Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Those Confederate values

-- by Dave

It's been kind of amusing watching conservatives reposition themselves on racial issues in anticipation of their upcoming electoral battle with Barack Obama, which seems to be growing likelier by the day.

Mostly they've been trying to revise the history of conservatism and the GOP in the past half-century, generally by omitting that whole sordid business about the Southern Strategy -- or at least wholly redefining what that means.

Of course, this has been an ongoing affair. Last year Michael Medved tried to tell us that slavery wasn't nearly the bad deal everyone made it out to be.

But this sort of stuff has been percolating upwards recently in response to Obama's candidacy, and the general meme has been the one enunciated by Steve Sailer: "[M]any whites hope electing Mr. Obama president will show blacks that white racism isn't what's holding them back anymore. Numerous white Democrats, I would add, view backing Mr. Obama as confirming their moral and cultural superiority over other whites (those redneck racists)."

There's a direct retort to this nonsense, of course: If white liberals are voting for Obama because he's black, then are white conservatives voting against him because he's black?

In any event, our old friends at RedState -- particularly, one fellow named haystack -- are advancing this argument by coming to the defense of the Confederacy:
The Confederate flag might be an outstanding mechanism for folks to look towards in reminding the younger generations of a time and place in American history where dumb redneck hicks from the South considered themselves God-like, or above the natural laws of things, but what you never hear from these Democrat demagogues is what the Confederacy brought to America that has LONG since been lost in the short list of things that matter when it comes to being an American.

As a down-line Confederate, I know of a reverence for God, a deep-rooted respect for my elders, a conviction that a Government is only as good as the independent and strong-willed people who fight FOR her, and a belief that the Federal Government is BEST that governs States the LEAST - this being emblematic of a Republic that was founded with the intention of ensuring as much for her citizens. What I ALSO know, is that anyone that believes such things today are considered racist, or worse. Look, I am derived from Confederates who often-times found themselves indentured servants, so it's not like there's any anti black mentality in my blood-we had as much to lose as anyone else...but we DID appreciate the meaning and value of fighting for what what we believed in-black, white, green, yellow or anything in between...the difference here is that the Democrats want you to believe any who might question such platitudes now must therefore be deemed rednecks. My ancestors, and yours, are rolling in their graves. The Confederate flag might have flown over some dark days of this republic, but that's not to suggest that the ideals of the Confederacy, beyond the darkness of slavery, should be lost in the translation. That flag flew to represent an America that stood up for a people and a belief that a Federal Government had no place in deciding the business of the States' right to determine their futures. Millions of dead later, the ideals are unchanged - do with that what you will.

What haystack is arguing is nothing particularly new, and it has been refuted at length on numerous occasions: the simple fact is that the use of "states rights" in defense of slavery has consistently been understood to be primarily a legalistic front for the assertion of white supremacy. As historian Michael Simpson observes in an SPLC interview:
First of all, without slavery there's no Civil War in the first place, there's no irreconcilable conflict, so that's a sine qua non.

Second, when people talk about conflicting economic systems, obviously the root of the conflict was that the South's economic system was based upon plantation slavery.

So one can't talk about different economic systems without once again coming back to the issue of slavery. That was fundamental to what the South was about.

There is a strange paradox here. These people deride what they call political correctness, and yet one of their first missions is to whitewash the Confederacy of any connection with slavery. They actually seem sensitive to any possibility that the Confederacy is linked with race, and want to absolve the Confederacy of any charges of racism at all.

You can see that in the fight over the Confederate flag, where the neo-Confederates say, "This is heritage, not hate. It has nothing to do with race at all." At the same time they're essentially defending white supremacy, they deny race has anything to do with it.

... Confederates during the Civil War had no problem whatsoever in associating their cause with the protection of slavery and a system of white supremacy which they thought was inherent in the Confederate world order. The Confederates of 1861-65 were much more honest about the importance of slavery than are the neo-Confederates of today.

In a famous address [known to historians as the "Cornerstone Speech"], the vice president of the Confederacy, Alexander Stephens, said in 1861 that "slavery is the cornerstone of the Confederacy." And as late as 1865, Robert E. Lee, who's often cited by neo-Confederates as an opponent of slavery, claimed that while blacks and whites were together in the South, their best relationship would be that of master and slave.

Another famous instance of the South's antipathy to blacks and insistence on white supremacy as a fundamental aspect of the Confederate Army's resistance to the use of black slaves as soldiers, wherein Southern statesmen warned that "The day that such a bill passed Congress sounds the death knell of this Confederacy." The Charleston Mercury ran an editorial warning:
It was on account of encroachments upon the institution of slavery by the sectional majority of the old Union, that South Carolina seceded from that Union. It is not at this late day, after the loss of thirty thousand of her best and bravest men in battle, that she will suffer it to be bartered away; or ground between the upper and nether mill stones, by the madness of Congress, or the counsels of shallow men elsewhere.

