[See also The New Intolerance—Hatred Of The South Is Hatred Of America, by Patrick J Buchanan]
McDonnell revived the tradition of proclaiming Confederate History Month in April that his two Democratic predecessors, Tim Kaine and Mark Warner, had abandoned. The proclamation itself was perfectly innocuous. It simply encouraged tourism based on the upcoming sesquicentennial of the Civil War by acknowledging the many great Civil War and Confederate landmarks in Virginia. It celebrated the bravery of Confederate soldiers—but also their reconciliation to the Union after the Civil War.
McDonnell's great sin, however, was that he did not mention slavery. The reactions were predictable. Kaine, now Democratic National Committee Chairthing, wailed,
"Governor McDonnell's decision to designate April as Confederate History Month without condemning, or even acknowledging, the pernicious stain of slavery or its role in the war disregards history, is insensitive to the extraordinary efforts of Americans to eliminate slavery and bind the nation's wounds, and offends millions of Americans of all races and in all parts of our nation…
"A failure to acknowledge the central role of slavery in the Confederacy and deeming insignificant the reprehensible transgression of moral standards of liberty and equality that slavery represented is simply not acceptable in the America of the 21st century." [DNC Chairman Tim Kaine Statement on Gov. McDonnell's Proclamation Declaring April Confederate History Month, PR Newswire, April 7, 2010]
Of course, it is only to be expected that Democrats, who depend on their African American base, would make this sort of self-righteous noise.
But, as with the Lott lynching in 2002, the equally self-righteous Right, led by National Review, followed suit.
NR Editor Ramesh Ponnuru used his special status as token "conservative" blogger at the Washington Post to pontificate that McDonnell's
"…failure to mention slavery was a moral and historical mistake; it is also, I think, a political one. Gov. McDonnell has been widely hailed—and I've been one of the hailers—as showing Republicans the way toward rebuilding a national majority. One of his accomplishments during the campaign was to show that blacks are welcome, indeed sought after, in his coalition. This move undercuts that effort, which damages Republicans and conservatives not only among blacks but among non-black voters as well.
"The governor should acknowledge his error and strive to repair the damage." [A Provocative Proclamation, Ramesh Ponnuru, Washington Post's Right Matters, April 7, 2010]
It is difficult to say how McDonnell was "historically wrong" in the proclamation. It made no factual error and simply offered no interpretation of the war's causes. And I'm not sure what's not "moral" about promoting tourism.
As for the politics, McDonnell's great outreach to blacks amounted to procuring the endorsement of Black Entertainment Television founder Sheila Johnson, and persuading former black Democratic Governor L. Douglas Wilder to stay out of the gubernatorial race entirely. Needless to say, Johnson and Wilder—who had actually saluted the Confederate flag on a notable occasion in 1999—both attacked McDonnell over the proclamation.
Yet what did their support/non-opposition amount to? McDonnell received a whopping nine percent of the black vote—an improvement of one percent over McCain. But McDonnell received 67% of the white vote, who made up 78% of the Virginia electorate. McDonnell's new "coalition" was White Republicans, White Democrats, and White Independents.
But this pseudo-outreach made Ponnuru and other GOP publicists instantly declare McDonnell a national leader, and he was duly given the response to Obama's State of the Union.
Not wanting to lose this status, McDonnell groveled in time-honored fashion:
"The failure to include any reference to slavery was a mistake, and for that I apologize to any fellow Virginian who has been offended or disappointed. The abomination of slavery divided our nation, deprived people of their God-given inalienable rights, and led to the Civil War. Slavery was an evil, vicious and inhumane practice which degraded human beings to property, and it has left a stain on the soul of this state and nation. In 2007, the Virginia General Assembly approved a formal statement of 'profound regret' for the Commonwealth's history of slavery, which was the right thing to do. [McDonnell issues thorough apology for leaving slavery out of proclamation, Washington Post, April 7, 2010]
This groveling is nothing new in Virginia. When, pre-Macaca, GOP Senator George Allen was touted as a potential presidential candidate, many leftists made a lot of the fact that he had a noose outside his office as a District Attorney and a Confederate flag in his house. Rather than defend his positions, Allen co-sponsored a resolution to apologize for lynching.
