Confederacy of Dunces II

Earlier this week, the Governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia, Bob McDonnell, issued a proclamation declaring April "Confederate History Month." Not, mind you, "Civil War History Month." Next year is the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the Civil War and it is undoubtedly a good thing to call attention to that war and to its outcome.

But, it is evidently unclear to McDonnell and others who wallow in "Southern Heritage" and "Confederate Pride," why that war was important. They prefer the "Gone with the Wind" version. Or, perhaps, they agree with these words taken from the website of the Sons of Confederate Veterans: "The preservation of liberty and freedom was the motivating factor in the South's decision to fight the Second American Revolution (emphasis in original). The tenacity with which Confederate soldiers fought underscored their belief in the rights guaranteed by the Constitution. These attributes are the underpinning of our democratic society and represent the foundation on which this nation was built." I will grant that the "preservation of liberty and freedom" may have been the reason the Confederate soldiers thought they were fighting. But the lesson of the Civil War is that a freedom we enjoy that is simultaneously denied to a fellow citizen because he or she is a slave is no freedom at all. The war was important because it ended slavery. Gov. McDonnell has now apologized for failing to mention slavery in his proclamation. Apology accepted.


The other thing the Civil War accomplished was to forge the nation. Before the Civil War, people would say "The United States of America are…." In the plural. Only after the war did it become common to say, "The United States of America is…." This accomplishment was linguistic before it was actual, at least in the South. I am just finishing William Leuchtenberg’s masterful The White House Looks South which examines the ways that Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman and Lyndon Johnson all grappled with South politically. FDR loved his adopted home in Warm Springs and used the New Deal to address the rural poverty he witnessed in the South. Truman, whose forebears served in the Confederate Army, loved the Constitution more than his roots, and he integrated the military, established a President’s Committee on Civil Rights, and let the Dixiecrat South walk out of the Democratic National Convention in 1948 rather than compromise on the civil rights plank of the party’s platform. And, of course, Lyndon Johnson, pushed through the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and named the first African-American to the Supreme Court, Justice Thurgood Marshall. Johnson clearly understood, writes Leuchtenberg, that "Southern particularism on race…exacted too high a cost. Quite apart from the pain it inflicted on blacks, to which he was not insensitive, racism was an indulgence southern whites could not afford if they expected to thrive in a global economy."

Lyndon Johnson died in 1973, but Governor McDonnell and his ilk still seem not to understand that the Confederacy was not only a Lost Cause, it was the Wrong Cause. The language of "states rights" currently being invoked in the health care debate has an ugly history that gets glossed over when citizens are invited to celebrate the Confederacy. Such glossing over may serve McDonnell’s standing with the wingnuts that seem to be taking over the Republican Party and the conservative movement more generally. But, it is emphatically not history. Apologizing for the failure to mention slavery is a start. Now, the Governor should admit that it was also wrong to fail to mention that insurrection and treason were at the heart of the Confederate cause, that they celebrated a twisted, misguided notion of freedom, and that their reading of the Constitution was simply wrong. Alas, it is easier to live in denial.

Week after next, I will be taking a friend’s children to Gettysburg. There is no more sacred soil in America. When I walk through those hallowed fields and climb up to Little Roundtop and see where Joshua Chamberlain and his men from the Twentieth Maine regiment stood their ground, I am mindful that the average Confederate soldier probably had very mixed motives for joining the cause, and we can sympathize with his bravery, but that the political leaders of the Confederate states should not be the object of any sympathy. Governor McDonnell is not a soldier, he is a politician. One hundred and fifty years after a war that drenched his Commonwealth in blood, he should know better than to celebrate the cause that lost and that deserved to lose. And, it is beyond frightening that this man is considered a rising star in the GOP.

