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A modest proposal: no one displaying the Confederate flag gets to lecture any American about patriotism - ever.  Ditto for anyone trafficking in Confederate nostalgia as a political strategy.  Of course, that new red, white and blue rule would pose a problem for today's Republican Party.  After all, Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, the same man who delivered the GOP's response to President Obama's 2010 State of the Union, this week resurrected "Confederate History Month" in Richmond.  And to be sure, when it comes to flying the Stars and Bars and talking up secession, nullification and "the war of Yankee aggression," McDonnell has plenty of company among the leading lights of the Republican Party.

Exhuming a ritual buried by his Democratic predecessors Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, McDonnell called on Virginians to celebrate the South's failure in the conflict bookended by Sumter and Appomattox, one he deemed "a four year war ... for independence."  More shocking still, McDonnell's proclamation ignored the issue of slavery altogether because, he claimed, "I focused on the ones I thought were most significant for Virginia."  Governor Jim Gilmore's 1999 declaration at least recognized slavery as the cause of the war that killed over 600,000 Americans, a point a humbled General Ulysses Grant made for posterity at Appomattox:

"I felt sad and depressed at the downfall of a foe who had fought so long and valiantly, and had suffered so much for a cause, though their cause was, I believe, one of the worst for which a people ever fought."

Sadly, Bob McDonnell is far from alone among Republican leaders past and present reminding Americans that the old times there are not forgotten.

As the health care reform debate reached its climax in March, Rep. Paul Broun of Georgia was among those longing for the days of the ante bellum South.  Missing the irony that health care is worst in those reddest of Southern states where Republicans poll best, Broun took to the House floor to show that he was still fighting the Civil War:

"If ObamaCare passes, that free insurance card that's in people's pockets is gonna be as worthless as a Confederate dollar after the War Between The States -- the Great War of Yankee Aggression."

If you thought you had heard that outdated term of Dixie revisionist history recently, you did.  In February 2009, Missouri Republican Bryan Stevenson took exception to President Obama's support for the Freedom of Choice Act, legislation which codify the reproductive rights protections of Roe v. Wade nationwide:

"What we are dealing with today is the greatest power grab by the federal government since the war of northern aggression."

That expression was also a favorite of former Senate Majority Leader and later Minority Whip (really, you can't make this up) Trent Lott.   Lott was a speaker in 1992 at an event of the Council of Conservative Citizens, a successor to the White Citizens' Councils of Jim Crow days. Among its offerings in seething racial hatred is a "Wanted" poster of Abraham Lincoln. Lott's also offered his rebel yell in the virulently neo-Confederate Southern Partisan, where in 1984 he called the Civil War "the war of aggression."  That was years before he lauded the legendary racist and 1948 Dixiecrat presidential candidate, Strom Thurmond:

"I want to say this about my state: when Strom Thurmond ran for President, we voted for him. We're proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years, either."

Trent Lott is not the only Mississippi Republican to support groups like the CCC and honor the Confederate flag. Former Republican National Committee Chairman and now Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour wore a lapel pin with the image during his campaign and attended a CCC barbeque in 2003.

Another neocon (that is, neo-Confederate) is former Attorney General John Ashcroft. Ashcroft granted a long interview with the Southern Partisan, in which he stated:

"Your magazine helps set the record straight. You've got a heritage of doing that, of defending Southern patriots like [Robert E.] Lee, [Stonewall] Jackson and [Jefferson] Davis. Traditionalists must do more. I've got to do more. We've all got to stand up and speak in this respect or else we'll be taught that these people were giving their lives, subscribing their sacred fortunes and their honor to some perverted agenda."

Then there's Bob McDonnell's predecessor of "Macaca" fame, George Allen.  Long before the YouTube gaffe that derailed his 2006 Senate reelection bid, Allen's affection for the CSA was as clear as black and white.  Allen, who in 2005 co-sponsored a resolution apologizing for the Senate's past use of the filibuster against anti-lynching legislation in the 1920's, displayed a Confederate flag and a noose at his home. While governor of Virginia, Allen declared "Confederate Heritage Month" and branded the NAACP an "extremist group."

