BOB MCDONNELL AND THE CONFEDERACY STATMENT
After declaring April Confederate History Month for the state of Virginia, Governor Bob McDonnell apologized for omitting any mention of slavery in the declaration. Some see this as just an issue of political correctness and public relations, but it speaks to he larger issue as to what is wrong with this practice of elected officials trying to make grandiose statements to impress “the base”. It tends to result in retractions and unproductive controversy, serving to increase the personal notoriety of the people involved without helping the people that they serve. Bob McDonnell is an exceptional leader and normally professional, but in this case he seems to have fallen into the trap that could cause problems for many other officials and candidates if they go down this road.
On Wednesday, McDonnell issued the following statement:
The proclamation issued by this Office designating April as Confederate History Month contained a major omission. The failure to include any reference to slavery was a mistake, and for that I apologize to any fellow Virginian who has been offended or disappointed. The abomination of slavery divided our nation, deprived people of their God-given inalienable rights, and led to the Civil War. Slavery was an evil, vicious and inhumane practice which degraded human beings to property, and it has left a stain on the soul of this state and nation. In 2007, the Virginia General Assembly approved a formal statement of “profound regret” for the Commonwealth’s history of slavery, which was the right thing to do.
On Tuesday, when asked why he had omitted slavery in the first place he said “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.”
If McDonnell felt this way on the day before, what is with this lengthy reversal? It was not as though he was not aware of the potential objections, because he addressed them at the time of the declaration. It is not like he learned the horrors of slavery in one day! McDonnell was making a statement about Virginia’s heritage, and he must have known what the reaction would be.
But that statement runs shallow when he retracts so quickly. And at a time when so many of the people who put him in the position he is in are being cast as violent radical racists, this does not seem like a good time to make this kind of statement. Especially if in 24 hours you have to say you’re sorry for making it.
The thing is, as a black person I am not offended by Confederate flags, nor do I assume that anyone who has one is a racist. Also, Bob McDonnell was supported by the former governor of Virginia Doug Wilder, who made history by becoming the nation’s first black governor since Reconstruction. But even Wilder called the move “mind-boggling”, and saw the original declaration as an attempt to revise history.
The problem with McDonnell’s declaration is that his state is one of the first in the nation wide state sovereignty movement against the federal healthcare reform legislature. With the media advocates of the bill trying to make the state challenges out to be a neo-Confederate attack against our “historic” president , it seems like a bad time to declaring April Confederate History month for Virginia.
Sure, he may have impressed some who are adamant about embracing Virginia’s Civil War past. The Washington Post reports that the move was something that “political observers said would strengthen his position with his conservative base.”
But that is the problem. This notion of a monolithic “conservative base” that wants governors, senators, and representatives to do things like this. We do not need grandstanding, we need leadership.
That is not the grassroots conservative movement, but a very small minority that some elected officials, such as McDonnell, feel that they need to reel in with these kind of exaggerated demonstrations.
But this does not empower the citizen conservatives, it burdens them. With the mass media campaign to demonize Tea Party members, why do something that will further associate the move to block healthcare with the “secessionists” imagery that they are laying on these people.
It may look cool on Tuesday, but it looks weak on Wednesday. If you want to discuss how General Robert E. Lee was against slavery, or how Stonewall Jackson actually helped teach many blacks how to read, fine. But when you do something that is so obviously designed to get a reaction and stick a finger in the eye of the administration and it’s supporters, it at least needs to be something that you can back up for more than a day. The problem was that he was asked about the slavery omission, and gave a very clear repudiation of that as an issue.
Then, the next day, he pulled back and sent out a 7 paragraph “I’m sorry” note like a kid who got busted for taking a dare.
McDonnell’s move was heralded as courageous by some, but was it? He apologizes, then the Tea Party, particularly the southern state movements, are still having this used against them.
Many respond “well, they make us out to be radicals, so what difference does it make?” The fact is the hard work done by the people who have dedicated their time to this deserve better. Millions of people who at first though the Tea Party was just some fringe cultural anomaly now at least agree with some or most of its platform, and many have joined it.
There is no conflict between maintaining your core principles and being inclusive. Many people who have voted fo Obama have had second thoughts, and they are looking for answers. And most of the American people have rejected the idea that the Tea Party people are merely showing anger toward a black president.
That is a result of the people donating their time and talents. That is a result of them being assertive, unafraid, but also respectful and honest. We congratulated and Bob McDonnell’s victory last November, and we still believe he will continue to be a good governor. But they must be careful not to let the powerful groups that encourage this kind of divisive maneuver to make them liabilities to the very movement that propelled them to victory.
But when an elcted official the movment got behind, someone who was embraced by the Tea Party movement, does something like this, it works against the real momentum that this movement has created. It is selfish and disheartening. And when he turns tail the very next day, it damages his credibility to those who are still making up their minds about this thing.
These people who are still making up their mind are not progressives, they are not moderates. They are hard working Americans, many of whom do not care about Democrats, Republicans, conservatives or liberals.
They are just people looking for the right answer.
We do not need our elected officials to act like talk show hosts. As much as people like conservative media personalities, and as much good as they have done for this movement, the role of the elected official is much different. Some of the sound bites work great for these programs, but they do not show the people who will decide November’s results that they are interesting in doing good for the WHOLE NATION.
Most people do not follow politics the way many of us do. These polls that show that 40% of the population is conservative are great for the Hannity Show, but it is not a good idea assume that means that everyone is already sold. What will win in November is a message from conservatives that inspires all Americans, even the ones who are still not affiliated, to come out and look for the individuals who speak to the American Experience.
That is what the Tea Party did, and tat is why it is the strongest political movement in the nation today. It spoke to Democrats, Republicans, independents, conservatives, and even principled liberals. And that is why so many who blindly accept the Pelosi agenda are trying to paint the Tea Party as corporate controlled “Astroturf”, because they know that it reflects a genuine non-partisan desire to change the direction of the nation, regardless of which party is in power.
The GOP earned the first shot at getting the Tea Party support by standing strong against the bills that the Tea Party goers opposed. This support was not given to them automatically. it had to be earned. The GOP still has a long way to go to get the nation behind it the for the big November victory they have been hoping for.
There were most likely groups that really wanted Governor McDonnell to make this declaration, and some officials are afraid of being branded “one of them”. Special interest groups that is, and I don’t think they were concerned about the negative effect in could have n the people who have worked so hard to help him in others get to where they are today.
For many of the people hitting the streets for this citizenship movement, who are every bit as conservative as McDonnell and his “heritage advisors”, it is just a pain in the rear.