It’s a perfect culture war storm on the eve of Independence Day. Tuesday morning the Wall Street Journal broke the news that Nike was pulling its line of Air Max 1 USA sneakers ahead of a planned July Fourth release after complaints by former NFL player turned political activist Colin Kaepernick over the design. The shoes feature the 13-star circle design from the Betsy Ross flag and, according to Kaepernick, that flag is a symbol of racism.
“After images of the shoe were posted online, Mr. Kaepernick, a Nike endorser, reached out to company officials saying that he and others felt the Betsy Ross flag is an offensive symbol because of its connection to an era of slavery,” the WSJ reported. Nike responded by canceling its launch of the shoe “based on concerns that it could unintentionally offend and distract from the nation’s patriotic holiday,” according to published reports.
And then the story blew up.
Cable news coverage, social media, talk radio–the debate over Kaepernick’s claim that the American flag of the 18th Century was just as offensive as the one he refuses to stand for today became a national conversation. One that reached at least two governors’ offices.
After finding out about Nike’s decision, Arizona’s Republican Gov. Doug Ducey announced on Twitter he’s pulling about $1 million in state subsidies for a proposed Nike plant in Goodyear, Ariz. “Nike has made its decision, and now we’re making ours. I’ve ordered the Arizona Commerce Authority to withdraw all financial incentive dollars under their discretion that the State was providing for the company to locate here,” Ducey tweeted.
“Arizona’s economy is doing just fine without Nike. We don’t need to suck up to companies that consciously denigrate our nation’s history.”
Soon after, Ducey received a supportive RT from fellow Republican governor, Chris Sununu of New Hampshire.
Gov. Sununu’s office declined to offer any additional comment on the tweet. Typically, however, Republicans running in the center-right lane like Sununu tend to avoid hot-button cultural issues that are the staple of talk-radio conservatives. But not this time. Former Florida governor Jeb Bush said Nike’s decision to pull the patriotic shoes “will go down as one of the dumbest moves by a company in recent times. Worse, it is offensive to millions.”
And Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley was even more brutal:
“Nike thinks American flag is symbol of oppression? What planet are you on? Nike gladly allows Chinese Communist Party to tell it what products to sell while building its business around sweatshop labor. Nike is anti-American, pure & simple,” the Republican senator tweeted.
Elected Democrats have been noticeably silent on the controversy, without a single public statement or mention in the social media feeds of any of New Hampshire’s four members of Congress.
So, is this smart politics?
“For Sununu–yes!” says GOP consultant Dave Carney. “Anytime–but especially this week–a firm that disrespects the American flag for partisan reasons deserves to be scorned by Americans everywhere. Gov. Sununu is showing how in touch with New Hampshire values he is.”
And, it could be argued, Granite State Democrats demurring on this controversy may be showing how well they understand their party’s base, too. A new Gallup poll released Tuesday morning found that, while an overwhelming majority of Americans say they are “extremely proud to be an American,” only 22 percent of Democrats feel the same way, “the group’s lowest in Gallup’s 19 years of measurement,” the pollsters report.
Meanwhile, nearly one-in-four liberals (24 percent) say they are “only a little proud” or “not proud at all” to be Americans.
Some politicos don’t think cultural issues like these matter. They should ask Presidents Dukakis and Hillary Clinton about that. It’s certainly going to be a topic of conversation at Fourth of July gatherings this year–particularly in the “Most Patriotic State in America:”