But while George Allen as a Southern California teenager sported a Confederate flag lapel and "plastered the school with Confederate flags," former Arkansas Governor and 2012 White House hopeful Mike Huckabee continues to support the banner of the CSA.  During the 2008 South Carolina primary, Huckabee announced:

"You don't like people from outside the state coming in and telling you what to do with your flag. In fact, if somebody came to Arkansas and told us what to do with our flag, we'd tell them what to do with the pole, that's what we'd do."

And so it goes.  While Texas Governor Rick Perry spoke of "secession" in the wake of the Obama stimulus program, health care reform opponents trot out the long-dead notion of "nullification."  (Regarding the first of these Confederate talking points from the GOP, even Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia remarked, "If there was any constitutional issue resolved by the Civil War, it is that there is no right to secede.")

Which brings us back to U.S. Grant.  As President, Ulysses Grant continued to offer not recriminations or retribution but respect to Southern sensibilities. In 1869, several Congressmen sought to add to the Capitol rotunda a huge mural depicting Lee surrendering to Grant at Appomattox. As authors Harold Holzer and Gabor Boritt wrote, Grant would have none of it. "He said he would never take part in producing a picture that commemorated a victory in which his own countrymen were losers." Grant is said to have remarked:

"No, gentlemen, it won't do. No power on earth will make me agree to your proposal. I will not humiliate General Lee or our Southern friends in depicting their humiliation and then celebrating the event in the nation's capitol."

One can only wish that Bob McDonnell and today's Republican bowing their heads before the Confederate flag would show as much consideration, sensitivity and respect to their fellow Americans as Grant afforded their ancestors 150 years ago.

** Crossposted at Perrspectives **

UPDATE: Facing a firestorm of criticism, Governor McDonnell issued an unpology, declaring, "The failure to include any reference to slavery was a mistake, and for that I apologize to any fellow Virginian who has been offended or disappointed."

Originally posted to Jon Perr on Wed Apr 07, 2010 at 10:22 AM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

    •  The phrase "The War of Northern Aggression" (0+ / 0-)

      is what, or so my southern ex-girlfriend told me, children all over the south are taught to call it.  She said she'd been taught to call it that when she was growing up.

      I do actually find it a shame that the idea of states' rights was bundled with such a detestable idea as slavery, and I wish that individual states had greater autonomy, or at least that the idea could have been debated more sensibly than, seemingly, for both sides in the Civil War to have said states' rights=slavery, fight a war over it, and bury the two issues bundled together.

      There was a great Rocky and Bullwinkle episode once, where the southern general walks along, and whenever anyone says "Civil War," he says: "uh-uh-uh: War between the States!"  Finally:

      Rocky: "Bullwinkle!  Will you keep a civil tongue in your head?!"
      General: "uh-uh-uh!  War between the States tongue!"

      "Arguments are to be avoided. They are always vulgar, and are often convincing." -- Oscar Wilde

      by Villagejonesy on Wed Apr 07, 2010 at 11:20:33 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I was often corrected by my relatives... (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        From Alabama to call it "The War Between the States". The phrase "War of Northern Agression" is one truly from the minds of die-hard supporters of "The Lost Cause". And where I now live, we've still got a lot of those around.

        What gets me is that the Party of Lincoln, who so desperately wanted the Union preserved, is now embracing wholesale Neo-Confederatism and seccessionist utterings by its adherrents. This isn't just a recent phenomenon; Nixon's "Southern Strategy" in the late 60s/early 70s sought to build Repub strength in the South by forging the image of Republicans as a counter-balance to LBJ's "Great Society" programs; the overt implication being that "We're against all that government interferrence, high taxation and liberalism run amok", but the real underpinnings saying "we're against anybody telling you how to accomodate 'the blacks'!"