By the compact we made with Virginia and the other States of this Confederacy, South Carolina will stand to the bitter end of destruction. By that compact she intends to stand or to fall. Neither Congress, nor certain make-shift men in Virginia, can force upon her their mad schemes of weakness and surrender. She stands upon her institutions -- and there she will fall in their defence. We want no Confederate Government without our institutions. And we will have none. Sink or swim, live or die, we stand by them, and are fighting for them this day. That is the ground of our fight -- it is well that all should understand this at once. Thousands and tens of thousands of the bravest men, and the best blood of this State, fighting in the ranks, have left their bones whitening on the bleak hills of Virginia in this cause. We are fighting for our system of civilization -- not for buncomb, or for Jeff Davis. We intend to fight for that , or nothing. We expect Virginia to stand beside us in that fight, as of old, as we have stood beside her in this war up to this time. But such talk coming from such a source is destructive to the cause. Let it cease at once, in God's name, and in behalf of our common cause! It is paralizing [sic ] to every man here to hear it. It throws a pall over the hearts of the soldiers of this State to hear it. The soldiers of South Carolina will not fight beside a nigger -- to talk of emancipation is to disband our army. We are free men, and we chose to fight for ourselves -- we want no slaves to fight for us.

Haystack's lame defense of the Confederacy as representing values beyond "the darkness of slavery" is of course disingenuous, but again, this nothing particularly new for Southern conservatives -- or for Republicans generally, who have been insistent in their state of denial regarding the legacy of the Southern Strategy.

And it's not as if the current defenders of the Confederacy -- particularly the neo-Confederates who have become deeply embedded within the GOP in recent years -- have been moving beyond race and making their values reflect purely the defense of "states rights" as a constitutional principle. Remember the fight in Georgia in 2004 over the Dixie flag?
Their stated mission is to restore Confederate symbols to prominence on the Georgia state flag and to remove from office Perdue and any other "scalawags" that oppose them. But some fear the flaggers and their sympathizers across the South have racist and anti-government agendas.

Georgia business and political leaders are concerned that the determined group might create a national spectacle by raising the specter of slavery and racism when state voters go to the polls Tuesday.

"The flaggers talk about preserving their Southern heritage, but that is mostly for Yankee consumption. Nobody around here believes that. The underlying theme is race," Georgia political columnist Bill Shipp said. "They are a 21st-century manifestation of the Klan, but they also symbolize disenchantment and alienation with government."

... Many who pose as Confederate-heritage preservationists are actually "pushing an entire revision of the history of the Civil War in the service of present-day racists," Potok said. "They are trying to cleanse the Confederate flag and the Civil War itself of any association with racism or slavery."

Probably the clearest example of how "Confederate values" are about much, much more than "states rights" lies in the way the Confederate flag appears and is used well outside the South -- namely, as a clear-cut symbol of white supremacy.

That was the case when the Dixie flag you see atop this post came out a couple of summers ago alongside a couple of Nazi banners, mixed in with American flags, at an anti-immigrant "Minuteman" rally in California.

It was the case when a group of young local thugs, harassing minorities in the seaside town of Ocean Shores, Washington, on the Fourth of July in 2000 waved their Dixie flag in the faces of the blacks and Asians they were threatening and assaulting -- a case that ended in the death of the chief perpetrator (as I explored in some detail in my book Death on the Fourth of July.

That was the case last year whem a special version of the Dixie flag -- a Klan version, in fact -- flew over a community picnic in Michigan.

The same principle was in effect just a couple of months ago when a group of Maryland students organizing peace rallies were verbally assaulted by fellow students wearing Confederate flags on their T-shirts, and had their posters defaced with swastikas and "white power" slogans.

And it was the case in 2003 when the flags were used by high-schoolers in Western Washington to harass minorities. As I noted then:
Why would the Confederate flag be an issue in northwestern Washington? Because it is a symbol of white supremacism for people well outside the South as well. This is why phony arguments about its meaning are only cover for the stark reality that anyone -- particularly anyone of color -- who is confronted by the flag knows all too well: The Confederate flag is meant to intimidate -- to trumpet the values of white supremacy. The "heritage" which it harkens back to is mostly rife with the charred corpses of lynched innocents.

Whatcom County has a history of right-wing extremism: The Washington State Militia, whose trial In God's Country covered in detail (and which was the subject of Jane Kramer's excellent Lone Patriot: The Short Career of an American Militiaman) was based in rural Whatcom. In recent years there have been cross-burnings aimed at immigrants, and death threats aimed at peace protesters. The Patriots who filled the ranks of the WSM are still very much at large in the county, and their effect keeps bubbling to the surface.

But then, conservatives don't care to acknowledge that this is what "Confederate values" -- including "states rights" -- really are all about.

And if Barack Obama's candidacy, in drawing out the ugliest side of movement conservatives, achieves nothing other than to expose that reality to the cold light of day, it'll have achieved something truly worthwhile.

[Big hat tips to Thers Whiskey and Phoenix Woman.]

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