Saturday, April 10, 2010

Virginia Republican Governors And Verbal Disconnect

Is there something in the water in Richmond, or is it just come kind of casual disregard for thinking before talking? One word, "macaca," probably did in the previous Republican governor of Virginia, and nobody really even knows what the heck it means. But if it can be taken as a racial slur, it will. Now newly-installed governor Bob McDonnell seems to have joined the parade.

Fortunately, it's not election time, and Virginia chief executive, Republican Bob McDonnell, has plenty of time to get this flap behind him. It's completely possible for a Southern governor to celebrate Confederate history honorably and fairly. But to ignore the issue of slavery in such a celebration is naive, foolish, and as could be expected, offensive to the descendants of former slaves. An Obama-style apology doesn't have to be included. And the issue is a fine way of bringing up how far we've come since the Civil War and Jim Crow. After all, it was the Republican Party that ended slavery, and Southern Democrats who fought tooth and nail to preserve Jim Crow.

America is now in the throes of a titanic battle between the forces of big government and those who oppose the extension of the power of the central government to control all aspects of our lives. In a more faraway time, that battle centered around states' rights, a rallying cry of slaveholders, and later of segregationists. Today, the rights of the states are at the heart of the great debate, and leaving slavery out of a celebration of the Confederacy only stirs up the left's conflation of states' rights with racism.

Nobody needs to work very hard to convince me that this was not Governor McDonnell's intention. But why hand the liberals the ammunition to shoot us with? How could a smart politician not realize that slavery is such an inherent part of the story of America, the Civil War, and the ongoing striving for the perfection embodied in the Declaration and the Constitution as to be impossible to ignore or sweep under the rug? We know very well that any rhetorical excess or omission by the liberals will be ignored or underplayed by the MSM. But we know equally well that one unintentional, but major slip on the part of a Republican will be pounced on immediately as a sign of hatred and racism. And if McDonnell didn't know that from his reading of history, he should certainly have been able to see it as it has been used very recently against the Tea Party movement.

Patrick Buchanan defends McDonnell by pointing out that General Sherman was the big bad boy of the Civil War. Now how is that helpful? The tu quoque argument accomplishes nothing, and rehashing the excesses of any Union Civil War general does nothing to fend off the argument that most of them did what they did, at least partially, to end slavery. Pointing out Lincoln's statement that he would not free a single slave if it meant the Union could be saved serves no purpose either. It certainly doesn't say anything about Lincoln's alternative plans to end slavery by some means other than a bloody war among brothers.

McDonnell's tribute to the Confederacy has much to recommend it. Certainly, the argument remains that if the federal government becomes tyrannical, there is nothing in the Constitution specifically prohibiting the states from seceding from the union. Certainly, the Confederates had a strong argument that the rights of the states to determine their own future within Constitutional bounds and without interference from the central government, and that argument is alive and well today (as it should be, I might add).

Many--perhaps most--Southerners fought for their sovereign states and their concept of freedom during the Civil War. Few were actually slave-holders. Many actually opposed slavery on moral and religious grounds. But to deny (or simply ignore) that slavery was a major element of the War is to deny simple reality. Even economic analyses of the Civil War that pit the industrial north against the agricultural south cannot ignore the simple economics of slavery, let alone its moral and religious implications. To praise the Confederacy without reference to slavery is to deny the struggle to restore the Union where slavery was prohibited. West Virginia would still be part of Virginia if it were not for this dichotomy (Sen. Robert Byrd and the KKK notwithstanding).

Good men can fight in the name of a bad cause. And so it was for many Southerners. But expecting people to believe that slavery was not part of the Southern cause is just plain nonsensical. Ignoring slavery in a speech about the Confederacy while failing to praise the progress that has been made, particularly over the past forty years, was a stupid omission and a failure of vision. McDonnell could have used the opportunity to both praise the South for its embrace of racial equality, while pointing out that one of his predecessors as governor of Virginia was the descendant of former slaves.

