Monday, April 12, 2010

GOP: Confederate, Secessionist, Racist, Anti-Science [Insert Boehner Rebel Yell Here]

The old Republican slogan “Party of Lincoln” has been a laugher for decades but is so ludicrous today that it’s been retired for all intents and purposes. When Lincoln ran for president, his anti-slavery views were so strong that his handlers urged him to keep quiet about it so he could pick up support in states bordering the South. He was vilified by the Southern press and savaged as a monkey by Southern cartoonists for being a friend to African Americans, much as President Obama is portrayed in racist Teabagger signs and that infamous NY Post (Rupert “Fox” Murdoch) editorial cartoon.

Last week, Virginia governor Bob McDonnell deliberately manufactured a controversy by declaring “Confederate History Month” without mentioning the evils of slavery or the minor detail that Virginia held captive some 500,000 slaves who, former governor Doug Wilder (an African American) noted, were not “happy” campers in McDonnell’s Confederate utopia. McDonnell called on Virginians to “understand the sacrifices of the Confederate leaders, soldiers and citizens during the period of the Civil War.” This understanding, in his revisionist mind is to portray the Civil War as a war for “independence” that “should not be forgotten” but “understood and remembered, both in the context of the time in which it took place, but also in the context of the time in which we live.” [Emphasis mine.]

This sentence is the piéce de résistance in the governor’s declaration. The word “context” is cited twice in the sentence to underscore its paramount importance. First, is the “context” of “independence” for the Confederate states, which is to suggest that secession is constitutional despite an 1868 Supreme Court ruling outlawing it in the strongest terms: We have “an indestructible Union, composed of indestructible States.” It also flipped on its head the horrors of slavery for millions of African Americans (free slaves were few and far between) by floating the absurdity that somehow the Southern states were captives of the Union.

Unreconstructed Southerners (that is, white wingnuts who are not moderate to liberal Northern transplants or descendants of slaves) are constantly relitigating the constitutionality of what they call the “War of Northern Aggression” –- historians properly refer to it as the “Civil War” or the “War Between the States.” Governor McDonnell’s “context” gives amateur Southern revisionist historians a blank check and more, Virginia’s official blessing to relitigate their Confederate past.

The first official salvo came from Texas in which Governor Rick Perry openly called for secession and used the anti-government lingo of the Teabaggers (tyranny, takeover) to incite the crazies. Then the right wing revisionists took control of the social studies curriculum in Texas, placing Jefferson Davis on a par with Abraham Lincoln, which is prima facie offensive and an outrageous absurdity. This is one of many outrages committed by the Texas Board of Education and right wing members not trained in history or education.

Second, is the glaring omission of slavery from the governor’s initial declaration, a slap in the face to every African American and a clear signal to regional nativists, for whom the Confederacy symbolizes a principled stand against the Northern industrial elites, that the governor “gets it.” These right wing Southerners have voted for Republicans from the moment Goldwater conservatives purged the party of most moderates allowing for the few remaining Rockefeller liberals to wither on the vine, while the Voting Rights and Civil Rights Acts drove Dixiecrats from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party in a mass migration and major realignment of the parties.

“There goes the South,” declared President Lyndon Johnson prophetically. Tricky Dick Nixon banked on his “Southern Strategy” to win the presidency for Republicans four years later. Ronald Reagan consolidated the party’s bond with the unreconstructed South by kicking off his campaign from Philadelphia, Mississippi, site of the murder of three civil rights workers, then welcoming the rise of the Religious (Southern Baptist) Right.

Governor McDonnell’s Reaganesque “wink and a nod” to the new Confederates with his declaration was no innocent mistake. He wanted to highlight what was “most significant” to Virginia and “promote tourism in the state.” Obviously, slavery was not “most significant” to McDonnell and those of his ilk (because he knows full well that a majority of Virginians do not share his sentiment), and promoting tourism for a war that took 600,000 lives and ripped this country apart means no regrets, no excuses. Most important, there is in all of this a cold political calculation on McDonnell’s part. Virginia has no second terms for governor, so the ambitious McDonnell is unfettered by the restraint of actually having to serve his constituents. McDonnell has presidential (or, initially, vice presidential) aspirations and he is speaking to a wider constituency outside Virginia to the south and west of its borders. McDonnell’s fellow wingnut attorney general Kenneth Cuccinelli is angling for the governorship by joining in a frivolous lawsuit of Republican state AGs against the healthcare law. Virginia’s headlong plunge back to our ugly segregationist past continues apace with McDonnell’s requirement to have the state’s estimated 300,000 disenfranchised non-violent convicted felons write an essay in order to get their Constitutionally guaranteed voting rights back.