        It's only gotten worse in the past fifteen years, of course, with people like Newt Gingrich (a transplanted Pennsylvanian, ironically) and native sons like Trent Lott joining together to lead the racist/seccessionist revival. And now, the former governor of, all places, Alaska is into it, too. These people make true Southerners like me extremely sick, as they have never grown up, mentally or emotionally. Newt's ancestors never fought for the Confederacy; all of mine(males)did. I'm over it; why shouldn't they get over it, as well?

        "Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it."--Miguel De Santa Anna

        by GainesT1958 on Wed Apr 07, 2010 at 09:19:54 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Very fine diary (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Lefty Mama

    I'm still waiting for one to rocket to rec list to serve as counter point to Barb's front page work.

    My leader is Barack Hussein Obama the finest President this country has ever elected. Face Front and Respect

    by Adept2u on Wed Apr 07, 2010 at 10:31:56 AM PDT

  •  The south will rise again! (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    And when it does, it will get crushed even harder than the last time.

    •  The South We'll Raze Again (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
    •  Teabagger language above; nt (0+ / 0-)

      On the wheel of ideology, the cogs of communism and fascism are close. -1, -1.59

      by Liberaltarianish on Wed Apr 07, 2010 at 11:35:18 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Um..we already have... (0+ / 0-)

      And like Germany and Japan after WWII, we've risen economically.

      Now if we could just rise as rapidly in levels of quality public primary and secondary education, health care and prevailing wage rates, we'd be a place with a quality of life as great as our climate.

      At least I can be thankful that I live in a Southern state that still (for now) elects a substantial number of Democrats to major state offices. And some Federal ones, too. Hopefully, given the anti-incumbency mood this year in many places, the Repub tide that has swept across so much of the South will begin--at least at the state level--to recede this year.

      "Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it."--Miguel De Santa Anna

      by GainesT1958 on Wed Apr 07, 2010 at 09:31:36 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  "northern agression" (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    That doesn't fit my memory of how the Civil War was started!

    It's freaky how the talking points appear in different places at the same time. But it truly reveals that the racism trumps everything else when it comes to the results of the last election. It's ugly, and sadly for them, it's driving moderates away from the GOP.

    In a democracy, everyone is a politician. ~ Ehren Watada

    by Lefty Mama on Wed Apr 07, 2010 at 10:38:12 AM PDT

  •  I just don't get the nostalgia (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    cybersaur, mtnlvr, sow hat, Villagejonesy

    Back in the early 1800s, people had to work 60-80 hour weeks in fields or factories just to get by, and the cutting edge medical treatment wasn't House MD, but leeches.  You had wooden teeth by the age of 40 because no-one had invented tooth-brushes yet, and everyone around you bathed weekly at best.  Half of your siblings, cousins, and children would die by age 10.

    Your social life consisted of boring town meetings and going to church, and for most people, going to town wasn't a 10 minute drive, but rather anything from an hour to an afternoon on horseback.

    And don't forget that one wrong fall or axe-swing means amputation or death, and work-related injuries pretty quickly left you penniless on the streets if you couldn't farm afterward.

    Seriously.  Read the Little House series, and then realize that Laura Ingalls was (1) 50 years after these guys, and (2) was fairly lucky to have survived all that she did.

    I think the problem is that everyone assumes that if they lived in antebellum times, they'd be a dashing plantation owner turned cavalryman.  Fact is, you were as likely to be a plantation owner then as you are to be a multi-millionaire now.  So all this antebellum nostalgia is just wishing to be someone upper-class.

    •  interesting take (0+ / 0-)

      Your last sentence was quite interesting.  I grew up in Tennessee and the most vocally racist people I knew were relatively poor.  Poor people in the south who were not slaves were not really that much better off, strictly in a material sense, than slaves.  And the vast majority of white people in the south at that time weren't plantation owners and were therefore poor.
      These days, a lot of the more ignorant southern white racists loudly proclaim "if the South hada won we'd a had it made...", fantasizing about some idyllic southern ease of life that most certainly would not have existed for them.