What you and I may say to each other, or even to a limited audience about the Civil War, Reconstruction, Jim Crow and current race relations has little national effect. Most of our fellows discussing the topic are of like mind, or at least recognize that we are discussing a fairly narrow aspect of a particular issue. This is not true for a major elected official who has just come off a surprise victory running on the issues of smaller government, independence of the states, and unity. In any major address, such a person must think carefully about what he is saying, and whether there is something in (or missing from) his address that would offend a major portion of the electorate. McDonnell's praise of the Confederacy without any mention of slavery was offensive to blacks, and frankly quite mystifying to people like me.

McDonnell has, shall we say, revised and extended his remarks. It will be used against him in the future, but probably won't have much effect if he turns Virginia's economy around ahead of that of the national economy. I hope that McDonnell has learned something about speaking entirely benignly about the Confederacy as if anyone else might not have the same warm feelings. I don't believe for one minute that McDonnell is a racist. But for God's sake, governor, please don't make any more obvious mistakes in a major address. It's one thing to use the word "macaca" and have it used against you as a racist statement. But it's quite another to open up a highway of criticism (some of it deserved, most of it not) by ignoring an issue as big as slavery.

I can think highly of Robert E. Lee for his loyalty to Virginia and the independence of the states without pretending that slavery was such a minor issue in the Civil War as to deserve being left out of the dialogue about the Confederacy. I can deeply admire the Founding Fathers without ignoring the fact that slavery was already risking the existence of the new republic at the very time of its founding. But if I make the mistake of omission that McDonnell made--so what? I'm not a governor of a state that is only now recovering from the after-effects of the Civil War, Jim Crow, and the civil rights movement of the 60s.


LL said...

It's too bad that the institution of slavery existed in the South. It diluted the concern those states had over state's rights.

Many BIG issues we face in America today were handed down to us as a result of or in consequence of the Civil War/War of Northern Aggression/War of the Rebellion (depending on who wrote the book).

However I believe that some of those issues will be resolved in this country once the barack hussein obama regime and cronies are voted from office.

Some Constitutional balance needs to be restored.

StanH said...

Perception is reality, and in the hyper sensitive PC world that we live, all politicians need too watch their tongues. By the same token this is a perpetual trap laid by the left that we simply must overcome. If every comment made by someone is filtered through the “isms and obias” filter we can never break the chains of the overreaching federal government. They will simply stifle debate using those wonderful buzz words that we all know.

A great example of that was when Pelosi and her gaggle of statist walked through the Tea Party protest, race baiting, and still unsubstantiated accusations flew about the “n” word and the narrative was set, and off we go into a MSM blather about racism…the facts on the ground be damned, and we the readers of Commentarama even had one of our own in the crowd, Bev, who confirmed the non story. We simply must overcome the boogeyman of PC, or be cowed by the press and their willing warriors on the left.

Anonymous said...

LL: Yep. We proved that an African-American (who isn't the descendant of American slaves, incidentally) can be elected president. Now we can prove that we won't keep him just because he's black. That's what "post-racial" really means.

Anonymous said...

StanH: Maybe we'll reach that point some day where only the far loony left continues to look for racial slurs, but we're a long way from that yet. We're still at the point where totally non-racial words like "niggardly" and expressions like "black hole" can still get the leftist hysterics started. And of course, there's always "macaca."

The sole problem for McDonnell is that he really did leave out a major component of the Confederacy, and that was a serious boo-boo. I'm sure his intention was to avoid stirring up racial tensions, but it had exactly the opposite effect.

The Pelosi stunt had one purpose only--to elicit some kind of racist epithets or physical confrontation. When they didn't get them (there's no physical evidence whatsoever that she got her hoped-for reactions), they just made some up. That's reprehensible, and it's backfiring among people who might otherwise have remained neutral. But it's not quite the same thing as leaving slavery out of a discussion of the Confederacy, no matter how good the intentions. We can continue to fight the PC battle against phony charges of racism and I suspect we'll ultimately prevail. But as I said in the article, let's not hand them the ammunition to shoot us with.

AndrewPrice said...

This issue bothers me. On the one hand, I absolutely agree that the path of least resistance is to never bring these issues up and to go ahead and talk about slavery, etc. etc. And I do think it was a horrible institution, and that it should not be forgotten.