Unreconstructed Southerners understand this -- on a basic level, at least. Some, such as the Sons of the Confederacy, are old enough to remember separate but equal, perhaps even a lynching or two. They sneer at the “political correctness” of the Northern elites, and resent objections to flying the Confederate flag or celebrating Confederate history as they would have it, in its proper “context,” which omits slavery as insignificant while embracing “independence” from “Northern aggression.” They understand Governor McDonnell’s drippy, insincere apology was a necessity in the current state of the nation. That is, according to their bizarre worldview, an African American non-citizen president from Illinois -- the “Land of Lincoln” -- illegitimately occupies the White House. Significantly, despite the governor’s calculated apology, the original text with the words “independence” and “context” remains unchanged. These are code words for racism and sectionalism. Neo-Confederates understand this.

As the Little Don John Gotti Jr. said on 60 Minutes when asked how he could justify murder: “I can’t justify murder, but I can make a good case for it. Wanna hear it?”

Thanks to Rick Perry, Bob McDonnell, Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachmann, the Republican Party leadership, Southern state AGs (especially those running for governor), and the Teabaggers, we’re hearing their best case for a new Confederacy. Incidentally, to hear some of these people is to live day in and day out with a cornucopia of hideous accents. Some, like Sarah Palin’s, are truly hideous. Others, but for the hideous people uttering the words, would have been charming in another context. That may not be fair to the idea of a genteel South, but that too is mostly myth, considering its history.

The Southern drawl is the predominant Republican accent. It pours from the mouths of Mitch McConnell, Bob McDonnell, Rick Perry, Eric Cantor, Bill McCollum, George W. Bush (worse because it’s faux), Jim DeMint, and weepy Tom Coburn. It’s enough to drive retiring GOP Senator George Voinovich to exasperation. It has become the soundtrack of reaction, racism, hatred, obstruction, right wing extremism, and sectionalism.

Worst of all, is Sarah Palin’s twang. It grates like nails on a blackboard. Does anybody know what the hell that is? Other Alaskans don’t sound anywhere as grotesque as Palin. (New Rule, Bill Maher: Anyone who pronounces “nuclear” phonetically, NOO-KEE-LAR, should be automatically barred from public speaking.) Couple that with the vomiting nasality, the hard Rs, the mispronunciation of all names foreign – EYE-RAN, EYE-RACK – and we have linguistic genocide. Headlining the GOP’s shindig in Louisiana, Palin used a bunch of meaningless slogans as an excuse to butcher the English language, carrying the GOP’s anti-Science banner. She said America does not need “this snake-oil science stuff” and dismissed climate change as “Gore-Gate.”

Putting it all in context, former RNC Chairman and current governor of Mississippi, Haley Barbour, who calls himself “an overweight redneck with a funny accent” made it perfectly clear that Neo-Confederates and GOP Teabagger storm troopers understood McDonnell’s message. In a stunning display of retrograde Old South thinking and insensitivity, Barbour reinforced the Bob McDonnell non-apology by dismissing the notion McDonnell was “insensitive” as “just a nit” that is “trying to make a big deal out of something that doesn't matter for diddly” because “it goes without saying” that slavery is a bad thing. No, Mr. Barbour. It does not go withouth saying in any declaration celebrating Confederate history, official or not, when this, the greatest abomination in American history was the cause for the Civil War, our bloodiest conflict. There’s revisionism and then there’s obscenity. What you and McDonnell said and did falls within the latter category.

The time has come for a rebranding of the Republican Party. I have a couple of suggestions. Instead of GOP, why not rename the Republicans’ call letters the NCP (New Confederate Party). Better still, there may yet be purpose to Michael Steele’s castrated reign as RNC Chairman. He should pass a resolution officially changing the name of the Republican Party to the Tea Party.

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