Wherein we agree with the WaPo Editorial Board

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader doesn’t often find himself in pretty much complete agreement with an unsigned editorial published by the Editors of the Washington Post newspaper.

Today is the day he does find himself in agreement with the Editors of the Washington Post on the issue of Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell’s proclamation declaring April 2010 “Confederate History Month.” From the editorial page:

It’s fine that Mr. McDonnell decided to proclaim April as Confederate History Month; the Confederacy is an important chapter of history that merits study and draws tourists to Virginia. But any serious statement on the Confederacy and the Civil War would at least recognize the obvious fact — that slavery was the major cause of the war, and that the Confederacy fought largely in defense of what it called “property,” which meant the right to own slaves. Instead, Mr. McDonnell’s proclamation chose to omit this, declaring instead that Virginians fought “for their homes and communities and Commonwealth.” The words “slavery” and “slaves” do not appear.

Even more incendiary is the proclamation’s directive that “all Virginians” must appreciate the state’s “shared” history and the Confederacy’s sacrifices. Surely he isn’t including the 500,000 Virginia slaves who constituted more than a quarter of the state’s Civil War-era population, who cheered the Union and ran away to it when they could.

As James McPherson, dean of Civil War scholars, commented on learning of Mr. McDonnell’s proclamation: “I find it obnoxious, but it’s extremely typical. The people that emphasize Confederate heritage and the legacy, and the importance of understanding Confederate history, want to deny that Confederate history was ultimately bound up with slavery. But that was the principal reason for secession — that an anti-slavery party was elected to the White House. . . . And without secession, there wouldn’t have been a war.”

It’s difficult to understand why Mr. McDonnell, who in his inaugural address paid eloquent homage to former Gov. L. Douglas Wilder, the grandson of slaves, and spoke movingly of slavery’s evils, would now trade in such glaring historical omissions. Charitably, we might suspect sloppy staff work; less charitably, we’d guess he is pandering to the Sons of Confederate Veterans, a group that lionizes the Confederacy and pressed for the proclamation. It’s possible the governor thought he was being sensitive by eliminating the obnoxious glorification of the Confederacy’s “cause,” a word that appeared in a similar proclamation by former governor George Allen (R), whose idea of office decor ran to Confederate flags and nooses.

Okay… Your Maximum Leader thinks that the dig at George Allen was a bit gratuitous (although he’s sure his good friend Smallholder would disagree on that point). But the general thrust of the editorial is right on.

Your Maximum Leader thinks it is important to add one important observation. Your Maximum Leader doesn’t believe Bob McDonnell is a racist. In the brief time your Maximum Leader actually had regular friendly contact with (then Delegate) McDonnell your Maximum Leader never picked up any cue that might have signalled that McDonnell had a prejudiced bone in his body. This sentiment is echoed by UVA Government professor Larry Sabato who tweeted as much earlier today.

Your Maximum Leader wants to believe that this proclamation is a combination of the WaPo Editorial Board’s charitable and less-charitable explanations. He believes that staff in the Governor’s office decided to pander to the Sons of Confederate Veterans. (Of course your Maximum Leader can’t for the life of him understand why one would pander to them…) And that the staff decided to make a few minor editorial changes to the old proclamation and get it issued without much consideration.

This belief should not, and frankly does not, absolve the Governor of ultimate responsibility. His signature went on the proclamation. He is responsible for knowing what is in the proclamation and for questioning why such a proclamation was needed (or any way called for). Someone on the Governor’s staff should have asked what the hell was going on with the proclamation and given some pushback. Your Maximum Leader can’t understand why neither the Governor nor his staff seemed to have an inkling of the outcry the proclamation was bound to cause.

This whole incident is a sad misstep by a Governor who doesn’t need missteps. He had a very successful General Assembly session and has really been on-message and on-task since being elected.

If your Maximum Leader were advising the Governor, he’d advise a public mea-culpa and amend the proclamation to denounce slavery and encourage study of the full (and accurate) history of the American Civil War.

Carry on.

1 Comment »

The governor has taken your advice.

http://volokh.com/2010/04/07/virginia-confederate-history-month-proclamation/#comments

(I get in a bit of a flame war in the comments.)

I’m willing to take your word for it that McDonnell isn’t a racist - you know the man. (Though I still think he is a anti-gay bigot forced by facebook kids to partially recant.)

And I agree with you that it was dumb. The point is long passed that pandering the racists gained you more votes than you lost among people of good will. One could actually draw a graph showing two lines forming an “x” over time: One line for “racist voters” and one line for “voters offended by racism.”

At the birth of Nixon’s Southern Strategy (Thanks Roger Ailes!), there was a wide gap in favor of pandering. Over time, the loss of votes in the North and the coming of age of a new generation in the South led to the rise of the second line. Death (and occasionally Road to Damascus moments) drop the second line.

When George Bush ran for president in 2000, he had to attract racists sotto voice: The push-poll on McCain and opening his campaign at Bob Jones (a religious school whose theology was Southern theology circa 1860) and hoping that anti-racist voters wouldn’t recognize the symbolism. He, like McDonnell, had to backpedal when people realized the significance of Bob Jones.

That’s when the tipping point was reached. Outside of some butternut regions, McCain’s campaign did not appeal to racists (though cynics might argue that he didn’t have too since Obama was never going to get their vote anyway). McCain is (perhaps was?) a deeply honorable man. The only strong race card was pulled by the Clintons and it backfired (Bill dismissing Obama as Jackson and of little broad appeal). “Game Change” shows that perhaps Clinton is a racist at heart - or at least there is some evidence.

Speaking of knowing a candidates heart, I don’t think Bush’s appeal to racists made him a racist anymore than his appeal to anti-gay bigots in 2004 made him a bigot in his personal life. By all accounts, he is a humane, inclusive man in his personal life. His appealing to those factions are just business, not personal (though some would say more damning for that.)

For Allen, I’m convinced by the evidence that he is a racist. Having a noose hanging from a ficus tree centered on your office wall in the 1980s is not a neutral statement. And using Macaca (Portugal’s n-bomb - his mother was Portuguese) is also reflective. And just as I take your personal interactions with McDonnell at face value, I work with a guy who played football with Allen and said he was a racist M-Fer back in the day, so the public and private evidence is against him).



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