Michael Sean Winters


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Stanley Kopacz
8 years 9 months ago
I have to agree with you to a great extent, Mr. Landry.  These days, there are Republicans and Republicrats, to the extent that I am still waiting for a Democrat in the White House.  Hasn't been one for maybe 30 years or more.  I have no illusions about that. I just wish one of the parties, preferably the more evil one symbolized by big fat elephants instead of stupid jackasses, would disappear so that a party concerned about the common good and the country could get some space.  I would never want a hair on a Republican politician's head harmed, though I would have no objection to an alien abduction.  Right now, I'm stuck with the lesser of two evils when I go into the voting booth.
As for becoming a millionaire, is that all Americans think about anymore?  What ever happened to becoming competent and skilled and making a decent living by doing a useful job.  I'm amused by these psychopaths who are billionaires and still want more money.  It has to be some sort of obsessive-compulsive disorder because no one person can enjoy that much money, probably no 100 people.
Anyway, this country is not run by you or me, but by lots of money.  We know that.  What is to be done?
8 years 9 months ago
"The other thing the Civil War accomplished was to forge the nation. Before the Civil War, people would say "The United States of America are…." In the plural. Only after the war did it become common to say, "The United States of America is…." 
Uhhh, I think you owe a note of attribution to the source from which you cribbed this quote...Shelby Foote.  And why you're at it, you might read what that great historian, novelist & man had to say about why some people in the South do feel a certain sense of pride about the Civil War AND yet not condone slavery. It is possible to do both.  But then again, I never trust what Yankees have to say about the Civil War anyway.  
As for your broadside against "state's rights", just because a theory is wrongly used doesn't make the theory wrong.  At least thats what liberals always said about socialism/communism!
8 years 9 months ago
Oh, one more thing.  I would have thought you Democrats would have learned by LOSING the Va. Governor's race that trying to tar and feather a candidate as an extremist, as you already tried to do with Bob McDonnell, won't work!  Its amazing how quickly Democrats use the same tactics they so object to Republicans using against their candidates.
James Lindsay
8 years 9 months ago
Interesting post, Michael, and quite correct about the constitutional issues involved - which were ratified by the 14th Amendment and its insistence on a uniform standard of equal protection before the law. The abuses justified by "states rights" are now considered blatantly unconstitutional now. No one had any illusions here in the Commonwealth that Bob McDonnell is a moderate. His victory owes to the fact that his opponent ran a campaign that could not or did not mobilize the new voters that gave President Obama Virginia's 13 electoral votes. Very few minds were changed and no one was really fooled. Not many people are particularly surprised by the latest episode, either - except perhaps Bob McDonnell.
8 years 9 months ago
Hey Jeff, 
I didn't realize that Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Mariano Rivera, and the rest of the Yankees had said much about the late unpleasantness between the states.  I'll have to check their web sites for additional information.  Or  . . . . did you mean citizens of the United States who happen to reside in Northern states?
8 years 9 months ago
"His victory owes to the fact that his opponent ran a campaign that could not or did not mobilize the new voters that gave President Obama Virginia's 13 electoral votes."
You are. simply, factually WRONG.  McDonnell won because he mobilized the people who had elected Obama and whom Obama managed to turn off in the meantime - Independents.
8 years 9 months ago
Just to back up my claim about Independents going to McDonnell:,0,697110.story
And the HYPOCRISY of liberals with respect to race & ethnicity is 1 of things that drove me out of the Democratic Party.  EVERY Va. governor issues this resolution; yeah, it was stupid not to mention slavery.  But where was the liberal outrage to Jessee Jackson & Al Sharpton using derogatory words to refer to Jews; where's the outrage when Grayson refers to women with the "b word"; and need I mention that one of the most revered Democrats in the Senate is a former LEADER of the Ku Klux Klan???  Yet, one relatively insignificant state declaration, & you get endless media coverage & you'd swear Republicans want to start paying their taxes with Confederate bonds. Please.
8 years 9 months ago
Sterling defense of the pandering proclamatiam.. news flash.. by apologizing McDonnell just pleaded guilty .. defense tam go home.
8 years 9 months ago
"by apologizing McDonnell just pleaded [sic] guilty"
Really? I thought Bill Clinton & Charlie Rangel had established that to be patently untrue.
8 years 9 months ago
While there is certainly plenty of hypocrisy on the part of current Democrats/Liberals, and while Northern attitudes on race during the Civil War (and for decades thereafter) were scarcely enlightened, there is a key difference.  The South, including Virginia, seceded from the United States, and fought a long, bloody, and devastating war that-whatever the other causes involved-is simply inexplicable without the root cause of slavery.  The South fought to preserve (and even extend) a system predicated on the ownership of human beings, deemed inferior because of the color of their skin.  Despite the undeniable courage and patriotism of many Southerners, the fact of slavery remains a blot on the South-just as the treatment of native Americans, Asian Americans, Hispanics, Blacks, immigrants, and the poor remains a blot on the United States as a whole.  At our best, we are better than our sins, but there is no point denying or ignoring those sins, as individuals or a nation.
8 years 9 months ago
"I see it as similar to the present enlistment of the poor teabaggers and their sort in opposing policies that would rein in powerful corporations and the very rich.  If one makes a million per year, voting republican mght at least qualify as having enlightened selfish interest.  Otherwise, I think one is among the hornswoggled."
Well you seem to really know the Tea Party movement...or not.  And maybe non-millionaire voters tend to vote Republican because they view Republican policies as giving them the best chance of becoming a millionaire.  Finally, it is patently hypocritical for any Democrat to harp about rich Republicans when the Democratic party is bankrolled by Hollywood billionaires, and took in money from Wall Street nearly 10-1 in the last election.  Not to mention you're the party of Charlie Rangel & "Dollar Bill" Jefferson, aka "I'm jess working for the people while I stuff wads of cash in my pockets that I don't pay taxes on".  So remind me who is "hornswoggled" again?
8 years 9 months ago
As an anti Democrat, I was a little upset that McDonnell made such a big deal of this.  What good could it do given the politics of the day.  It just gives the party of evil some glimmer that they are a positive force in this country by pointing to something not so very smart a Republican did.  Maybe McDonnell should have declared Virginia Heritage month with a week on the Confederacy.  
The Confederacy was a big deal there and still one they seem to have pride in.  When I was in Richmond last year, some friends gave us a tour of the city and it is more than sprinkled with memoirs of the Confederacy.  There are statues, cemeteries and museums all over the city relevant to the Confederacy.
But, however one wants to spin it, the civil rights laws got passed with strong Republican support.  As did social security and medicare.
Helena Loflin
8 years 9 months ago
From the "Texas Declaration of Secession":
"In all the non-slave-holding States, in violation of that good faith and comity which should exist between entirely distinct nations, the people have formed themselves into a great sectional party, now strong enough in numbers to control the affairs of each of those States, based upon an unnatural feeling of hostility to these Southern States and their beneficent and patriarchal system of African slavery, proclaiming the debasing doctrine of equality of all men, irrespective of race or color - a doctrine at war with nature, in opposition to the experience of mankind, and in violation of the plainest revelations of Divine Law. They demand the abolition of negro slavery throughout the confederacy, the recognition of political equality between the white and negro races, and avow their determination to press on their crusade against us, so long as a negro slave remains in these States."
"We hold as undeniable truths that the governments of the various States, and of the confederacy itself, were established exclusively by the white race, for themselves and their posterity; that the African race had no agency in their establishment; that they were rightfully held and regarded as an inferior and dependent race, and in that condition only could their existence in this country be rendered beneficial or tolerable.

