Saturday, April 17, 2010

Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour's neo-Confederacy

Haley Barbour, Republican Governor of Mississippi and chairman of the national Republican Governor's Association, stepped up to the plate to defend his own proclamations of Confederate Heritage Month in Mississippi (not Confederate History Month as in Virginia):Barbour Criticized for Slavery Insensitivity by Ward Schaefer Jackson Free Press 04/13/10. This is another cross-post from my annual Confederate "Heritage" Month counter-observance at Old Hickory's Weblog.

Here's ole Haley's interview with CNN's Candy Crowley that is the topic of Schaefer's article.

Barbour actually manages to make an important point in the process of trying to make the whole issue of singling out the Confederacy for special honor and recognition sound just routine. Mississippi Democrats in the legislature and previous Mississippi Democratic Governors have also proclaimed Confederate "heritage" observances. While neo-Confederacy is a speciality of the Republican Party these days, Democratic politicians will sometimes pander to neo-Confederates, as well. Edward Sebesta did a run-down on the 2008 Presidential candidates and neo-Confederacy: Presidential Candidates' Confederate Records.

Probably the most embarrassing Democratic example there was Joe Biden. Poor Joe. He's got a sort of classic glad-hand style which I usually find more endearing than otherwise. But it also sometimes leads him to say dumb things, like in this interview with Chris Wallace quoted at Ed's site:

WALLACE: And, finally, Senator Biden — finally, we've got about 30 seconds left, but I can't let you go without some politics. As we've mentioned, you're in South Carolina right now, on the campaign trial. Thirty seconds or less, what kind of a chance would a Northeastern liberal like Joe Biden stand in the South if you were running in Democratic primaries against southerners like Mark Warner and John Edwards.

BIDEN: Better than anybody else. You don't know my state. My state was a slave state. My state is a border state. My state has the eighth-largest black population in the country. My state is anything from [i.e., but] a Northeast liberal state.
But back to Haley Barbour. Ward Schaefer writes:

Marty Wisemann, director of Mississippi State University's Stennis Institute of Government, said that Barbour's comments may have played well to a staunchly Republican base in the South but were likely to hurt his stature nationally.

"I think he might have underestimated the fact that that wound had already been reopened," Wisemann said. "When you take that southern accent, and you add this comment to it, it might be a heavy load to get out from under."

Mississippi NAACP President Derrick Johnson said that the very idea of honoring the state's Confederate history was grossly mistaken.

"Any time you commemorate an event or an incident such as the Confederacy, whose premise was built on enslaving other human beings, it becomes a very big deal," Johnson said. "That's like saying that we should commemorate the birth of Hitler and the rise of the Nazi Party. All those things were atrocities against human beings that we should not repeat. We should learn from them, so we don't repeat (them), but we should not celebrate."

On April 26, State offices will be closed to honor Confederate Memorial Day. [my emphasis]
This Hitler-Nazi reference at the end isn't as egregious as Roland Martin's blundering comments that I discussed in yesterday's post. But it's a confusing message, these days. With Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck and their many imitators spending the last year-plus saying that Obama is like Hitler and the Nazis, lots of people who hear that comparison would think it means that the Confederacy provided everyone access to buy health insurance.

The analogy is so overused, it's almost become banal. And it shouldn't be banal. And, in practice, I doubt that Derrick Johnson would mistake the difference between someone displaying a Confederate flag and someone displaying a Nazi flag.

On the other hand, I wouldn't want to push the difference. If you see a Confederate battle flag in Germany, it's normally a substitute for a Nazi flag, which is illegal to display there. I remember seeing one on the door of an office in Majorca, a Spanish island that is a famous tourist destination for Germans. I knew immediately that it was some far-right group for them to be displaying the Confederate flag. Not a "heritage" I want anyone to identify me with.

I will say, though, that it would not be unreasonable comparison to observe that the Nazi's treatment of Jews and other minorities Germany up until the annexation of Austria in 1938 didn't approach the level of brutality of the slavery of African-Americans in the antebellum US. Jews could emigrate from Germany, though they had to forfeit basically all their property and money to do so. Slaves didn't have the option to leave, and they were property.

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