'Confederate History Month' Sparks Firestorm

Left and right censure Governor Bob McDonnell

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For the first time since 2002, the state of Virginia will observe "Confederate History Month" this April, according to a recent statement made by Governor Bob McDonnell. McDonnell has said he hopes the announcement will spur state tourism, but some analysts believe he's simply trying to win points with his conservative base. Meanwhile, commentators on the left and right alike have been quick to censure the governor for what they see as a sweeping disregard for slavery and its legacy.

  • Cynical and Exclusionary, concludes The American Prospect's Adam Serwer, channeling the ire of the lefty blogosphere. McDonnell's statement doesn't explicitly mention slavery, but Serwer insists that you can't ignore that aspect of history: "If you're going to 'honor' what Confederate soldiers fought for, you should at least have the honesty to acknowledge what exactly that was -- the 'freedom' to own black people as property. Anything less is cowardice." However, "McDonnell just leaves that history out. When McDonnell talks about 'all Virginians,' it becomes painfully clear that he isn't."
  • What Happened to the McDonnell We Knew?  Washington Monthly's Steve Benen notes that McDonnell "was only too pleased to present himself to voters last year as a relative moderate. Indeed, the governor capitalized on friendly support (though not an official endorsement) from former Virginia Gov. Doug Wilder (D), the first African-American governor in the nation since Reconstruction." But that spirit of bipartisanship seems to have evaporated: "It's the funny thing about conservative Republicans who downplay their ideology to get elected -- they invariably stop pretending just as soon as they're in positions of authority."
  • Maybe the Governor Is Just Really Ignorant?   Right-leaning blogger Betsy Newmark tries to extend the benefit of the doubt, but she bristles at McDonnell's claim that slavery was only one of "any number of aspects" to the Civil War. On the contrary, she writes: "Virginia was primarily concerned with its status as a slave-holding state and its concern that the Lincoln administration and Republicans would work to limit the spread of slavery. If Governor McDonnell doesn't understand this, he should get a little remedial education."
  • Probably Well-Meaning, But Offensive Nonetheless  Conservative columnist Ramesh Ponnuru offers a qualified defense of McDonnell on a Washington Post discussion group board: "I very much doubt it was Gov. McDonnell's intention to cause any offense, and the proclamation mostly consists of platitudes about the importance of studying history. But the failure to mention slavery was a moral and historical mistake." Ponnuru speculates that both black and non-black voters may end up abandoning Virginia's Republican Party in November, unless McDonnell chooses to "acknowledge his error and strive to repair the damage."
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