That in this free government all white men are and of right ought to be entitled to equal civil and political rights; that the servitude of the African race, as existing in these States, is mutually beneficial to both bond and free, and is abundantly authorized and justified by the experience of mankind, and the revealed will of the Almighty Creator, as recognized by all Christian nations; while the destruction of the existing relations between the two races, as advocated by our sectional enemies, would bring inevitable calamities upon both and desolation upon the fifteen slave-holding states."
Stanley Kopacz
8 years 9 months ago
What is most interesting to me is how the confederate poor died by the hundreds of thousands to save an institution which only really benefitted the confederate rich.  I guess if you wrap up a really immoral idea that only benefits a few with a lot of states rights, honor and patriotic baloney, you can hornswoggle the masses into doing a lot of dying for you.  I see it as similar to the present enlistment of the poor teabaggers and their sort in opposing policies that would rein in powerful corporations and the very rich.  If one makes a million per year, voting republican mght at least qualify as having enlightened selfish interest.  Otherwise, I think one is among the hornswoggled. 
8 years 9 months ago
Agree with your headline - Gov. McDonnell was sure a dunce in this situation.
Of course this has brought out the usual talking heads  - and the Governor of Virginia can only blame himself.
When this story broke, I asked myself what would be the right away to address Confederacy History Month in Virginia (or any state) . Ignore it? Call the whole lot of the Confederate Army raciest traitors? Of course only a moron would gloss over slavery and it's underlying reason for the war. How can you possibly honor the soldiers?
Then I thought about the same Joshua Chamberlain at Appomattox on April 12, 1965. Having fought to save the Union (and to end the scourge of slavery) as valiantly as anyone, Chamberlain was selected to accept the surrender of Lee's Army. And he then ordered the Union troops to salute the Confederate army as they surrendered.
If he could honor, not the cause, but the men and their return to the Union- perhaps Virginia can find an appropriate a way to do the same.


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