Home Virginia Politics Washington Post: “Gov. McDonnell’s airbrushing of Virginia history”

Washington Post: “Gov. McDonnell’s airbrushing of Virginia history”


This morning’s Washington Post editorial page writes about Bob McDonnell’s “Confederate History Month” proclamation:

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.

The question is, why would Bob McDonnell, or any governor, do this in the Virginia of 2010?  In McDonnell’s case, as the Washington Post points out, he has spoken “movingly of slavery’s evils” and “paid eloquent homage to former Gov. L. Douglas Wilder, the grandson of slaves” in his inaugural address. So, again, why would he do something so “incendiary” and divisive, as opposed to issuing a proclamation aimed more at uniting all Virginians?  The Post offers two possible explanations:

1) “Charitably, we might suspect sloppy staff work”

2) “[L]ess charitably, we’d guess he is pandering to the Sons of Confederate Veterans, a group that lionizes the Confederacy and pressed for the proclamation.”

My guess is the latter, but I can’t get in McDonnell’s head, and I don’t want to try (****shudddddder****). Whatever the reason for McDonnell’s “Confederate History Month” proclamation, and specifically the wording he’s used, it’s troubling and – once again, for the nth time in 3 months – embarrassing to Virginia.   What’s even more troubling is that this latest McDonnell administration action comes in the aftermath of the brouhaha they caused over combating – or not combating – discrimination against gays and lesbians. If you recall, we had no “Executive Order” from McDonnell, as we got from Governors Warner and Kaine, on this issue. Instead, we got an essentially toothless “Executive Directive” on the matter. That “Executive Directive” came in response to Attorney General Cuccinelli’s letter to Virginia’s public colleges and universities urging them NOT to protect GLBT students and faculty from discrimination.

Is this becoming the “minority insensitivity administration” or what? At this point, in the aftermath of McDonnell’s omission of any mention – let alone serious discussion – of slavery in his “Confederate History Month” proclamation, it sure is starting to look that way.

UPDATE: This is even worse.

McDonnell said he did not include a reference to slavery because “there were any number of aspects to that conflict between the states. Obviously, it involved slavery. It involved other issues. But I focused on the ones I thought were most significant for Virginia.”

WTF?!? Slavery wasn’t one of the “most significant” parts of Virginia history? My god, what did they teach this guy at Pat Robertson’s law school?

In response – and rightly so! – “The proclamation was condemned by the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus and the NAACP. Former governor L. Douglas Wilder called it “mind-boggling to say the least” that McDonnell did not reference slavery or Virginia’s struggle with civil rights in his proclamation.” I agree strongly with the Legislative Black Caucus and Doug Wilder; McDonnell’s airbrushing of slavery and the civil rights struggle is completely outrageous, shameful, and unacceptable.

UPDATE #2: A couple of quotes on history that I think are relevant.

*”Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” – George Santayana

*”A people without history is like wind on the buffalo grass.” – Sioux proverb

UPDATE #3: NLS reminds us that, back in 2002, then-Delegate Bob McDonnell pushed for the House of Delegates to recite a pledge which came from the United Daughters of the Confederacy. Amazing.

UPDATE #4: Sen. Donald McEachin speaks out.

UPDATE #5: I was just talking about this with a friend; we agreed that if Bob McDonnell’s goal here was to attract tourists to Virginia, he should have been as inclusive as possible – Civil War and African American Heritage Month, perhaps? Instead, he decided to be as divisive and narrow as he possibly could. That’s our governor for you, no surprise to those of us who have been following him for years now, but still pathetic.

  • kindler

    Just 150 years ago, here in Virginia, a class of human beings were still being legally treated as cattle — worked to death, sold, bred, beaten, raped.  

    We should have a Day of Atonement to remember this crime against humanity — not a Confederate History Month to gloss over it.  

    • I didn’t write “gloss over it,” kindler did. Anyway, you’re dead wrong on this one, just admit it and stop being a blind apologist for every McDonnell and Kookinelli outrage.

      • They don’t. The war and the Supreme Court have proven that. The books aren’t open on nullification or secession, but the tension between the role of the states and the role of the federal government exists for a reason – that’s how the founders wanted it.

        History is a question of perspective. There will always be two sides, at least, to any story. The Civil War is no different. What bothers me is when people try and shoe horn everyone into believing their version based on their perspective.

        Last night, the Orioles played Tampa Bay. In my eyes, the Orioles lost. In a TB fan’s eyes, Tampa Bay won. In my eyes, we led the entire game and then blew it in the bottom of the ninth. In the TB fan’s eyes, they kept it close, and came from behind in the ninth to win. Both are accurate, but how you characterize what happened depends on your point of view.

