APOLOGIES are better late than never. So Sen. John McCain is to be commended for admitting the error, made in a primary battle, of not taking an honest stand on South Carolina's flag controversy.
As the contest with George W. Bush moved to that pivotal Southern state, the senator danced around the question of whether the Confederate battle flag should fly from the capitol in Columbia. Mr. McCain, whose ancestors fought for the Confederacy, said the banner was indeed a symbol of slavery, but also of heritage. He concluded, like his opponent, that the matter should be left up to the state.
But the Arizonan told a gathering in Columbia last week that his forebears had fought on the wrong side of history. Their service to a misguided cause, he said, should not be commemorated "in a way that offends, that deeply hurts, people whose ancestors were denied their freedom by my ancestors."
What kept him from saying that earlier? Pure political expediency, McCain admitted.
Thus the proprietor of the "Straight Talk Express" corrects a detour. It will be interesting to see if his public apology has any effect on a certain fellow Republican.
South Carolina has since moved to fly the flag elsewhere in the capital. But Georgia still displays the Confederate battle emblem as a dominant part of its state flag, as does Mississippi. Boycotts and protests are brewing in those states, too.
Such a flag has a place in history, in museums, but not in the civic life of today's America.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society