) took an unusual step on Wednesday as he ponders a potential presidential campaign: vaguely defending the Confederate battle flag.
“This is an emotional time and we all need to think through these issues with a care that recognises the need for change but also respects the complicated history of the Civil War,” Webb wrote on Facebook.
Webb’s statement is striking because it came as both Democrats and Republicans are largely rushing to condemn the flag and its ties to white supremacist groups. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016, said on Tuesday that the Confederate flag shouldn’t fly anywhere. She argued that its removal from public space is “just the beginning of what we have to do.”
But Webb, who said the flag should not be used in “any way as a political symbol that divides us,” took a more nuanced view of the issue. He noted that racists fought on both sides of the Civil War, and that people who didn’t own slaves also fought for the South.
“But we should also remember that honorable Americans fought on both sides in the Civil War, including slave holders in the Union Army from states such as Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland and Delaware, and that many non-slave holders fought for the South,” he said. “This is a time for us to come together, and to recognise once more that our complex multicultural society is founded on the principle of mutual respect.”
Conservative pundit Bill Kristol praised Webb’s statement and hailed him as a “grown-up.”
Last week’s church massacre in Charleston, South Carolina, touched off a national firestorm over the Confederate flag after photos emerged of the suspect holding the battle emblem. South Carolina’s governor and two senators announced Monday that they oppose flying the flag at their state capitol grounds; other states appear to be taking similar actions.