Indeed, Virginia Republicans have been perfectly happy to make political attacks on any recognition of the South's heritage when it suits them.
Thus in 2002, Ben Jones—who is best known for his role of Cooter in the Dukes of Hazzard—ran as a Democrat against Eric Cantor, now Republican minority Whip, in Virginia's seventh congressional district. Jones campaigned in the famous General Lee—a bright orange Dodge Charger with a Confederate flag painted on the roof—from the TV show. Cantor responded by releasing fliers asserting "He proudly flies the Confederate flag and is making Southern heritage a major part of his campaign," in contrast to Cantor who "believes everyone is entitled to their own opinions about Southern heritage. However, he is a United States Congressman, and he is focused on the issues of TODAY." [Wilder chides Democrats for Jones' use of Confederate flag, Bob Lewis, Associated Press, September 19, 2002]
Ostensibly, a lot of the outrage at McDonnell is not so much because of his declaration of Confederate History Month, but because of his failure to mention slavery. But the fact is that slavery gets plenty of attention from all levels of American government. Virginia issued the formal apology for slavery that McDonnell now says he supports. The U.S. House of Representatives also passed an official apology. Fredericksburg, VA is currently creating $200 million National Slavery Museum paid for by corporations and tax payers. It has had some funding problems, but we can be sure this controversy will be used to get McDonnell to pony up some more money.
In contrast, The Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond had to sell its building in 2007 just to have enough money to take care of its archives. Robert E Lee's boyhood home in Alexandria, VA received so little funding that the trust had to sell it to a private owner. Meanwhile, the city of Alexandria, which already has a black history museum, is spending millions to restore an old slave cemetery.
In 2007, when Barack Obama was asked where a Confederate flag should be displayed, he responded "in a museum." But it turns out we aren't even allowed to have museums.
The issue of Southern Heritage goes far beyond the Civil War. Personally, I believe that the South's decision to secede was imprudent and was indeed done largely to preserve the institution of slavery—but it was nonetheless constitutionally justified. However, the reason I oppose the modern attacks on the Confederacy is that they are really attacks on America.
For better or worse, many American heroes owned slaves. And most prominent Americans through the mid-twentieth century held views that would be denounced as "racist" today. Even Abraham Lincoln stated that "I am not, nor ever have been in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races."." [Fourth Lincoln-Douglas Debate, Charleston, Illinois, September 18, 1858]
If we need to apologize for and remove all semblances of racism, then we may as well abolish all of pre-MLK-redeemed America.
In fact, exactly this is already happening. In 1992, the city of New Orleans issued a policy to rename all public schools named after slave owners and started with Robert E. Lee and P.G.T. Beauregard. It didn't stop there, and changed George Washington Elementary to honor black Dr. Charles Drew who is falsely credited for advances in blood transfusion. According to activist Carl Galmon who helped lead the fight: "Why should African-Americans want their kids to pay respect or pay homage to someone who enslaved their ancestors?...To African-Americans, George Washington has about as much meaning as David Duke." [Blacks Strip Slaveholders' Names Off Schools, By Kevin Sack, New York Times, November 12, 1997]
In 2000, the sponsor of a bill that would require New Jersey students to memorize parts of the Declaration of Independence withdrew the bill after black legislators called it "exclusionary and insensitive." Noting that Thomas Jefferson owned slaves, black state senator Wayne Bryant said,
"You have nerve to ask my grandchildren to recite [the Declaration]. How dare you? You are now on notice that this is offensive to my community."
[Black legislators stall bill on Independence pledge, Andrea Billups, Washington Times, March 1, 2000 See also Former Sen. Wayne Bryant gets four years in prison for bribery, fraud, By Paul Cox, The Star-Ledger July 25, 2009]
If the Republican Party and the Establishment conservative movement cannot stand up for the South, then we cannot expect them to stand up for America.
Ellison Lodge (email him) works on Capitol Hill.