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.