      •  Reminds me of the line from Alex Haley's "Roots" (0+ / 0-)

        He mentioned that the slaves would sing, "not poor white, please oh Lord/fer I'd ruther be a n_____."  I always wondered if that was true.

        "Arguments are to be avoided. They are always vulgar, and are often convincing." -- Oscar Wilde

        by Villagejonesy on Wed Apr 07, 2010 at 11:28:28 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  As long as you're fantasizing (0+ / 0-)

        As long as you're fantasizing, you're likely going to fantasize yourself into prominence.  It's a lot easier to see yourself as Scarlett O'Hara instead of Jo March, or JEB Stuart instead of Henry Fleming.

    •  It is the same for people who immigrated (0+ / 0-)

      from somewhere else. They hold on to their cultures, they tell stories from the old country, they eat the foods their grand mothers made.

      Classic examples are the China Town/Little Italy/Korea Town/German Village sections of most major cities.

      The people who live in these places do not feel that their old countries are better, but they want to hold on to the best parts of their culture.

      It is the same with the South.

      To me, the South is sweet tea, fried chicken, collard greens, and sweet potato pies.

      It is a slow pace and a friendly smile, it is porch swings and the smell of Purple Wisteria.

      It is peaches, pecans and the occasional gnat.

      I served in the US military, and pledged to support and defend the constitution, but I grew up in the south and it will always be home.

      I was just there yesterday morning.

      Before I caught my plane,  my family and I lingered over strong coffee and biscuits and gravy. We watched hummingbirds feed just out side the window. The dogwoods are in bloom and the wisteria in the tress is simply amazing. It is a beautiful place.

    •  Ah but those uppity (0+ / 0-)

      N_____s knew their place.  And THAT's what these pigs are really nostalgic for.


      by Bulldawg on Wed Apr 07, 2010 at 08:36:19 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Upper Class (0+ / 0-)

      My great-Great-great-great grandmother was one of two women (sisters) who started "Female Academies" in the 1830s-1840s or so in the northeast and Maryland, and many others sprung up after that (still antebellum). Their customers? Mostly southern girls, plantation girls, sent north to be trained in the refinements of education and good breeding, 'cause there wasn't much of that in the South. Basically, almost anyone in the south who was educated was educated up north (or in Europe).

      Without geometry, life is pointless.

      by blindcynic on Wed Apr 07, 2010 at 09:22:49 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  We all could learn a thing or two from Grant. (0+ / 0-)

    And Lee, too, for that matter.

  •  Great Survey. Question though.. (0+ / 0-)

    can you cite evidence for the whole "Allen had a noose at his house' claim?

    I despise George Allen, but that's a pretty outrageous accusation.

    On the wheel of ideology, the cogs of communism and fascism are close. -1, -1.59

    by Liberaltarianish on Wed Apr 07, 2010 at 11:34:46 AM PDT

  •  Note the violent talk by all these characters, (0+ / 0-)

    pushing the Overton Window on political violence, and showing their true colors.

    The Great Recession is a happy happy joy joy time to drop your obsolete skills and train for new ones.

    by doinaheckuvanutjob on Wed Apr 07, 2010 at 12:46:03 PM PDT

  •  Remember the polling (0+ / 0-)

    that last year that showed the GOP was becoming a rump regional party? -- Well I think this is another piece of the evidence.

  •  What about those displaying a Mexican flag? (0+ / 0-)

    The US and Mexico also fought a war just a few years before the civil war.

    Or a German, Japanese or Italian flag... The US also fought these countries...

    It is possible to love America and be proud of where you came from.

    Somehow, we understand this when it comes to those who came to this country recently -- the same is true for those whose families have been around a while.

