Former Virginia senator and potential presidential candidate Jim Webb (D) is not calling for Confederate battle flags to be removed from public property, saying the issue is “complicated.”
Webb, who is exploring a 2016 presidential campaign, wrote on Facebook that the flag “has wrongly been used for racist and other purposes in recent decades. It should not be used in any way as a political symbol that divides us.”
At the same time, he avoided any explicit call to remove the flag from public places, as many of the Democratic and major Republican presidential contenders have in the wake of last week’s shootings at a historic black church in Charleston, S.C.
Instead, Webb ruminated on the “complicated history” of the Civil War and suggested that slavery was not inextricably tied to the Confederate side.
“Honorable Americans fought on both sides in the Civil War, including slave holders in the Union Army,” and “many non-slave holders fought for the South,” he wrote. “This is a time for us to come together, and to recognize once more that our complex multicultural society is founded on the principle of mutual respect.”
His ambivalence is at odds with the political climate. Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus stood at the side of South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) on Monday as she declared that the flag should no longer be displayed near that state’s capitol. Most Republican candidates supported her, but some said that although they thought the flag should come down, they thought it was for the state to decide. Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) is phasing out his state’s Confederate license plates, and Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) says he wants to do the same.
Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) has said that the Confederate emblem should be removed from Mississippi’s state flag.
It’s not a surprising position for Webb, who in the past has spoken fondly of his Confederate roots and described the Southern cause as “misunderstood.”
In a 2004 history book on the Scots-Irish in America, “Born Fighting,” Webb lamented what he called the “Nazification of the Confederacy.” And his acclaimed novel about Vietnam, “Fields of Fire,” features a Marine Corps lieutenant named Robert E. Lee Hodges Jr.
Webb has said that his heritage and outlook give him an affinity with many of the white working-class voters whom Democrats have lost in recent elections and who Webb says often feel vilified by liberals as racist.
He is also known for saying what he thinks, regardless of political expediency. That outspokenness, and his opinions on the Confederate-flag issue, could be a stumbling block if he enters the Democratic primaries.