        It is just as correct to call the war a war for southern independence as it is to call it a rebellion against the lawful government. Just as it is correct to call the American revolution the war for American independence and a rebellion against the crown. It depends on the point of view.  

    • Glen Tomkins

      Okay, let’s put slavery to one side, and talk about what Virginia did when it seceded in 1861 purely as an assertion of states’ rights.

      Is McDonell saying, and do you agree with him, that states have a right to secede, that it is reasonable to look at what Virginia did in 1861 as a justified assertion of its independence?  Were the secessionists insurrectionists, or freedom fighters?

      Nobody defends slavery anymore, and I guess we should be happy for that sign of progress.  It’s no longer acceptable to talk about the “property rights” of the slaveholders as if those were a legitimate concern that had to be addressed, therefore secession to secure those rights was justified.

      But if slavery is a dead issue, states’ rights is not.  Somebody who defends slavery is a whacko who doesn’t merit serious attention because such people are way off on the margin.  But our very own Atttorney General, and one of our major political parties, believes that the book is still open on nullification and secession, those aren’t off the table.  Our governor now sees fit to characterize what Virginia did in 1861 as an assertion of its right to independence.  

      I don’t think that we can have a functioning union unless nullification and secession are off the table, unless there are no independently derived “states’ rights”, unless the supremacy clause of the Constitution is accepted as the final and only word on the whole pseudo-question of states’ rights.  I find any hint of disagreement on this question far more troubling than any defense of slavery, because slavery is a dead issue, defended only by powerless crazies, while “states’ rights” has been taken up as a cause by one of our major political parties.

      Our governor doesn’t seem to agree with me.  He seems to think that Virginia was involved in a struggle for its independence in 1861, not in rebellion.  What do you think on this question?  

    • WestEndVoter

      But he did not sound apologetic about the omission in the proclamation.  I think Lowell’s story has legs, and in my opinion, deservedly so.  The proclamation looks to be a clear instance of pandering (or worse).

  • Glen Tomkins

    If he really wanted to recognize Civil War history, as he now claims, he would have made this Civil War History Month.  But he wanted to recognize the cause the Confederacy fought for, so he acceded to the request of a blatantly secessionist/slavery apology group, and declared a Confederate History Month.

    Don’t blame this on sloppy staff work.  Unless this governor simply doesn’t read what his staff puts in front of him to sign, he meant to honor the cause of the Confederacy, not the collective tragedy that the Civil War was to all concerned.  If he doesn’t read what he signs, that’s a problem in and of itself, and not sloppy staff work either.

  • Teddy Goodson

    is how I’d describe this argument: 150 years later, America still has not digested the Civil War, despite constitutional amendments, despite the civil rights voting act, despite electing an African-American president.

    I have decided that we never will completely digest these two different ways of looking at a federal system of government—- what I call historically the local barons protecting their local power versus the central power of the national king. The federal system has a built-in permanent tension between local jurisdictions and the national or federal government. It is a system for a journey, not a destination.

    The Constitutional Convention was called because the Articles of Confederation were not working well, the system was not only a political failure, it was an economic and social failure—- yet the only way the framers of the Constitution could entice the slave-holding states to join in revising the Articles into a more effective Constitution was to set up a flawed federal system. This permitted the endurance of slavery and preserved the tribal rights of individual states. The patchwork inevitably led in an almost direct line to the Civil War some 70 years later.

    I have had this discussion in one form or another with the Southern half of my family several times, beginning before World War II (on a different level, then, more cultural than political) and nothing has changed, the attitudes are the same with this generation as with the last.  

    • WestEndVoter

      My issue with the proclamation was the tip o’ the hat to the one of the South’s preferred monikers (the other being the War of Northern Aggression, or something like that).  

      From the first line of the proclamation:

      WHEREAS,  April is the month in which the people of Virginia joined the Confederate States of America in a four year war between the states for independence that concluded at Appomattox Courthouse

      In other words, this war was a War for Southern Independence, not slavery…

  • The problem with this isn’t difficult — it’s the word “Confederacy.”  And the real issue with that word isn’t the Confederacy as it stood in the mid 1800’s, but what it came to mean later on, especially in the early 1900’s and then again during the Civil Rights Era.  It’s an issue that stains both Democrats and Republicans during those times.  It’s unfortunate that a historical word has such a loaded meaning, and thus makes it complicated to use.  But it does.  And it will for at least the forseeable future.

    McDonnell knows this as well as anyone — especially anyone living in Virginia where we take this stuff seriously (as we should.)  He deliberately chose to poke people in the eye with this resoluation.  I don’t think he should be surprised when someone says, “Hey, that hurts!  Stop it!”  There were other things he could have called it, that would have had the same positive result and mitigated the negative reaction.  But he chose not to do that.

    • TomPaine

      War of Northern Agression or the “Late Unpleasantness”!