    All German-Americans are not Nazi's and the vast majority of Southern American families never owned slaves.

    If we are not insulted by German, Italian or Japanese flags -- when each of these regimes stood for brutality and racial hatred AND many of the combatants of WWII are still alive.

    Why are we offended by a flag from a war that ended over 100 years ago. A war in which all those who fought are dead?

    •  Seriously? (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Brahman Colorado

      You don't see more difference than similarity in your comparison?

      Dawn is breaking everywhere Light a candle, curse the glare We will get by. We will survive.

      by MikeBoyScout on Wed Apr 07, 2010 at 08:18:19 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  The difference is in the flag (0+ / 0-)

      If a German-American displayed the Swastika flag of the Nazi regime, rather than the German national flag, that would be more akin to the CSA flag, in my opinion. And it would be denounced roundly.

      There may be a lot of ideology wrapped up in the Stars and Bars, but without the slavery issue, there would be no secession and no Civil War. That's why us "Northern Aggressors" equate the flag to defending slavery.

  •  go vote! (0+ / 0-)

    if hearing about all these idiots and their dumass ideas doesn't motivate you to go to the polls(and work for sane candidates),then ya better start going to gun shows and get ready for the war that fox and friends are promoting.

  •  Between the States and of Northern Agression (0+ / 0-)

    The phrase, "War Between the States," has a genuine place in historical discourse. It marks an (older) predominately southern viewpoint that distinguishes a "civil war" between partisans within a single state or nation from a "war between states," viz. a war between partisans from politically independent entities. This is indeed the phrase that for many years was taught in southern schools as being the correct way to characterize the conflict of the 1860s because it did not entail a belief in a unitary state or nation called "The United States of America" with partisans fighting aginst each other within it.  For southerners usually held that, at least before the 1860s, there was no "nation" or "single state" called "The United States of America'; there was only a federal government, a purely abstract entity with administrative powers but no geographic or ethnic identity (the southern criteria for true nationhood or statehood).  All these points can be debated by serious historians, and legitimate points scored on both sides.  The phrase "War of Northern Agrression" has no equivalent place in historical discourse.  It is a phrase from political rhetoric or (often) humor.  It was once heard mainly, I think, as a mocking response to northerners who insisted on calling "the War Between the States," "the Civil War." Its humor -- faint though it may be -- arose from satirizing a (Yankee) tendency to misname things for political advantage, which southerners perceived as teh weakest of rhetorical strategies, almost a refusal to take up the fight. The implied logical sequence is: "We can be polite and call it was a War Between the States, because that's the most genteel way to describve what it really was, and we are genteel folks. You insist on calling it a Civil War to suit your own PR purposes. Okay then, we can play that game, too.  We can be as improper as you and name it something that shows how we really feel about you and what you did to us."  That is all rhetoric and is beyond serious debate, unless it be a debate about the southern enthusiasm for rhetoric in general.  What I think happened as part of the southern strategy that revised all of southern political rhetoric (including the major party names) in the Nixon era, was that the phrase shifted from a humorous marker of southern partisanship to being a code-phrase with a very particular function.  It is now a phrase that marks the coded character of whole waths of southern political speech.  It now says,"Listen up: everything I am telling you is in the code of the Southern Strategy."  Since most southerners perceive that northerners never got the original joke -- never fully realized that they were the butt of it -- southerners can now believe that northerners will also miss the coded import of the same phrase.  Southerners also will delight in hearing northerners quote the phrase as if taking it to be a serious historical term, rather than the joke or code that it is, since that only goes to prove how humorless and myopic and insensnitive to the nuances of language (which southern rhetoricians so prize) northerners "are."

    •  And now the Southern regional party called (0+ / 0-)

      Republicans have become masters of the "tendency to misname things for political advantage". See "death tax", "Clean Air Act", "Death panels", etc ad nauseum.

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