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Jewish World Review Aug. 4, 1999 /22 Av, 5759

Paul Greenberg

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The great Arkansas flag flap -- WHO WOULD HAVE THOUGHT IT? That innocent red-white-and-blue Arkansas state flag, the one flown at so many Razorback games, and displayed outside schoolhouses where innocent little children gather, is really a corrupting, racist banner. Horrors.

No one might have noticed the awful truth after all these years if New York's mayor, Rudy Giuliani, hadn't been so eager to reciprocate after Little Rock's Capital Hotel flew the New York City flag in his honor. He immediately ordered the Arkansas state flag flown outside New York's City Hall.

That's when this star-spangled scandal was discovered by eagle-eyed New Yorkers, just about all of them by some coincidence Democratic politicians. Democrats must be more observant, at least when a Republican mayor of New York is about to run for the U.S. Senate. The tabloids promptly went crazy, as they do daily. ("Wave of Anger Over Arkansas Flag'' -- Daily News)

There are other pleasures in life, but only a choice few rate up there with with reading big-city tabloids, even if if you only look at the pics and read the heds. There are geniuses at work here, brightening the lives of us all.

This time the headlines weren't the caliber of FORD TO CITY: DROP DEAD. Or even my own personal, all-time favorite from way back: HEADLESS BODY IN TOPLESS BAR. But the heds were spirited enough for another one-day Arkansas scandal. Even the good gray New York Times was obliged to take tame note back on Page A19. ("Furor Over Flag Trails Giuliani on Fund-Raising Visit to the South.'')

One after the other, critics of Arkansas' official ensign took offense at a single star out of the whole constellation of them on the state flag -- the one that commemorates the short-lived Confederate States of America.

Shades of Jefferson Davis, Jubilation T. Cornpone and "Gone With the Wind'' The CSA still lives, at least when it's election time up Nawth. It was like waving a red flag at a McCarthyite. New York councilmen were seeing rebels under every bed. The War was on again, and the rhetorical lines were being drawn.

The city council's speaker, the Hon. Peter F. Vallone, put in a call to Mayor Giuliani, who was marching through Alabama at the time, circling every Republican campfire in search of campaign donations, and demanded that the enemy flag flying over City Hall be lowered at once, this instant,now. He made it sound as if he had the Grand Army of the Republic waiting in the wings.

Mayor Rudy, who's developing the rhetorical reflexes of a Fiorello LaGuardia as he campaigns through the South early on every frosty morn, declined. His response: "I told the Speaker this morning he should send his objection to President Clinton.'' (The president, a New Yorker-to-be, is said to have Arkansas roots.)

The crossfire between mayor and speaker was typical of the exchanges in this oratorical duel: The oh-so-serious barrage from one side, consisting mainly of duds, was answered by sniper fire on target. For once -- and this remarkable precedent in American political history should be duly noted -- it was the Republicans who were displaying a sense of humor. Somebody ought to put up an historical plaque. Now it's the Democrats who've been reduced to straight men. Is this a portent for W.'s campaign in 2000

In all this skirmishing, the only real danger to any bystanders was that they might be overcome by laughter. This is what happens in an election when the candidates have materialized, but not the issues.

That rumbling you might have heard as the Great Arkansas Flag Flap unfurled last week was doubtless Miss Willie K. Hocker of Pine Bluff, Ark., spinning like mad. She's the lady who designed the Arkansas state flag circa 1913.

Arkansas flag above Manhattan city hall
Much like Betsy Ross, Miss Willie had a thing about stars. She put 25 of them on this state flag in honor of Arkansas' admission to the Union as the 25th state. Plus four others for sovereignties that have held sway over Arkansas. Besides the United States and the Confederacy, those four stars in the center represent colonial Spain and France, which by Speaker Vallone's logic must make the flag an advertisement for monarchy, as well as slavery.

For now the flag is only being called racist, a slap in the face, a reminder of the Old South. ... The bloody shirt hasn't been waved with this much vigor since shortly after the late unpleasantness. Who says only Southerners remember the War Between the States? These protesters in New York seem as obsessed by The Wah as any Civil War Roundtable.

It occurs that, in addition to Mayor Giuliani, who's now an honorary Arkansan after his visit here the other day, there's another prospective candidate in this race who would be in an excellent position to comment on the flag's meaning. Hillary Clinton, as the former first lady of Arkansas, never seemed to have a problem with that single star when she lived at the Governor's Mansion in Little Rock. What would her position on the flag flap be? Is she going to stand by her flag, as well as her man?

Something tells me that this is another burning issue Miss Hillary is going to rise above, sink below and generally ignore. As she should. My advice, not that it's been sought in the Clintons' elevated quarters since about 1980, is that First Woman just keep listening and not say a word. This'll all be forgotten in a New York minute.

What all this flagdoodle mainly signifies is that the dog days of August are upon an overheated nation, and we've moved into the silly season. A prediction: Once things cool off, attention to these one-day sensations will flag.

Paul Greenberg Archives


©1999, Los Angeles Times Syndicate