McCain Recants on Confederate Flag Issue

July 7, 2008 - 7:25 PM

( - A contrite John McCain told the people of South Carolina Wednesday that he believes now - as he believed while he was a presidential candidate but would not admit - that the Confederate battle flag flying over the statehouse in Columbia should come down.

"I believe the flag should be removed from your capitol," McCain said.

Speaking to the South Carolina Policy Council in Columbia, McCain said that during his primary campaign for the Republican nomination he avoided a direct statement on the politically divisive issue because he thought it would cost him the crucial South Carolina primary, which he eventually lost to Texas Gov. George W. Bush.

"I feared that if I answered honestly I could not win the South Carolina primary, so I chose to compromise my principles. I broke my promise to always tell the truth," McCain said.

During the campaign, McCain said he personally found the flag "offensive," but that the decision to remove it from the state capitol should be left up to the people of South Carolina. Bush and former ambassador Alan Keyes, who also ran in the primary, also stated that the matter should be left up to South Carolinians.

McCain, a former Vietnam War POW, graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy where the honor code requires midshipmen to not only always tell the truth, but also to expose others who lie or cheat. He ran his presidential campaign on a theme of honesty and "straight talk," and toured South Carolina in a bus dubbed the "Straight Talk Express."

McCain said that he compromised those principles by not revealing his true feelings during his campaign about what should be done with the flag.

"As I admitted, I should have done this earlier when an honest answer could have affected me personally," McCain said.