That said, I despise the way the left uses it. No one alive today was ever a slave. History is full of injustices. To obsesses about what happened hundreds of years ago to other people is ridiculous. It is even more ridiculous to make this so one-sided. As you note, few Southerners owned slaves. "Whites" fought to end slavery. I would also bet a majority of "whites" didn't even have ancestors in the country at the time slavery was legal -- my own family came here in the 1860s and the 1960s.

Thus, while I agree it should be discussed, I have no tolerance left for anyone who whines about ancients slights and who tries to use issues like this to generate societal guilt. Find me a slave owner and I'll condemn them. Find me a rich liberal whose family money came from planations and I'll condemn them. But don't tar me or my family with something they did not do.

And while we're at it, maybe they should be more concerned with on-going slavery in the Middle East and Africa than they are with accusing our country which has done more than anyone else in the world to make this a better planet over the past 100 years.

Anonymous said...

Andrew: The problem is twofold with these clowns. First, they have absolutely no sense of history or historical perspective, so slavery and racism are as "real" for them today as they were at the time they actually existed. Second, reparations for slavery are a big way of keeping blacks in the Democratic Party. The slavery issue has to be kept on the radar in the present or they can't demand reparations for the ancient past.

Like you, my relatives never owned slaves. One side arrived during the Revolution (on the wrong side, I might add), but stayed on, and ended up first in the German sections of Pennsylvania before moving on to Illinois, where they ended up fighting in the Union army. The other half arrived after the consolidation of Germany in the 1870s because they didn't like Prussian central control of the nation from Berlin.

The left is never going to complain about the ongoing slavery in Africa and the Middle East because it doesn't fit into their story line of white oppression, doesn't win them any votes, and doesn't keep the races divided so they can step in and "fix" the non-problem in the present. Stirring up old animosities is all that's left for them.

HamiltonsGhost said...

Lawhawk--I agree that leaving slavery out of the discussion of the Confederacy was not too bright, but I also agree with your conclusion that it was made early enough that McDonnell can recover from it with the passage of time and improvement in Virginia's economy as a result of responsible governance at state level. Allen got slammed with the macaca nonsense at the last minute when there was little time to recover. And trying to explain what a macaca is was almost as bad as the use of the word in the first place. McDonnell isn't in anything like that position this early in his administration.

AndrewPrice said...

Lawhawk, I agree entirely on all points.

(P.S. Speaking as a descendent of good Bavarians, there is not much to like about Prussians! LOL!)

Anonymous said...

Andrew: I half-agree with you. My dad's side was from Hesse-Kassel (later part of Prussia), while my mom's side was from Bavaria. You can probably guess from the "Hesse" part where some of my dad's ancestors were on December 25, 1776.

Anonymous said...

HamiltonsGhost: Explaining "macaca" for Allen was almost as difficult as explaining "water buffalo" was for the college student who was accused of racism for yelling at a bunch of late-night rowdies (who were incidentally black) that they sounded like water buffalo (he was trying to study). Of course the student was Asian, and there are no water buffalo in Africa, but none of that mattered when someone cried "racism." The student, after much legal wrangling, was exonerated of the racism charge. Governor Allen didn't have enough time to clear his name before the election took place.

BevfromNYC said...

Okay, as an ancestor of former slave owners on one side of my family - I'M SORRY ALREADY! I ABHOR SLAVERY. IT WAS WRONG! Can we move on now?

Though to balance that out, the other side of my family were slaves in Egypt and didn't arrive on these shores until 1907, so where do I pick up my Victim's Club Card?

By the way, my slave owning ancestors were the Lees of Virginia - one of them being Robert E. Lee, so you don't get more on the wrong side of the issue than that...

Anonymous said...

Bev: Where's your sense of collective guilt? It's all your fault, and it's time to pay up. And since the Lees and the Jews are the real oppressors, I think you should pay Andrew's and my share of reparations as well. LOL

BevfromNYC said...

Actually, LawHawk, since one side didn't come here until 1907 and the other side were Southern slave owners, I think I'll just pay myself reparations. I've had my eye on a new 40 inch flat panel Sony t.v...

Anonymous said...

Bev: There you go again, using logic to defeat hysteria. If that catches on, the whole leftist agenda is in trouble. So, you're off the hook. I don't know about Andrew, but I'll just write a rubber check for my share of the reparations.

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