The Flagger Road Show Comes to Danville
As some of you know, the City of Danville, Virginia announced recently that it would leave in place a Confederate flag on the grounds of the Danville Museum of Fine Arts and History. The museum is housed in the Sutherlin Mansion that, for a week in the spring of 1865, was home to Jefferson Davis and the Confederate government, after their midnight skedaddle from Richmond. This decision is naturally being heralded as a big win for Confederate Heritage™, although city’s announcement was based on a close reading of Virginia state law, not on the actual merits of the flag supporters’ case. Indeed, a Danville political blogger who attended the public hearing on Tuesday felt that the flag supporters did their cause more harm than good. One local SCV member, Glen Scearce, gave a rambling harangue that was
incoherent at best and is becoming sadly hilarious. God make this stop. He’s now talking about if Kennedy lived, the Vietnam war or something and by now I’ve clawed my eyes out. . . . This was the worst speech I’ve ever heard at a council meeting.
Another reportedly asked “if [the Danville City] council will be the next Hitler and the Nazis, rewriting history.” They do love them some Nazi analogies, those folks.
Anyway, one of the speakers was
outside agitator Virginia Flagger Barry Isenhour (above), who reportedly said that (in the blogger’s words) “Lexington has a high unemployment rate because they have ran off tourism.” That would be a compelling argument if it were true, but even a cursory look at the actual suggests it’s not.
The Virginia Flaggers have been claiming for a long while now that their boycott of Lexington, initiated shortly after the city council there voted to bar all non-official flags from city-owned display poles, has had a dramatic effect on the city’s economy. They typically latch on to some bit of bad news about business in Lexington, and proudly claim credit for it. Most recently, they were crowing about a report that in June, Lexington had the highest unemployment in the commonwealth. But as I’ve pointed out before, actual economic data shows that tourism-related business in Lexington has been on the upswing all through the Flagger boycott.
Flaggers like Isenhour, Susan Hathaway, Brandon Dorsey and others are good at tossing off anecdotal examples of Very Bad Things happening in Lexington. But anecdotes aren’t data, and economic impact is rarely (if ever) reflected in a single datum point. It’s about trends. And, contra Isenhour’s assertion about unemployment, the overall trend is quite clear:
Since peaking in 2010, more than a year before passage of the city’s flag ordinance and the beginning of the Flagger’s boycott of the town, unemployment trends for Lexington, the Commonwealth of Virginia and the United States as a whole have all moved steadily downward.
There are some important takeaways here. The first is that unemployment in Lexington is high, higher than both the Commonwealth of Virginia and the United States as a whole, and it’s inordinately seasonal, spiking consistently every summer. But these are also patterns that have been consistent for years, well before the Virginia Flaggers began their boycott campaign. Any effect that campaign has on employment statistics for Lexington doesn’t appear to move the overall trends at all. The big picture is quite clear — unemployment in Lexington, as in Virginia and the rest of the country, is getting steadily better, not worse.
As for the recent talking point that Lexington had the highest unemployment rate in the commonwealth in June, that’s true, and it’s an unfortunate designation. But it’s also not really surprising, given that Lexington has had much higher unemployment than Virginia as a whole, going back to the winter of 1999-2000, when it shot upward and has never since come back down relative to the rest of the state. Again, this is not something attributable to the Flaggers; it’s been the “normal” course of things in Lexington for well over a decade. The Flaggers won’t tell you that. What else won’t they tell? Among other things, that that horrible peak unemployment in Lexington in the summer of 2014 (11.3%) was lower than the peak in 2013 (12.4), which was lower than the peak in 2012 (12.7%), which was lower than the peak in 2011 (13.8%), which was. . . well, you get the idea.
I don’t need to belabor the point, but the data is clear that when it comes to the effectiveness of the Virginia Flaggers’ boycott of Lexington businesses, they’re not only claiming credit for something they didn’t do; they’re claiming credit for something that hasn’t even happened. I honestly don’t know if they’re too dumb or lazy to see this for themselves, or know better but assume that their audience will believe anything that sounds good for their cause. It doesn’t really matter, though, because the effect is the same.
Anyway. I’m off to San Marcos to talk about how we identified a famous Civil War blockade runner wrecked here 150 years ago next February. Y’all be good to each other while I’m gone.