As it happened, the City of Fairfax held its annual Fourth of July Parade and Fireworks Display on the 3rd this year. Perhaps this choice of dates was more meaningful than one might at first suppose. By that I do not mean that moving the parade to Saturday, the 3rd, meant that everyone could go to Church on Sunday, the 4th, and still show their patriotism at the parade. No, it was because, as Walter Rodgers pointed out in the Christian Science Monitor for 5 July, 147 years ago the Union forces won not one but two great victories against the Confederacy on the 3rd of July 1863, at Vicksburg and Gettysburg. The fall of Vicksburg (the “Gibralter of the Confederacy”), and the defeat of Lee at Gettysburg, were so important that “the eminent Civil War historian James McPherson” wrote in Battle Cry of Freedom:
Lincoln appeared at a White House balcony to tell a crowd of serenaders that this “gigantic Rebellion” whose purpose was to “overthrow the principle that all men are created equal” had been dealt a crippling blow.”
The Confederacy never recovered from these twin blows, and when Union armies advanced into the Confederacy, thousands of slaves were freed each day, as the federal forces implemented the Emancipation Proclamation of 1 January 1863. Whatever lawyerly constitutional splitting of hairs has been offered before or since for secession, the participants in “The War” understood perfectly well why they were fighting: to preserve that union which was founded on the freedom of all men, every one equally a human being.
Mr. Rodgers singles out Virginia:
“It might be unnecessary to remind ourselves of this had not Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell recently tried to re-create the fiction that there is something glorious about Americans slaughtering Americans in numbers approaching 700,000 men.”
The Governor issued a proclamation for Confederate History Month without once mentioning slavery. After a firestorm of criticism, the Governor prudently apologized, but, says Rodgers,
“political bumbling is not the issue. Rather it is the myth that there was ever a glorious lost cause of the Confederacy…. (and) on the eve of the Civil War’s sesquicentennial commemoration next year, we need to get it right and not let the ‘losers’ shape our sense of history.”
Getting it right does not mean belittling the sacrifices or bravery of Southerners, but “the steely truth remains: They were on the wrong side of history, defending an immoral cause.” Yes, indeed, an “immoral cause” because, at bottom the blather about states’ rights and rabid hatred of a strong, effective federal government was all a rationale to preserve the Southern way of life, that is, to preserve the abomination of slavery and an economy built on slavery- it was a stalking horse. Texas may try to scrub its textbooks to re-write history to affirms its bigotries, and Governor McDonnell may attempt to glorify Virginian General Robert E. Lee and the Confederacy while turning a blind eye toward the ugly underpinnings of the social system Lee fought to protect, but that does not obliterate the truth, nor the debt of gratitude we all owe to those blue coats who fought and died to secure the victory of that Union first begun on 4 July 1776.
Not only was General Lee not the super-general as frequently presented today, as I have discovered since being enthralled by Douglas Southall Freeman’s works (including Lee’s Lieutenants), and the stories of my Southern grandparents—- he was a slave holder who whipped his slaves and, says Rodgers, “full of hubris,” who had the highest casualties of any general North or South (and that would include Grant, who I always thought was the stubborn one, sending wave after wave of soldiers into withering fire, as the Chinese Communists would later do in Korea)—- General Eisenhower even said Lee should have been relieved after ordering the “suicidal” frontal assault at Gettysburg.
What is relevant today is not General Lee, nor the touted charms of the antebellum South (charming only if one imagines oneself as the plantation owner, rather than the field hand picking cotton), nor even the sentimental glorification of the “lost cause” in a governor’s proclamation. What matters today is the revival of the old 19th century states’ rights arguments with its anti-federal government rationale, dressed up in much the same constitutional finery as of yore, all intended to conceal the ugly racism underneath (“I got nuthin’ ‘gainst n*****s, Ah think ever’body should have one”). Don’t kid yourself, the boiling rage of the Tea Party, supposedly triggered by the thievery of Wall Street and the economic crash, actually from the beginning had a strong element of hate/fear of non-whites whether native-born blacks or immigrants “stealing” low-wage jobs and then receiving public assistance.
The interesting political point is how Wall Street and Big Business have diverted most of that anger from themselves toward the racial element, and toward the federal government under the guise of states’ rights. Big business and financial “interests,” which in the early days of the Republic required a strong federal government to create stability, rule of law, and a large, nation-wide market, now have decided that they themselves are big enough and powerful enough to prefer that governmental power be broken up into smaller units because it will be easier for them to control smaller units, playing one area off against another, enabling them to run their businesses without serious regulation. This preference creates a community of interest with those angry white people crowding into the Tea Party, who long for the balmy days when America was entirely theirs, when the U.S.A. was just coming into its true power, like, say, the 1950’s, when the rewards of being “free, white, and twenty-one” (especially if male) were huge, and the world was their oyster.
That this social system has somehow vanished, that in their opinion women and brown folks no longer are suitably submissive, that America is being attacked by outsiders who ought to be grateful to us, and that somehow our great capitalist consumer society has turned against them, has (they think) to be the fault of someone. The growing power of federal government is the handy target, and, surprise, that is also the target of global corporate business and finance.
This alliance of Business-Finance with angry middle class workers may seem puzzling, just as Democrats have been mystified by how many workers voted against their own interests and in favor of frequently bogus “social issues” beginning with Reagan. Remember, though, that thousands of non-slave-owning, minimally-educated white farmers and what my Southern Grandmother referred to as “poor white trash,” fought for the South and against their own best interests. All the ruckus being raised today by rallies against health care reform, deficits or national debt, and “too powerful” big government are simply the present-day cover for the selfish interests of the new elite. The Tea Party members down at the grassroots do have real problems and fears, but they are being used, conned by master Madison Avenue employees of Big Business-Finance.
It is not too much of a stretch to equate the elite of these global corporations with plantation owners of the Old South, and the Tea Party members with the non-slave owners who supported the Confederacy. It is not today a matter of education (many Tea Party members are in fact college-educated), nor of geographic location (many Tea Partyers live in the North or West), but a matter of perceived grievances, embellished and encouraged by the agitprop artistry of Madison Avenue-types working for the Business-Finance corporate elite.
I believe that the actual leaders who are funding the manipulation of the honest anger of the Tea Party have a long-range plan, and they have every expectation of keeping up this manipulation for the long haul—– but I am sure they would be delighted if the 2010 elections turned Congress over to their minions in the Republican-Tea Party. Their long-range goals, however, go far beyond simply controlling Congress, the Supreme Court, or the Presidency of the United States. It looks to me as if their ideal is to control and use American power for their own ends, establishing here their base for corporate feudalism, creating alliances with similar business mafias in Russia, Europe, Asia, wherever Big Money and Finance can be found. Nation states will become like banana republics, with hollow political frameworks, staged elections, and peon-level populations almost devoid of any middle class.
In their frantic haste to re-create the myth of a past Eden, the Tea Party is in fact going inadvertently to betray themselves and their children into a new kind of peonage. Instead of restoring their version of democracy, they will surrender to oligarchy.
Not to put too fine a point on it, the imagined myths of the Tea Party never existed, just as the imagined myths of the Old South never actually existed either; in any case, they can be considered both to have “Gone With The Wind.” Where will we find our dramatic battle for freedom like Vicksburg or Gettsyburg, when we have no similar up-or-down military confrontation? The answer is: on the battlefield of public opinion and at the ballot box in each and every election for the foreseeable future.