Stop Speaking in Code About the Confederacy.

So the reaction from civil-rights groups and black legislators in Virginia to Gov. Bob McDonnell's declaration of April as "Confederate History Month" is predictable:

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. Though a Democrat, Wilder has been supportive of McDonnell and boosted his election efforts when he declined to endorse the Republican's opponent, R. Creigh Deeds.

As is the dissembling reaction of political analysts:

"It helps him with his base," said Mark Rozell, a political scientist at George Mason University. "These are people who support state's rights and oppose federal intrusion."

Again, this is happytalk. The "state's rights" in question involved the ownership of black people, and the "federal intrusion" the Confederacy opposed was the efforts of the federal government to secure the rights of black Americans. Through the distance of time, veneration of the Confederacy has become part of white identity politics, a self-defining act of cultural grievance that locates one within the boundaries of a political culture where being authentically American is premised on being white -- or at least on acceptance of that concept. McDonnell is signaling to these people that he is one of them or that he is sympathetic to their views.

McDonnell's reaction to the criticism is also startlingly honest:

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."

Like I wrote yesterday, there's no way to reconcile admiration for the Confederacy with what it stood for, so McDonnell simply rationalizes that away by saying there were "any number of aspects" to the Civil War. White supremacy was a defining principle of the Confederacy. No amount of "aspects" to the war can change that.

Still, McDonnell's statement is telling, if only because it reveals which Virginians he feels are "significant."

-- A. Serwer

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