I am on record as liking and admiring Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia, and also hoping that he stays in the Senate rather than joins the Obama ticket as VP.
But I am underwhelmed by the latest "revelation" about him: that he has expressed sympathy and respect for Confederate soldiers, including many of his forbears. (FWIW: Such of my relatives as were then in America lived in Pennsylvania and New Jersey and fought on the Union side. Many were killed.)
First, this is hardly a secret or news. The dignity of ordinary Confederate troops and their battlefield leaders, as opposed to the evil of the southern slaveholding system, was a major theme in Webb's widely-noted and generally-praised book Born Fighting, published four years ago.
In addition to that book, the main documentary proof of Webb's "problem" is a speech at the Confederate war memorial in 1990. That memorial, by the way, is in Arlington National Cemetery -- not in Richmond, Charleston, Natchez, etc. His speech contained a passage addressed to white descendants of the Confederate army that is hard to imagine coming from, say, David Duke:
The last twenty five years in this country have shown again and again that, despite the regrettable and well-publicized turmoil of the Civil Rights years, those Americans of African ancestry are the people with whom our [Southern whites'] history in this country most closely intertwines, whose struggles in an odd but compelling way most resemble our own, and whose rights as full citizens we above all should celebrate and insist upon....
Moreover, the article that "uncovers" this startling fact is written in classic and depressing Beltway "could be perceived as problematic" style. It doesn't flat-out say that there is anything wrong or illegitimate in Webb's views. In fact it includes one "to be sure" sentence: "There’s nothing scandalous in the paper trail, nothing that on its face would disqualify Webb from consideration for national office." But then we have:
Yet it veers into perilous waters since the slightest sign of support or statement of understanding of the Confederate cause has the potential to alienate African-Americans who are acutely sensitive to the topic.
The distinctions Webb makes, however, tend not to receive a full airing in the heat of political debate.
“Unless he is able to explain it, it would raise some questions,” [Ron] Walters said.
Please. If someone thinks certain views are outrageous, then say so. Not that they could be misperceived that way if not fully explained, et cetera.
By the way, here is what the inscription at the Confederate Memorial says, in words Webb quoted in his 1990 speech (courtesy of Alex Massie):
NOT FOR FAME OR REWARD, NOT FOR PLACE OR FOR RANK, NOT LURED BY AMBITION OR GOADED BY NECESSITY, BUT IN SIMPLE OBEDIENCE TO DUTY AS THEY UNDERSTOOD IT, THESE MEN SUFFERED ALL, SACRIFICED ALL, DARED ALL, AND DIED.
Perhaps this "has the potential" to alienate people? If so, they're not understanding what it says. As Webb put it at the time, "this simple sentence spoke for all soldiers in all wars, men who must always trust their lives to the judgment of their leaders.." The cause of the Confederacy was unjust and deserved defeat. That didn't make all its soldiers bad.
And after all: we're discussing scenarios in which the first black major party nominee might choose Webb as his running mate. Somehow this would "have the potential" of conveying a pro-Confederate tilt? I don't think this is the right job for Webb, but his respect for his Confederate ancestors is not the reason why.