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Virginia Governor Issues Confederate History Month Mea Culpa

April is Autism Awareness Month, Celebrate Diversity Month, and also Confederate History Month. A number of states recognize the latter, but the state that’s had people buzzing this week is Virginia.

After quietly restoring Confederate History Month–without including the anti-slavery language that makes such proclamations only slightly less rebarbative–Virginia’s Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell was forced this week to admit he’d blundered. He issued a statement conceding that he’d made a “major omission” and inserted a paragraph in the proclamation acknowledging that slavery was, among other things, “an evil and inhumane practice that deprived people of their God-given inalienable rights.”

The day before his mea culpa, McDonnell defended the proclamation, saying that slavery wasn’t “significant” enough for inclusion and that the document would help boost tourism. The state’s last Republican governor, Jim Gilmore, was also the last to issue a similar proclamation before McDonnell reintroduced it last week. Gilmore did, however, include anti-slavery language that read: “Had there been no slavery, there would have been no war.”

So, what was McDonnell thinking?

Michael Fauntroy, a George Mason University political scientist, says that people sometimes forget how far-right the governor actually leans and that he was simply pandering to the GOP’s conservative base.

“He was far more concerned about sort of repaying a debt and engaging in important symbolism that is important to those who support the notion of the Confederacy than he is to any backlash that may occur,” said Fauntroy. “There are a lot of people who believe the narrative that the Civil War was just about this amorphous concept called state’s rights, when the right in question was slavery.”

Immediately after the original proclamation was issued, Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine denounced McDonnell.

“A failure to acknowledge the central role of slavery in the Confederacy and deeming insignificant the reprehensible transgression of moral standards of liberty and equality that slavery represented is simply not acceptable in the America of the 21st century,” Kaine wrote in a statement.

Interestingly, Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele, who is black, has been silent on the issue. Granted, he’s been dealing with his own embarrassments but McDonnell’s misstep certainly won’t help Steele in his efforts to open up the GOP tent to include more minorities.


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