Power Line reports on Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell’s proclamation in commemoration of Confederate soldiers and the political problems it’s caused him. Issuing such a declaration isn’t something I would have done; good men can fight for bad causes, but I doubt they should be honored for it. That is a matter open to argument, however, and it isn’t the real problem here. What may well land McDonnell in genuine hot water is his failure to include the usual denunciation of slavery:
So far, so good. McDonnell’s two Democratic predecessors refused to issue this proclamation, first given by George Allen when he was governor. But those who fought for the South were mostly honorable (and in many cases even heroic) men, even though they were on the wrong side. They deserve a proclamation.
Unfortunately, McDonnell decided to remove anti-slavery language from the proclamation. George Allen’s original proclamation did not contain such language, but Gov. Jim Gilmore added it. McDonnell explained its omission from his proclamation this way:
- “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.”
This attempt to give Virginia a pass on the issue of slavery is historically untenable and, I must add, rather offfensive. It also seems like bad politics.
To put it mildly. The last thing the Republican Party needs as it tries to work its way back to respectability is to minimize the role of slavery and its aftereffects in American History. Does McDonnell really want to feed the historic lie that the Democratic Party is the only party for Black voters? And what kind of spot does this put Black conservatives in?
I’m not saying McDonnell defends slavery, the Confederacy’s rebellion to preserve slavery, or that he himself is a racist. Not at all, nor in any way by implication. But to downgrade what was the core conflict behind all other conflicts in that war and the political disputes that lead to it is to show a sad ignorance of American History and a consequent bumbling insensitivity toward a significant part of the population.
Let me put it this way: the Confederacy was founded to preserve and expand slavery; all other reasons, including “states’ rights” (what we now call “federalism”), were secondary to that and served as shields in the fight to protect slavery. In using those shields, the Confederacy did everlasting harm to the cause of limited government and federalism by giving statists and progressives a brush with which to paint limited government advocates as closet racists. (Witness the smearing of tea-party supporters and ObamaCare foes that been going on for just the last year. And that’s just one, sad example.)
Yet those ideas have gained renewed respectability and popularity in recent decades, especially since the progressive statists came to power with Obama’s election and started to act like hyperactive children on a sugar high. More and more people are taking to the idea that limited, federalist government, kept as local to the people as practicable, best empowers individuals and preserves their liberty. Rising stars with national exposure like Governor McDonnell should keep that in mind and be careful of what they say, lest they reinvigorate the statists.
UPDATE: Governor McDonnell did the right thing later today, amending his proclamation and apologizing.