The most dangerous explanation of Confederate flag and monument defenders for their obstructionism
The ongoing debate over the continued (and, indeed, expanding) celebration of the confederate flag on thousands of North Carolina license plates and the recent enactment of a law forbidding local governments from removing confederate monuments has once again placed North Carolina and its leaders in an unfavorable national light. Even as officials in South Carolina moved to take down the flag from their state capitol, North Carolina leaders seem content to point fingers and shrug their shoulders one day and then double down on defending confederate symbols the next.
All of this is especially embarrassing for Governor McCrory. As Chris Fitzsimon explained last week:
“McCrory himself needs to speak out forcefully and demand that lawmakers immediately pass legislation to stop the plates. That’s what South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley did when she wanted the confederate flag taken down on her state’s capitol grounds.
She didn’t make a public statement and then forget about it. She made a public statement and then went to the South Carolina General Assembly and demanded that lawmakers act and they did.
McCrory is either unwilling or unable to do that in North Carolina.”
Defensive and combative interviews like this one the Governor gave to Wilmington’s WECT television in which he maddeningly and lamely claimed to have “encouraged” the legislature to give him the authority to stop issuing the license plates (something legislative leaders say he already has) don’t help.
The real reason for the inaction
Of course, the actual reason behind the paralysis of the state’s conservative political leadership when it comes to confederate symbols is not hard to divine and has nothing to do with “legal authority.” Rather, these politicians are simply bowing to the wishes of a large and noisy segment of their political base.
As NC Policy Watch editorial cartoonist John Cole neatly conveyed yesterday, the simple truth is that neither McCrory nor the leadership of General Assembly want (or feel they have the political muscle) to take on the far right on the issue. Once the modest national momentum that arose in the aftermath of the horror in Charleston subsided somewhat, McCrory et. al. quickly realized that a large segment of the conservative base actually likes confederate symbols and what they perceive them to stand for. Add to this the widespread resentfulness that any policy change at all attributable to progressives and civil rights activists is sure to provoke on Fox News and other dark corners of the conservative echo chamber and it’s easy to see why McCrory, Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore have disappeared into their shells.
If you doubt this, take a deep breath and venture onto the websites of some of the far right groups that have long espoused and fomented paranoia about President Obama, federal government “takeovers,” the supposed “state’s right” of “nullification,” the United Nations, etc…. Or, if this is too scary, just check out the online comments sections on any North Carolina news sites when they post stories on the issue.
Time after time, the truth shines through: Though few if any will actually defend the confederacy’s central reason for being (i.e. slavery), a small but noisy segment of the population clearly identifies with the confederate cause and its symbols. These people like the tribal identity, the sense of reactionary militancy and the thinly veiled middle finger it gives to those they perceive as encroaching on their prerogatives – particularly minorities of all kinds.
Hence the bizarre spectacle of even conservative transplants from northern states defending confederate symbols – not out of a love for the Lost Cause and good ol’ Bobby Lee, but rather based on their obvious perception that the confederacy (whatever its horrific details and underpinnings) has much in common with the modern conservative movement. Witness the hateful scene in which a gaggle of conservative confederate flag wavers confronted President Obama in Kansas City a few weeks back.
A sanitized explanation
Interestingly however, despite the passion level of the direct defenders, for many “respectable” conservatives (including some ambitious politicians and media figures), overt defense of confederate symbols (even if cloaked in anti-slavery rhetoric) is rightfully seen as too risky. These actors realize that direct defense of the flag and other confederate symbols ultimately won’t wash for most of the mainstream public.
As a result, many of these folks have latched onto another creative, but ultimately absurd and dangerous explanation to justify their opposition: “history” and the supposed desire of those who oppose confederate symbols to destroy or “whitewash” it. Here’s North Carolina Lt. Gov. Dan Forest in a recent interview with a Wilmington radio host:
“To then go around and say you need to remove, uh, all monuments that are remembrances of the Civil War is quite foolish. That’s not gonna’ solve any problem. In fact, I think it’s just the opposite.
I think when people, uh, are offended and they want to always remove their offense you’re in danger of worse offenses happening down the road because you’re not learning from your history. And so, you know, confederate monuments in the South are certainly part of history and you need to learn from history, warts and all.
I mean history is about facts, not what was beautiful about the past and that’s all that you can remember. So I think you need to always, uh, have the ability to look back to the past and learn from it so, again, as we’ve talked about over and over, we learn from our history and don’t repeat those mistakes. You know, if we whitewashed every offense that was out there to every American, there would be not much left out in this world. It would be a pretty…pretty bland world.
Uh, so at some point, we have to get past this point of, uh, being offended by everything in America and creating lawsuits by being offended and vandalizing things that offend you, uh, and speaking hateful things to people who don’t agree with you and your point of view and those types of things. That’s not America. That’s not what America was founded upon.”
Did you follow that neat little two-part dipsy-do? First Forest changes the facts to allege, falsely, that opponents of confederate monuments want to do away with “all monuments that are remembrances of the Civil War.” Then, he leaps to the even more bizarre contention that if we do away with publicly supported celebrations of the confederacy, we are inviting history to repeat itself.
No, you did not misread that. The Lt. Governor is claiming (along with many others) that if we stifle publicly-supported celebrations of the confederacy, we risk a future rise of secessionist traitors and, presumably, another Civil War. Indeed, heck, golly, gee whiz, it would be downright un-American to stop celebrating people and a cause that sought to destroy the country!
To which all a sane person can say in response is: you simply can’t make this stuff up. Earth to Dan Forest: The study of history is great. Indeed, we ought to do a lot more of it – particularly when it comes to the Civil War. But rebel flags on license plates and monuments constructed decades after the fact with the purpose of celebrating an evil cause and advancing a post-war political agenda of resistance to racial equality have nothing to with the study of history. If anyone’s “whitewashing” the past, it’s those who preserve and celebrate such symbols as noble – not those who want to expose them for what they were and are and, once and for all, move the country beyond them.
Gov. McCrory and legislative leaders may be wimping out on the issue. And overt confederacy loving dunces may make a sane person’s blood boil. But it is the practiced deceptions of slick salesmen like the Lt. Governor’s that can do the greatest damage to the truth on important issues like this one. Let’s hope more and more people quickly catch on to Forest’s creepy con job.