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Monday, April 12, 2010
NewsBusters Obscures Real Issue in Va. Confederate Proclamation
Topic: NewsBusters

An April 7 NewsBusters post by Candance Moore was generally offended that "The national media are outraged this week by an announcement from Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell to observe April as Confederate History Month, and more specifically that "most energetic complaints came from the Washington Post, which published more than half a dozen pieces in the same day."

Moore tried to whitewash the situation by uncritically repeating McDonnell's defense that he was trying to "shore up Virginia's economy by emphasizing its historical significance," but at no point did she address the crux of the controversy: McDonnell's proclamation did not mention slavery.

Despite Moore's framing of the issue as part of the Post's purported vendetta against governor, McDonnell's omission was pretty much universally condemned across the political spectrum. Indeed, conservative writers took to the post to criticize it. Ramesh Ponnuru:

On this issue, I'm with the editors of the Post: Virginia governor Robert McDonnell was wrong to proclaim Confederate History Month without acknowledging the evil of slavery with which the Confederacy was inextricably bound. To urge "all Virginians. . . to understand the sacrifices of the Confederate leaders, soldiers and citizens during the period of the Civil War," again without referring to the sacrifices forced upon the slaves who lived in the commonwealth, compounds the offense.

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; it is also, I think, a political one. Gov. McDonnell has been widely hailed--and I've been one of the hailers--as showing Republicans the way toward rebuilding a national majority. One of his accomplishments during the campaign was to show that blacks are welcome, indeed sought after, in his coalition. This move undercuts that effort, which damages Republicans and conservatives not only among blacks but among non-black voters as well.

Michael Gerson:

Americans can appreciate these things, and do. But when a public official celebrates Confederate history without mentioning slavery, there is a problem.

The historical context of secession was the defense of slavery -- what Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens called the "cornerstone" of the Southern cause. Playing down this context, as McDonnell initially did before later amending his proclamation, was a sin of omission. When a Virginia governor speaks of the Civil War, he has a positive duty to disavow the racist sentiments that find refuge in Confederate nostalgia. Context matters.

Will Moore criticize Ponnuru and Gerson as well?

Posted by Terry K. at 12:37 AM EDT

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