I think Haley merits praise for this action. People called for South Carolina to take down the flag. She called for it to be taken down. I, myself, take yes for an answer. (And while she’s not running again, plenty of public officials in the South who have safe seats or aren’t running again haven’t done the right thing.)
Yes, she had to be pushed by a horrible event. But as Coates says, when it comes to politicians this is very nearly a tautology. (You think LBJ would have had a major record of accomplishment on civil rights had he been elected president in 1952?) Politicians, up to and including Lincoln, act in politically expedient ways, and doing so is integral to progressive success.
It should also be obvious that politicians doing good things doesn’t follow from public pressure as night follows day. There are many, many public officials who don’t do the right thing in the face of bad events and public pressure. (Seven Southern states don’t have Confederate symbols on their flags because of a lack of racist violence or because of a lack of opposition from civil rights groups.) Cf. also the Republican Party and the Affordable Care Act passim.
Yes, it’s only symbolism. You know what? Sometimes symbols matter. When a state-sanctioned symbol of treason in defense of slavery and lawlessness in defense of apartheid flies on the state capitol grounds, informing the state’s citizens that they’re second-class citizens, that matters. When Republican presidential candidates feel the need to defend the practice every four years that matter. When a Republican governor who may well have national political ambitions says nuts to this, wrong is wrong, that matters. Yes, this does not singlehandedly transform South Carolina’s politics and the South Carolina Republican Party is not going to be a reliable vehicle for racial justice, news at 11. To the zero liberals who will argue that this makes Haley a progressive hero, I will disagree in advance. Sometimes, politicians who aren’t admirable from a progressive point of view do good things. This is one of them.