"I didn't surrender any heritage," Virginia Gov. James Gilmore whined to the press last week after discarding Virginia's annual proclamation of April as "Confederate History Month" and replacing it with a tribute to black as well as white and Union as well as Confederate participants in his state's civil war. If that's what he does when he doesn't surrender, what do you imagine the governor would do when he does?
"Nobody held a gun to my head," Mr. Gilmore insisted, and perhaps that's the real pity. The surrender—call it what you want, but there's no other word for it—was in part the result of Afro-bigots like the NAACP threatening a state boycott if the Old Dominion refused to erase the Confederacy out of its heritage, but it was also in part the consequence of the politics of pander. It so happens that Virginia's chief executive is an expert at that.
He is not quite the expert that President Bush is, however. All last year, the president, as GOP candidate, pandered and pandered again to blacks, Hispanics and any other racial and ethnic bloc he thought he could entice into the Republican corner. It didn't work. Blacks in particular wound up casting fewer votes for Mr. Bush than for any Republican nominee since Barry Goldwater. The lesson the Stupid Party drew from the flop was: More pander.
"How many of you have talked to leaders of the African-American community where you live?" demanded Gov. Gilmore of his colleagues at the Republican National Committee just after being chosen the RNC's new chairman earlier this year. "You ought to go see them," he lectured. "We need to understand their concerns ..., help combat the fear injected by the opposition party ... and listen."
There's nothing wrong with Republicans trying to win black support, of course, but in practice, all the sermonizing about the "need to listen" merely translates into—dare I use the word—surrender.
In the case of Mr. Gilmore, surrender to the demands of the NAACP to get rid of his state's Confederate History Month was simple enough. Last year, after the Afro-bigots raised a fuss about the proclamation, Mr. Gilmore bubbled about the pleasures of experiencing "diversity" and promised to think about not issuing the proclamation again. The state head of the NAACP, a character calling himself "Salim Khalfani," let the governor understand that he was not to do so. "Anything less is unacceptable," Mr. Khalfani blustered.
So this year, as the elected leader of the state of Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and the capital of the Confederacy, Mr. Gilmore—well—surrendered. His proclamation was almost certainly calculated to slap the faces of the defenders of the state's Confederate heritage. It explicitly called slavery "an affront to man's natural dignity" and instructed that "had there been no slavery there would have been no war." It mentioned Lee as a "great Virginian" but also dredged up somebody named Sgt. William H. Carney, an escaped slave killed while fighting his fellow Virginians during the war, as another "great Virginian." That's what American history has come to mean, you see. The achievements of Robert E. Lee are the same as those of a nobody who happens to be the right race.
Mr. Gilmore's surrender is not at all surprising. By caving to the demands of the NAACP, he avoided the NAACP's boycott and gained stature as "someone who will listen"—i.e., jump through the NAACP's designated hoops. White defenders of the Confederate heritage are angry, but who else are they going to vote for?
It is now obvious enough that the Republican Party wins national elections when it wins white voters overwhelmingly. Last year, some 92 percent of President Bush's votes came precisely from white voters. But since the only lesson the Stupidoes seem to have learned from the election was the need to pander to black voters and more especially to black lobbies like the NAACP, it would be prudent for whites who vote Republican to ask themselves why they keep doing so.
It is also now obvious enough that the Republican Party in the South will do virtually nothing to defend and preserve the region's Confederate heritage, not only as the dominant part of the Southern public identity but even as a significant part of the identity. In South Carolina it was Republican Gov. James Beasley who kicked off the campaign to remove the Confederate battle flag from the capitol dome; it was Republican legislators who voted to remove it last year; and it is a Republican Gov. in Virginia who abandons Confederate History Month.
Why should any white Southerner who cares about preserving his and his region's historic identity bother to vote Republican again? After all, nobody is holding a gun to their heads.
COPYRIGHT 2001 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.
April 01, 2001