For the first time since 2002, the state of Virginia will observe
"Confederate History Month" this April, according to a recent statement
made by Governor Bob McDonnell. McDonnell has said he hopes the
announcement will spur state tourism, but some analysts believe he's
simply trying to win points with his conservative base. Meanwhile, commentators on
the left and right alike have been quick to censure the governor for
what they see as a sweeping disregard for slavery and its legacy.
- Cynical and Exclusionary, concludes The American Prospect's Adam Serwer,
channeling the ire of the lefty blogosphere. McDonnell's statement
doesn't explicitly mention slavery, but Serwer insists that you can't
ignore that aspect of history: "If you're going to 'honor' what
Confederate soldiers fought for, you should at least have the honesty
to acknowledge what exactly that was -- the 'freedom' to own black
people as property. Anything less is cowardice." However, "McDonnell
just leaves that history out. When McDonnell talks about 'all
Virginians,' it becomes painfully clear that he isn't."
- What Happened to the McDonnell We Knew? Washington Monthly's Steve Benen
notes that McDonnell "was only too pleased to present himself to voters
last year as a relative moderate. Indeed, the governor capitalized on
friendly support (though not an official endorsement) from former
Virginia Gov. Doug Wilder (D), the first African-American governor in
the nation since Reconstruction." But that spirit of bipartisanship
seems to have evaporated: "It's the funny thing about conservative
Republicans who downplay their ideology to get elected -- they
invariably stop pretending just as soon as they're in positions of
- Maybe the Governor Is Just Really Ignorant? Right-leaning blogger Betsy Newmark
tries to extend the benefit of the doubt, but she bristles at
McDonnell's claim that slavery was only one of "any number of aspects"
to the Civil War. On the contrary, she writes: "Virginia was primarily
concerned with its status as a slave-holding state and its concern that
the Lincoln administration and Republicans would work to limit the
spread of slavery. If Governor McDonnell doesn't understand this, he
should get a little remedial education."
- Probably Well-Meaning, But Offensive Nonetheless Conservative columnist Ramesh Ponnuru
offers a qualified defense of McDonnell on a Washington Post discussion
group board: "I very much doubt it was Gov. McDonnell's intention to
cause any offense, and the proclamation mostly consists of platitudes
about the importance of studying history. But the failure to mention
slavery was a moral and historical mistake." Ponnuru speculates that
both black and non-black voters may end up abandoning Virginia's
Republican Party in November, unless McDonnell chooses to "acknowledge
his error and strive to repair the damage."
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